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 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 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.

“Have You Heard the Story of Stanley Watras?” by Jason Rose –
“3Rs Construction Reviews Stanley Watras and Radon Mitigation” –

Airthings Radon infographic header image

Radon Gas 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!


Asbestos Danger

Safety First

I can’t believe that one of our competitors doesn’t value their clients’ safety or the safety of their technicians. In the first month of 2019, I feel compelled to share this story.

The safety of family or individuals is always first over the gain of a dollar. During a recent visit for a radon mitigation estimate for a real estate sale in Wheaton, IL, I was able to visually look into an accessible dirt crawl space through a window. I easily discovered vermiculite on the floor of the crawl space. According to the EPA, vermiculite should be treated as asbestos containing material and should not be disturbed.

Sealing the floor of the crawl space would disturb the vermiculite and would expose the family and technicians to asbestos. Vermiculite would be inadvertently pulled by the technicians from the crawl space, into the basement & throughout the house! Also, the radon mitigation system will collect the asbestos in the crawl and contaminate the outside yard with asbestos. I informed the client of my concerns.

I made a call to the client and they informed me that the other radon company did not mention this safety concern and was going to seal the dirt crawl space anyway. I was shocked. In my eyes, the contactor’s reputation is ruined. The realtor’s reputation is also ruined, who depends on their reputation to open doors for them.

We train our technicians to identify asbestos building products such as vermiculite, thermal spray-on insulation, exterior siding, transite paneling, etc. We train our employees on what the proper procedures are and that safety is always first.

I understand that cost is important. Please remember when hiring a contractor you should also look at the safety of the family during and after the system is installed.

June is National Men’s Health and Cancer Awareness Month

June is National Men’s Health and Cancer Awareness Month. In 2012, the World Cancer Fund estimated that 7.4 million men worldwide were diagnosed with lung cancer. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. A radon professional and a top quality RadonAway fan are the perfect pair to work together to lower these staggering statistics every year.

Our Competition Makes Us Look Good

I just received two calls today from potential clients. The first client was trying to sell their house and had one of our competitors install their radon system. A re-test was performed and the radon levels were still not passing. Also, the buyer’s inspection company said that the system was installed wrong and therefore the deal was on hold until the radon issues were resolved. The other contractor was not willing to fix their system, causing the sale of the home to be in jeopardy. I will never have a conversation with our client where I tell the customer “I will not return to fix the system” or “I’m too busy to return to fix the radon system”. Our goal is to assist home sellers in any way possible to help sell their home. Our clients will not have to the bear the additional stress or additional carrying costs because of a delay in the sale (taxes, insurance and operating expenses). In the end, the cheaper solution can cost the client more money and headaches.

The second call was a client that needed Home Owners Association approval in order to install the radon system. The other mitigation company was not willing to take the time to fill out the HOA forms, speak to HOA management or do anything to help the client with this process. I will never have a conversation where I tell the client, “You fill out all of the HOA forms and speak to the HOA about radon requirements” and not assist in getting HOA approval.

It all comes down to premier customer service, which a cheaper company is not willing to provide to make their client’s life easier.

Pleasantdale School Is Now Safe From Radon

Elliott & Associates had the honor to install 6 radon mitigation systems at Pleasantdale Elementary School in LaGrange, IL over winter break. I have to say thanks to Catherine and Mark for allowing us to install the most efficient systems in order to make the school as safe as possible for the children and staff. Arthur, the building engineer, was a pleasure work with and he did a great job facilitating the installations. I now realize what a building engineer does; they are pulled in every direction, solving problems that always arise. I have a new found appreciation for the operation of a school. As seen from the photos of the systems, they blend-in very well. The up-sized systems are able to withstand the cold weather, eliminating freeze-ups and provide a safe school at all times. I congratulate the teachers that have their own radon safety sirens monitoring their classrooms, making sure the environment that they teach in is safe.
See Pleasantdale School’s Radon Information webpage.

A Builder Who Cares

This January I met Mia, a builder who builds energy efficient and sustainable buildings.  She truly cares about the families that live in her homes – so much so that when she found out that a house she recently built had elevated levels of radon, she was distraught and upset.  She wasn’t upset because it was going to cost more money, it was the fact that the house she worked so hard to build perfectly, had a flaw.  When I met Mia, I could tell that quality and craftsmanship were of utmost importance to her.  I really appreciate a company that works so hard  on every detail,  even on the details that the client may not see or value initially. Over time, the customer will  really value the reduced cost of ownership and live in a safer house with fewer hassles.  I also appreciate the opportunity to work with a person who honestly cares about their product and their customers well-being. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

U-Tube Levels Can Indicate Sump Pump Issues

The u-tube (manometer) is a gauge that measures negative air pressure inside the radon system pipe. It is usually installed on the main suction point in the basement, but may be located in a garage or crawl space. The u-tube has red or blue non-toxic liquid in it. Viewing the u-tube should be done at least once a month to confirm system operation.  During the initial installation of the radon system, the u-tube was marked , identifying the initial pressure levels of your system. (Not all systems will have the same pressure readings.)

The levels on the u-tube may fluctuate or change slightly over time. However, if the levels on the u-tube become considerably further apart,  this might indicate that there is ground water collecting under the floor, thereby restricting air-flow to the radon system.  This is a strong indicator that the sump pump has failed. The sump pump should be repaired or replaced immediately.  If you do not have a ground water sump pump and it has rained,  the water under the floor will subside within a couple days to a week and then the negative pressure  inside the system will return to normal levels.