Common-Health-Hazards-at-Home-and-How-to-Avoid-Them

4 Health Hazards in Your Home and How to Protect Yourself

Your home should be a safe and healthy refuge for the entire family. While you may be diligent about minimizing your exposure to household chemicals, there may be other substances causing health threats throughout your home. To protect yourself and your loved ones, beware of the following home health hazards:

1. Radon

What is radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium in the soil. Radon tends to enter buildings at its lowest point. It typically moves up into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. It is then trapped inside where it can build up and become hazardous.

About one in 15 homes have high levels of radon, with levels usually being the highest in basements and first-floor rooms that have contact with soil. Two adjacent homes, even two adjacent rooms, can differ significantly in their levels of radon. This helpful resource shows the areas of the U.S. with the highest natural levels.

Why is it dangerous?
Known as the “silent killer,” radon is invisible, odorless, and tasteless, so you may have the toxin present in your home and not even know it. Exposure to radon for long periods of time increases your risk of developing lung cancer, especially if you smoke.
How do I test for radon?

There are no immediate signs or symptoms to alert you to the presence of radon. So if you haven’t checked for it in the past two years, or if you’ve done some remodeling, be sure to test your home. You can hire a professional tester or you can buy a test online or at a hardware store to do it yourself.

When should I call a professional?
If your home has a radon level of four picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) or higher, it has become a health hazard and you need to make changes immediately. However, there is technically no safe level of radon, so you may still want to take action if the level is between two and four pCi/L. Lowering high radon levels requires technical knowledge and special skills. Therefore, the EPA recommends hiring a qualified radon mitigation contractor to assess and fix your home.

2. Carbon Monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide is a toxic gas found in the fumes of fuels that contain carbon, such as wood, coal, and gasoline. Household tools and appliances that can produce the gas include grills, lanterns, generators, home features like your fireplace and furnace, and even your car or truck.

Why is it dangerous?
This toxic gas causes the most nondrug poisoning deaths in the United States. Because CO is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, people can die from carbon monoxide poisoning while they’re asleep without ever waking up. The problem occurs when carbon monoxide is produced but isn’t provided anywhere to exit the home, causing the toxin to build up and reach hazardous levels.

How do I prevent CO poisoning?
• Don’t use a generator or gasoline/charcoal-burning device indoors, including garages or basements. Be sure to place them outside, at least 20 feet from windows or doors.
• Have all fuel-burning home heating systems inspected and serviced each year.
• Never run your car or truck inside of a garage and always leave the door open if you’re doing so in a detached garage. Also, be sure to have your car or truck’s exhaust system checked each year.

How do I test for carbon monoxide?
Every home needs a carbon monoxide detector. If your home doesn’t have working CO alarms installed, stop what you are doing and install them immediately. Be sure to have detectors on each level of the home and outside all bedrooms.
When should I call a professional?

The initial symptoms of CO poisoning can be mistaken for flu symptoms. You should suspect CO poisoning if more than one member of the family is sick and if those who are sick feel better after being away from the home. You should also go to the hospital right away if you’ve been exposed to a source of CO, even if you don’t show symptoms of CO poisoning.
If you think CO is affecting you or if your detector alerts you to an excess of CO in your home, go outside immediately and call 911. Don’t reenter your home until the emergency responders say it’s safe. Afterward, you will want to have your home inspected to determine the root cause of the issue so that you can call the appropriate technician to fix the problem.

lead-paint-home
Lead paint in home

3. Lead Paint

What is lead paint?
Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. The primary source of lead poisoning is lead-based paint. Poisoning occurs by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips that contain the hazardous substance. Found most frequently in homes built before 1978, lead paint creates toxic dust when it cracks or peels. This can occur on both the inside and outside of your home.

Why is it dangerous?
Lead poisoning is a serious condition and at very high levels, it can be fatal. Lead is toxic to everyone, but children younger than six years are especially vulnerable. It can cause a range of adverse health effects, including behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and other major health problems.

How do I test for lead?
If your home was built before 1978, the EPA strongly recommends that either a certified lead inspector or a certified lead risk assessor do lead tests. You can test for lead yourself with an at-home kit. However, these DIY tests don’t provide the details that an inspection or a risk assessment does.

How do I prevent lead poisoning?
If your home tests positive for lead, take these measures to keep your family safe:
• Keep children away from peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
• Wash your children’s hands and toys regularly.
• Regularly clean floors, windowsills, and other surfaces using wet methods.
• Use doormats and remove shoes before entering so lead dust does not settle on floors and carpets.

mold-wall-inside-home
Mold inside home

4. Mold

What is Mold?
Molds are various types of fungi. In small amounts, mold spores are usually harmless. However, once the spores are inside and have a source of moisture to feed on, mold growth can spread like wildfire. Mold can enter your home through windows, vents, and doorways. It can also make its way inside by attaching itself to clothing or pets. If undetected for long enough, it can damage the structure of your house and harm the health of those living inside of it. If caught early, this can be an easy problem to fix.

