Ask Eartha: Ensuring a healthy home |

Ask Eartha: Ensuring a healthy home

Cody Jensen
High Country Conservation Center
Alan Ferguson, with Summit Radon Solutions, makes his way through a crawlspace while servicing a house with traces of radon. The bubble in the plastic behind Ferguson, which lines the entire crawlspace, is created by air and radon gas escaping up through the ground.
Mark Fox / Summit Daily

Dear Eartha,
I heard that January is National Radon Action Month. What is radon? What actions do I need to take?

Not to be dramatic, but radon is a silent killer, and it could be lurking in your home. This colorless, odorless, tasteless gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 21,000 Americas die from radon each year.

So how does radon end up in your home? Radon is released when uranium, thorium and radium — all radioactive elements — decay in rocks and soil. The gas escapes from the ground and ends up in the air. And the truth is, we all breathe in radon every day. It’s all around us but usually at very low levels because the gas mixes with the rest of the outdoor air.

Indoors, it’s another story. We design our homes to prevent the indoor air from leaking outside — otherwise our homes would be freezing and our heating bills would be through the roof. But by keeping the air inside, we’re also keeping contaminants like radon inside. Because of our local geology, Summit County falls within Radon Zone 1, which means we’re at the highest risk for dangerous radon levels indoors. The EPA recommends that folks take action if radon levels in their home are 4 picocuries per liter or higher. The average radon level in Summit County homes is 10 picocuries per liter. Don’t worry about what a picocurie is — the bottom line is that radon is a risk in our community.

But not to worry! You don’t have to throw open all your windows and freeze all winter to avoid excessive radon exposure. There areimportant preventative actions you can take to keep yourself and your family safe.

Get tested

The first step to figuring out if you have a radon problem at home is to get tested. Good news for us Summit County residents: It’s easy and free to test for radon in your home. Radon test kits are available at the Summit County Environmental Health Department, 0037 Peak One Drive, in Frisco. Kits include easy-to-follow instructions for completing the test and mailing it to a lab for results. They’re even pre-stamped and addressed for convenience.

What happens if you have high radon levels? Then you hire a certified radon-mitigation contractor to install a system in your home. This typically consists of piping connected to a constantly running fan that vents the radon out of your home. More information is available from the Summit County Environmental Health Department.

Cody Jensen, High Country Conservation Center
Courtesy photo

Other indoor air-quality issues

Radon isn’t the only potential cause of unhealthy air quality in your home. The average American spends nearly 90% of their time indoors, and according to the EPA, indoor air quality is typically more polluted than outdoor air.

Common indoor contaminants include dust, pet dander, smoke, mold and toxic chemicals. And if your home was built before 1978, chances are it contains lead-based paint.

Homes with crawlspaces are especially susceptible to poor indoor air quality. A typical crawlspace that hasn’t been mitigated for radon or upgraded for energy efficiency allows moisture and various soil gases to seep into a home. If left untreated, this will not only lead to decreased comfort and an unhealthy indoor environment but also will make your home less durable.

Ensuring a healthy home

In addition to a radon test, what can you do to make sure your home is a healthy place to live? If your home is older, be sure to have your painted surfaces tested for lead, especially before any remodel work or if you have children. Make sure smoke alarms are installed in all bedrooms and replace the batteries regularly. The same goes for carbon monoxide alarms. For many carbon monoxide detectors, the alarm will sound only after a period of exposure to this deadly, odorless gas. For this reason, it’s important to evacuate your home if the alarm is ever heard. And don’t forget to keep dangerous chemicals away from children and pets.

If you’re interested in learning more about improving the health and safety of your home, contact the High Country Conservation Center. Through a home energy assessment, our team of energy experts can diagnose potential health concerns within your home and give you a deeper understanding of how all the components of your home work together as a system to keep you safe, healthy and warm.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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