Know Your Enemy: Radon

Radon in Alabama


On the Brown Heating & Cooling Blog, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing indoor air pollutants like dust and VOCs, but there’s one source of pollution that needs to be mentioned – radon. Alabama is a high-risk state for this deadly gas, and homeowners should be aware of the dangers it poses in their homes.


What Is It?

Radon is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas produced from the breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. It is radioactive, and when present outdoors, it generally doesn’t pose any sort of risk to humans. The terms “radioactive” and “uranium” sound scary, but this type of decay happens in nature all the time. It only poses a health threat to humans when present in enclosed spaces that aren’t well ventilated.


Why Is It A Threat?

Unlike carbon monoxide, which causes symptoms when present in a home, radon is much sneakier. Exposure to radon doesn’t present immediate problems – instead, exposure puts you at a much greater risk for lung cancer. Behind smoking, exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., and is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Because of the direct link between radon and lung cancer, it is important to make sure the gas is not present in dangerous levels in your home.


How Does It Get In?

Your home may seems secure, but radon can sneak in undetected through tiny cracks in your home’s foundation, basement, or walls. There is also evidence that it can enter your home through private well water, if the well is located in an area with a high concentration of radon. It generally becomes a problem when a home doesn’t have adequate ventilation, so summer and winter months when homeowners aren’t opening windows are key times when radon buildup can become a problem.

Whether or not radon will be a problem for a home is largely dependent on where the home is built. If your home is located in an area known for having higher levels of radon present in the soil, you will need to take that into consideration during building. This website has information on radon levels for each county in Alabama, which will give you a sense of how concerned you should be about prevention.


What To Do About It?

The first thing homeowners can do is to test for radon in the home. You can either hire a professional to do the testing, or get a do-it-yourself kit for free from the state radon website. Do-it-yourself kits come in two styles: short term and long term. The short-term kit collects air samples in your home over a brief period of time – these samples are then sent away by the homeowner for lab testing. The short-term test will give you an indication of whether or not a long-term test is necessary. Long-term testing usually involves gathering samples over a period of two months and testing the samples to verify that there is an issue with radon in the home.

When testing radon levels, it’s a good idea to pick a time period when then house isn’t as open as usual. Summer and winter months are great times to test, because these are normally seasons where homeowners keep windows and doors shut in order to maintain indoor comfort levels. Also when testing, be sure to test on the lowest level of your house – this is where the highest concentration of radon will be, if it is present at dangerous levels.

Levels of radon in the air are measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Unsafe levels requiring action on the part of the homeowner are usually anything above 4 pCi/L. If tests show that levels are at or above this number, it’s best to call in a professional who can assess the home and make recommendations on what changes need to be made to return the home to save radon levels. Usually, sealing cracks and providing proper ventilation are the main issues that need to be addressed for keeping a home safe.


Testing for radon is something that should be done for every household. If you want to learn more about radon in Alabama, please visit this website, or give us a call at (205) 871-8111.