Why is it dangerous?
Some of the more minor health effects from mold exposure are chronic cough and fatigue, eye irritation, headaches, and skin rashes. If left untreated, mold can cause a variety of more extreme health issues like asthma, vomiting, allergy development, circulatory damage, and compromised immunity, making one even more vulnerable to further risks.

How do I prevent mold from growing?
• Act quickly when water leaks or spills occur indoors.
• Remove or replace carpets that have been soaked and aren’t dried promptly. Consider not using carpet in rooms or areas like bathrooms or basements that may have a lot of moisture.
• Ventilate shower, laundry, and cooking areas.
• Wash shower curtains and bathroom tiles regularly with mold-killing products.
• Promptly fixing leaky roofs, windows, and pipes.
• Keep humidity levels as low as you can – no higher than 50% – all day long.

When should I call a professional?
Combating mold can be a fact of life for those who live in humid climates. In some situations, homeowners can remove mold themselves. However, it’s best to call a professional if –
• The mold covers a large area (greater than three feet by three feet, according to the EPA).
• If you can smell mold, but you can’t find the problem.
• If anyone in the home has a medical condition that mold exposure could worsen.
• There is mold in your heating, ventilation, and/or air conditioning system.
• If moisture has created structural problems.

Originally published by Redfin

The Discovery of Radon in Homes: The Story of Stanley Watras

Did you ever wonder why we ever started doing radon testing and radon mitigation in homes? Did someone just get up in the morning and think to themselves, “I think I’ll check my house for radon today.” No …that would be silly! But, it’s actually a very interesting tale!

It was discovered quite by accident through a man named Stanley Watras, who was a construction engineer. In 1984, while working at Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, he set off their new radiation detectors. The rest, as they say, is history!

Stanley J. Watras was a construction engineer at the Limerick nuclear power plant in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. A monitor was installed at the plant to check workers to make sure they did not accidentally accumulate an unsafe dose of radiation at work.

One day, on his way to work, Mr. Watras entered the plant and set off the radiation monitor alarms that help protect workers by detecting exposure to radiation. Safety personnel checked him out, but could not find the source of the radiation. Interestingly, because the plant was under construction at the time, there was no nuclear fuel at the plant, so there was no way for Mr. Watras to have been exposed to any radiation at work.

Eventually, they discovered that Mr. Watras was not picking up the radiation at work, but rather was bringing it to work from home! A team of specialists was sent to the Watras’ home to investigate. There, they measured radiation levels about 700 times higher than the maximum level considered safe for human exposure (the home tested at 2,700 pCi/L and a safe level is at or below 4 pCi/L). The source of this enormous amount of radiation turned out to be radon, a naturally-occurring gas that made its way into the Watras home from underground. It had nothing to do with Mr. Watras’ job. The entire family was living in an environment roughly equivalent to smoking a couple of hundred packs of cigarettes per day. They moved out of the house immediately, while the problem was being fixed.

After Mr. Watras and his family evacuated their house, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pennsylvania officials turned it into a laboratory for long-term measurement of radon and radon decay products and evaluation of radon mitigation techniques. After many months, they reduced the radon concentration to an acceptable level, and the family was able to return. After installing a radon-reduction system, radon levels in the home tested below 4 pCi/L.

Although this case occurred in 1984, residential indoor radon exposure as a health hazard flies below the radar of many real estate professionals. Radon is a Class A carcinogen, which means it is known to cause cancer in humans. Most people do not know that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, resulting in approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Only smoking causes more lung cancers.

The U.S. Surgeon General and the EPA recommend that all homes in the United States be tested for radon.  In fact, in May 1993, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) joined the EPA in urging all Americans to test their homes for radon. The NAR encouraged state associations to develop and support legislation or regulation requiring mandatory property condition disclosure, including radon, by the seller.

Sources:
“Have You Heard the Story of Stanley Watras?” by Jason Rose – www.activerain.com
“3Rs Construction Reviews Stanley Watras and Radon Mitigation” – www.3rsconstruction.com

How to Finish a Basement Properly

The Dos and Don’ts For Properly Finishing a Basement

Dos and Don'ts for Finishing a Basement

Basements Are Wet

Unless it’s built like a boat, with proper exterior waterproofing and radon control systems in place, a basement is a dangerous space to finish. The ground around a basement is almost always wet, and the walls and concrete slab are porous; CMUs and mortar joints are super-porous. A basement may look dry, but that’s because the walls and floor are being heated, converting liquid water into vapor, which is pulled into the air. As soon as you cover up those surfaces and insulate, which restricts airflow and moves the condensation point to the interior surface of the foundation wall, you’ll have wet walls and floors.

