A Deadly Threat in Iowa’s Homes

Those in the building profession can play a key role in preventing death.

Carbon monoxide is a silent, odorless, tasteless, deadly gas. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that each year 400 to 500 people in the United States die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

Radon is a silent, odorless, tasteless, deadly gas. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that each year nearly 20,000 people die as a result of radon poisoning.

Yet far more homes possess a carbon monoxide detector than a radon-mitigation system.

But perhaps the most shocking radon-related statistic is this: Iowa is the only state in the U.S. in which every county is classified as “at risk” by the EPA. By a significant margin, Iowa consistently tests higher than any other state.

As experts in the home construction field, builders and remodelers—as well as realtors and lenders—can play a key role in preventing radon-related illness and death. Here’s how—and why.

Learn how radon works

A cancer-causing radioactive gas, radon is a naturally occurring gas emitted from the breakdown of uranium. Stores of uranium deep in the soil break down and create radon. When it enters a water source or the air, it can be consumed or breathed, resulting in lung cancer. In fact, radon is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer and the primary cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.

According to Kelly Foley of AmeriServ Radon Mitigation of Iowa, “Radon is concentrated in the ground, and it can vary widely from one area to the next, depending on where the uranium is located underground.”

Any disruption in the soil can impact radon levels, so home construction and remodeling are primary factors in a home’s test results.

Learn about radon-ready building practices

For new construction, creating a radon-ready home is relatively simple and less costly than one might expect.

“Installing a passive, radon-ready system is more practical during the construction phase,” Foley explains. “A PVC pipe in an unfinished area of the lower level basically serves as a vent pipe to exhaust the radon gas out of the home.” Often this type of system, along with efficient construction methods that seal potential entry points in the home, can reduce radon levels within the home to below EPA guidelines. However, the EPA recommends testing every two years to ensure radon levels remain low.

However, an active radon-mitigation system offers a more thorough method for reducing radon, even at high levels.

“An active system involves installing a fan in the attic or outside the home to draw the radon out of the soil and the home and vent it outside,” Foley says.
Builders can choose to install either a passive or active system, Foley says, or they can prep the home for an active system to be installed at a later date by installing accessible power boxes in the attic.

If a project involves changing a home’s foundation or disrupting the soil in any way, remodelers can also be proactive regarding radon. “Informing the homeowners about the risks of radon before beginning a remodeling project allows them to choose and prepare for any testing or mitigation that might be necessary,” Foley advises.

Educate your clients

With the serious risks radon poses and the consistently high incidence of radon presence in Iowa homes, educating homeowners should be a common practice for those in the home construction and related fields.

“The cost to test a home or to install a passive system is less expensive than one might think, but it can have a huge impact on a client’s life,” Foley says.

Get ahead of the curve

Besides protecting the interests of clients, taking a proactive approach to radon also enables builders and remodelers to get ahead of the curve regarding building codes.

As of early 2014, Altoona was the only municipality in Iowa currently requiring new homes to have a mitigation system installed. But because of Iowa’s status as the number one state for radon incidence, many municipalities are expected to follow. And possible future legislation in Iowa could require testing in all homes.

Many experts believe builders will be required to do this eventually, so getting ahead of the curve and addressing radon concerns now makes good business sense.

To learn more about radon mitigation and radon-resistant building practices, visit AmeriServRadon.com or EPA.gov/radon.