What Causes Radon Gas in Houses: Protecting Your Home From Radon

what causes radon gas in houses

Radon is an inert, radioactive gas that occurs in the atmosphere only in trace amounts.

However, it can get trapped indoors in houses, apartment buildings, and other premises.

Indoors, it does not disperse so easily as it does outdoors.

Still, although found in minimal amounts, radon gas causes lung cancer if exposed to for a long time.

In fact, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer.

So what causes radon gas in houses? How do you test for it?

Table Of Contents

What Causes High Levels of Radon in a House?

While most homes only have non-hazardous amounts of this gas, some homes may have dangerously high amounts that should be dealt with immediately.

A lot of people don’t even know about it, which is why awareness is all the more important.

Radon is produced as a by-product of natural uranium or radium decaying underground.

There can be several factors affecting the introduction of radon into the atmosphere inside your house, and they are:

Soil Under the House

The most common source of radon in houses is in the ground beneath them. 

Radon production is a natural process that occurs as the radioactive elements in the rocks and soil decay.

So the soil below the house is what causes high radon levels.

While soil also emits radon outdoors, it quickly disperses. Since a house is a confined space, often completely covered, the gas gets trapped in.

The underground basements are more susceptible to higher levels of radon since they are directly above the soil.

Commonly, the gas escapes through any cracks or basement walls.

It does so very slowly but may become a problem over time.

Rocks Underneath the House

When it comes to what causes radon in homes, any rocks beneath the house may also contribute to the majority of radon inside the house.

Rocks naturally have radioactive veins that disintegrate and decay over time, producing radon.

So the radon emitted by rocks directly below your house’s foundation may escape into the basement or even the floor.

Again, this is likely to become a problem if you have any cracks in the basement or foundation, which serve as an outlet for the gas.

Cement Floors and Foundations

Cracks are often responsible for the release of radon into a house’s inner atmosphere.

That said, even a completely covered floor or foundation is not entirely protected.

Cement floors and foundations are slightly more porous, so radon has a good chance of seeping through them.

If you have any gaps in the flooring or around the piping underneath the house, radon can readily escape from the soil and rocks underneath.

Underground Well Water

If your house is equipped with an aquifer, the water that comes from it may contain radon.

This is mainly because this underground water is in contact with rocks that contain radioactive elements.

Thus, the water may also contain radon traces, which may release into the air inside the house when you use it.

The amount is typically minimal but should still be of concern. There are simple solutions to getting rid of radon in water.

Natural Stone Inside the House

When asking “What causes high radon levels?“, the radon may also come from within the house.

That is especially if you have any natural stones used in the furnishing and fixtures.

The most common natural stone used inside the homes is granite.

As a natural stone, it has constant decaying of radioactive elements, producing radon.

It really depends on the stone slab as to how much radon it produces, but it’s negligible in most cases. 

Nevertheless, it can supplement the radon coming from beneath the house.

what causes radon gas in houses

What Type of Houses Have Radon?

A common misconception regarding radon in houses is that specific types of houses may have this problem, particularly those with a basement.

The truth is any type of house can have radon. In fact, most houses do have some radon, but it’s not dangerously high.

The main source of radon is the ground and what’s beneath it.

So with houses being constructed on the ground, any house can have high levels of radon.

Still, some houses may be more susceptible to higher radon levels depending on where they are constructed and how they are ventilated and heated.

Some areas may have higher levels of radon emissions from the ground. This puts any kind of house built on that area susceptible to higher levels of radon inside.

A house with an exposed ground and cracks in the basement can have more radon concentration in the air indoors, especially in the basement.

Some new houses are built using radon-resistant materials, which further reduces the chances of radon emissions. 

As such, when buying a house, make sure to test the levels of radon.

It would help if you also inquire from the builder or owner about what steps they took to ensure minimal levels of this hazardous gas.

What Are the Symptoms of Radon in Your Home?

Since it’s gas, radon doesn’t quite leave any physical effects on the house.

Also, it doesn’t have any color or smell, which makes it all the more inconspicuous.

So your home wouldn’t exactly show any physical symptoms of the gas concentration. Also, there isn’t any test for radon exposure.

That said, if you’re starting to see symptoms of lung cancer, then it’s likely to be related to radon emission in your house, especially if you don’t smoke.

The common symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the chest, cough, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing.

If you feel like you’re developing these symptoms, you should have the house tested for radon immediately to rule that out.

How Do You Protect Your House from Radon?

There are simple solutions to preventing radon emission and exposure inside your house.

The first thing to do is to test, and if the levels are unhealthy, then take appropriate steps.


Testing radon is very important in determining whether the levels are higher than required.

Again, the soil is typically what causes radon in homes, and virtually every house has it.

Hence, you should test first, using a home test kit or hiring a professional to do it for you.

Home radon testing kits are widely available and have the instructions to conduct them.

These tests can be short-term or long-term. You can also install a radon detector to warn you anytime the levels are high.

If the radon level is 4.0 pCi/L or higher, it’s considered high as per the Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The preferred level is 2.0 pCi/L or below.

Sealing and Caulking Cracks

The cracks in the ground and foundation let the gas seep out into the air.

So the first order of business is locating these cracks and caulking them shut.

It’s not just good for reducing radon emission, but also in securing the house’s structural integrity. 

You can take the DIY approach or hire a handyperson to do it for you.

It may take some time for the radon level to lower after you’ve sealed any exposed cracks on the ground, but it’s worth it.

Radon Reduction Systems

The most viable solution is to install a soil suction system for radon reduction. 

This system comprises fans that draw out the radon from the ground at the lowest level of the house.

These fans are connected to pipes, through which the gas flows to the top of the house and into the upper outdoor air, where it disperses.

As the radon is sucked out and vented out of the house, it no longer seeps through the ground and into the house.

Plastic Sheeting

For those houses with a crawl space underneath, plastic sheets may come in handy.

Simply lay down plastic sheets on the ground. This will make it difficult for the gas to come out.

The sheets go directly over the gas-permeable layer of the ground.

It’s a cost-effective solution for houses with a crawl space.

Water Filter

If you believe the water you use has radon traces, you should take a proactive approach in dealing with it.

Ingestion or inhalation both are hazardous.

The common solution to eliminating radon from water is to use granulated activated carbon (GAC) filters.

Aeration devices that aerate the water and remove the gasses in the water via a vent can also serve as a viable solution.

Of course, these solutions should be employed if your house gets water from a private well.

The radon in surface-level water is not that high. It’s usually the ground-level water that’s high in radon.

What Causes Radon Gas in Houses: The Conclusion

Now that you know what causes radon gas in houses, you can take a proper approach and test to see if the levels are high.

While there are no safe levels of radon, lower levels are acceptable and also unavoidable in most cases.

According to the EPA, one in fifteen houses across the USA has high levels of radon.

So this is something homeowners should look into to ensure their own and their family’s health since radon gas causes lung cancer.

Both short-term and long-term testing is important. Also, keep radon emission in mind whenever you’re buying a property.

The costs of fixing radon levels depend on the house and the underlying causes.

But even if the costs are high, it’s worth investing to stay healthy.

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