A basement should be built like a boat to keep water out. But most houses are built on porous walls and floors with nothing between the wet and the dry. In a house that is built like a sieve, if you want finish materials in the basement, you first have to manage the moisture in the walls and floor. To be successful, there are a few simple things you absolutely must do, and a few you absolutely must avoid.

Here’s a list of Dos and Don’ts, plus some illustrations that show everything you need.

Drainage

DO install a drain-tile system with a sump pump that discharges any water within a minimum of 5 feet from the foundation.
DO extend interior drainboard from the drain tile up to at least 6 inches above grade. Best is a dimpled sheathing.

Walls

DO frame with steel studs set on a capillary break, such as a sill seal (this also helps with uneven floors).
DO hold framing 1 inch away from the foundation walls—no exceptions!
DO spray high-density polyurethane foam 2 to 3 inches thick behind the stud wall and all the way up onto the rim joist. If you choose to use batt insulation, don’t let it touch the foundation walls.
DO install paperless drywall, and hold it ½ inch off the floor.
DON’T let the wall framing touch the walls or the floor (treated lumber wicks water).

Floor

DO install an active Sub-Slab Depressurization System (SSDS) to control moisture and radon. The SSDS can remove up to 10 gallons of water a day from under your home, helping to improve air quality and reduce the potential for mold and musty odors. As a side benefit, it will also reduce radon levels in your home!
DO use moisture-resistant flooring, such as ceramic tile or vinyl composition tile. If you want the look of wood, cover the slab with a vapor-control layer with taped seams and install a glued or dry-fit engineered click-lock floating floor system.
DON’T install carpet.

8 Easy Ways to Save Money on Radon Mitigation

While the health benefits of installing a radon mitigation system are priceless, we know that the cost may seem out of reach to some. That is why we have put together this list of ways to lower the cost of installing a system.

  • There is an easy to find coupon on our website for $25 off.
  • We also offer a 3.67% discount for payments made with cash.
  • Angie’s List users will find a $100 discount coupon for systems designed with a warranty for radon levels of 2.0 pCi/l or better.
  • Our Customer Referral Program offers previous customers $50 for each referral that results in a new customer radon mitigation system installation.
  • We offer $50 for customer testimonial videos or $100 for those we use.
  • There are tax advantages in using a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account to fund the mitigation.
  • You might also be interested in the Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Program:
    https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-entitlement/
  • Many Villages and Counties offer home repair grants and loans.

Call us for more details.

Airthings Radon infographic header image

Radon Gas Information Guide

Airthings-Infographic-radon-information-guide

Radon is an invisible gas formed in the Earth’s crust. It is in the air all around us and can get trapped indoors. Inhaling high radon levels over long periods of time is detrimental to your health. In fact, radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year according to the EPA. That is approximately 60 people per day.

High radon gas levels are easily preventable with long term measuring and the right ventilation. Together we can stop radon from being the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

The illustrated radon information guide on the left includes where radon originates from, the easy first steps to reduce radon in the home. On top of this, we have provided four radon risk factors to think about. Share with your friends and family, so they can have the easy steps to reduce radon indoors too!

 

A Radon Mitigation Story

Read this account of a customer’s radon mitigation journey

We tested our house for radon with both a short term (3-day) and a long term (3 month) test. Each showed very high levels of radon. Being somewhat handy, I thought I’d be able to reduce the levels on my own. I encapsulated our crawl space and patched any cracks in the basement floor before installing a wood plank floor over a plastic vapor barrier. After these changes, another test showed the radon level still at 25 pCi/l. So we decided radon mitigation was necessary.

As with most major expenditures, I decided to obtain a number of quotes from reputable licensed radon mitigation companies. I ended up with four quotes that were within a few hundred dollars of each other. Three of the quotes were very similar: putting a suction point in the basement and crawl space. They did vary in the way in which the pipe exited the house.
Then there was Elliott’s quote. Not the least expensive nor the most expensive, but his was the most detailed and offered a much better warranty. He was the only one to mention the diagnostic testing they use to determine the proper area to install the suction points and also determine the size of fan required. He was the only one to suggest a third suction point from our attached garage.

Since our basement is semi-finished, I was concerned that the PVC pipes they ran would look out of place. His install team took this into consideration and you wouldn’t know I had a radon system installed unless I pointed it out.

If your radon level is high – I recommend a call to Elliott and Associates.

Elliott & Associates Helps a School Reduce Cancer Risk

In 2014, there was a growing concern at Pleasantdale Elementary School in La Grange, IL about the number of teachers that had been diagnosed with cancer. As of April, 2014 nine staff members at the school had been diagnosed with cancer.

Members of the Teachers Association of Pleasantdale raised concerns about the health and safety of staff and asked that the district investigate risk factors, including but not limited to water quality, asbestos, mold and radon.

Air quality investigations were conducted and found that there were some minor areas for improvements, but no link could be established between the building’s air quality and cancer among staff members.

Despite the report clearing the school, Pleasantdale District 107 took action to lessen reports of odors and other health concerns, such as air flow in the elementary building.

The school conducted radon testing and some areas of the school were found to have elevated levels of radon. Concerns were raised about radon gas levels at the elementary school and some classrooms, offices and the school gym were vacated and measures were taken to reduce radon in those areas.

Elliott & Associates was hired to install six radon mitigation systems. Radon testing conducted after the installation showed safe levels of radon for the staff and students.

View photos

What a homeowner had to do to make our competitor's system quieter

Noise Is Not Your Friend

So, you thought all radon systems are quiet? Take a look at what one homeowner had to do to try to fix the excessive noise that was coming from one of our competitor’s systems.

This system was so loud, it could be heard inside the house, making the homeowner wrap the fan up as seen in the photo. We were called after the installer of the system could not fix the issue.

The following items are what is wrong with this system:

  1. Metal downspout is used as the exhaust. PVC pipe as the exterior exhaust will always be the quietest system.
  2. Exhaust is attached to the house using minimum standards. The fastener that supports the pipe on the house should be insulated with rubber.
  3. The suction point is located too close to the groundwater sump pit. This creates a potential scenario where too much air gets introduced into the system via exterior drain tiles. Extra, unnecessary air creates more noise.

There are two noises that are generated by the radon system: air flow and vibration. To minimize the noise, the following must be taken into consideration:

  • The amount of CFM (cubic feet of air per minute)
  • The size of the pipe determines how much airflow can be pushed through the system. The best standard would that the air velocity should not be greater than 700 FPM (feet per minute).
  • Excessive noise and back pressure is created when too much air is moved through the pipe. According to the best standard, a 3” pipe should move no more than 34 CFM before the system is too noisy and loses efficiency. A 4” pipe should move no more than 61 CFM, before it too becomes too noisy. The proper sizing of the pipe is important to avoid excessive noise and reduced radon reduction.

Two ways to reduce vibration transfer back to the building is the install a total of four anti-vibration reducing rubber couplings instead of only two. Also, wrap each fastener that supports the exhaust with rubber to reduce the amount of vibration transfer back to the building.

Cleaning the fan blades will also help to keep the fan balanced so that increase vibration does not occur. This should be performed by a licensed radon professional.

The takeaway: Larger diameter pipe and a carefully installed system is best for a good night’s sleep!

How to Avoid or Fix Frozen Pipes

How to Avoid or Fix Frozen Pipes

A frozen pipe is a disaster nobody wants to deal with, but extreme cold can leave anyone’s home vulnerable.

Strong winds, like the weather Northeastern Illinois will experience this week, can make pipes more susceptible to freezing. It makes it more likely that a draft will enter a home and drop the temperature further.

But there are several ways to winterize your pipes:

  1. Close garages – If there are pipes in your garage, make sure to keep the door closed to conserve heat.
  2. Open cabinets – Opening kitchen and bathroom cabinets will allow warmer air to circulate to the pipes.
  3. Let water drip – Let cold water drip from any faucets that are served by exposed pipes.
  4. Leave the heat on – If you plan on being out of town, make sure you do not turn the heat down.
  5. Insulate – As a long-term solution, add insulation to attics, basements, crawl spaces and other areas with housing pipes that are not climate-controlled.

If a pipe manages to freeze and burst despite all your efforts, be cautious when thawing, as water will begin to drip from the broken area. Additionally, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve before thawing broken pipes. Here are a few ways to thaw frozen pipes quickly:

  1. Turn on the faucet – As cold as it may be, running water through the pipe will help it thaw.
  2. Apply heat – Using small handheld appliances such as a hairdryer, electric heating pad or portable space heater, apply gentle heat to the frozen pipes. You can also wrap pipes with towels soaked in warm water.
  3. Call a plumber – If you are unable to identify the frozen area, it is best to call a professional. A licensed plumber will be able to find the frozen area, fix any bursts, and thaw the pipes.