By Jeff Cross
The list is long — really long — of profit-boosting diversification opportunities available to cleaning and restoration contractors.
Most of them are traditional services, such as tile and grout cleaning, bio-hazard/trauma cleanup, mold remediation, and contents restoration… to name a few. You no doubt offer most of them.
But not very many companies, like yours, are offering radon remediation and testing. Yet it is a growing service nationwide that is not only profitable to companies engaged in it, but also — with growing public awareness of the dangers of radon contamination — quickly becoming a health concern in virtually every part of the country.
“The market is changing, and awareness of radon issues is at an all-time high,” says Ryan Richie, director of sales for RadonAway, a company that offers training, products, and equipment for radon remediation and testing. “Every year laws are passed state-by-state that are making the radon mitigation market grow at a rapid rate.”
What is radon?
Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can build up in a home or building. It is odorless, colorless, and invisible.
The gas is a decay product of uranium, thus a radioactive element, and is found in soils, rocks, and water. It can seep up into homes and buildings naturally and, without proper equipment to handle the intrusion, continue to become more concentrated in closed spaces over time.
Dangers of radon
As radon decays, it emits alpha particles that can be carcinogenic. It travels through homes and buildings by sticking to dust and aerosols in the air then gets into mouths, throats, and lungs.
Since, as mentioned previously, radon is odorless, colorless, and invisible, it can become so concentrated that it is poisonous to those exposed to it.
It is the second leading cause of lung cancer nationally, second only to smoking. It is the leading cause of cancer for non-smokers.
Current data shows that radon is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually in the United States. Drunk driving deaths fall well behind deaths caused by radon.
Looking at other environmental death statistics, pesticides on food, asbestos exposure, outdoor pollutants, and carbon dioxide all cause much fewer deaths than radon
The U.S. EPA estimates that nearly one out of 15 homes are affected by elevated radon levels, and in some areas, it is as high 50 percent of homes.
Radon can build up to hazardous levels in any home or building, new or old, no matter how airtight they may be, dry or drafty, etc. Basements don’t matter. Radon can enter structures through a concrete slab, cracks in foundation walls, sump pits, or other large or small openings.
It can also enter structures from well water or building materials that contain radon. Basements and first floors are typically the first to have the highest radon levels. In addition, negative air pressure causes a “stacking” effect, and air trapped inside buildings acts like a chimney. Warmed by natural causes or heating systems, air rises and pulls more radon into living spaces.
Measuring and testing for radon
The U.S. EPA has this information available on a fact sheet found on its website: “Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L), a measurement of radioactivity. In the United States, the average indoor radon level is about 1.3 pCi/L. The average outdoor level is about 0.4 pCi/L. The U.S. Surgeon General and
EPA recommend fixing homes with radon levels at or above 4 pCi/L. EPA also recommends that people think about fixing their homes for radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.”
The only way to know on a case-by-case basis if radon remediation is required is to test. Just because one home has safe radon levels does not mean a home nearby is safe.
While professional testing is recommended, some consumers find do-it-yourself test kits to be an option. Testing requires sending in the test kit sample to a qualified laboratory. If radon levels are elevated, a national- or state-certified radon-mitigation contractor should be contacted.
Richie says, “We find that most restoration companies are more designed to provide the mitigation rather than the testing. Restoration companies are using the testing as a value add for their customers, something they offer for free, or as a lead-generation source to determine what locations need to have a radon system installed.”
Remediating the problem
The first steps include smart maintenance. Sealing cracks and other openings in foundations is the required first step of the preferred radon mitigation technique, active soil depressurization (ASD). This limits the flow of radon into structures, and subsequently, any equipment and ventilation installations will be more effective.
The good news to consumers is that the cost of radon remediation with an installed radon mitigation system is less expensive than most home improvement costs. It is generally between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the size of the structure, the air flow beneath the slab, and the resultant design of the system. Most cost less than electric upgrades, a new furnace, roof, and other typical home improvement tasks.
Most radon remediation ASD systems consist of a plastic pipe connected to ground soil through a hole created in a slab, through a sump-pump lid, or beneath an installed plastic sheet in a crawl space. A fan specifically designed for radon mitigation is attached, and the radon gas discharges safely above the roof into the outside air. The fan system runs continually.
Another option that the EPA recommends is prevention. A system is installed during new construction that reduces the radon to safer levels right from the start. This type of installation, called Reducing Radon in New Construction (RRNC), like ASD in existing homes, also pulls radon from below the home and vents it into the air above the roof.
After a radon mitigation or remediation system is installed, retesting is required, usually within 30 days. This ensures the system is operating effectively and radon levels are reduced to acceptable readings. Testing every two years is then recommended.
Diversification opportunities in radon remediation
“Rarely does an opportunity come along that can make such a difference in your customers’ lives,” Richie says. “Every home that you fix will affect multiple lives, for the current homeowners and their families as well as future homeowners. This is one of those services that really makes a difference.”
Cleaning and restoration contractors have options when considering adding this service. Do your online research and find training and certification opportunities in your area.
And it’s not just about homes. Commercial buildings and schools should also be tested and, if necessary, remediated. There are many opportunities available in an unsaturated market.
“Professional radon training consists of 40 hours of National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP)-approved education,” Richie adds. “After passing the NRPP certification test, one would then be nationally certified.” All information for certification can be found at www.AARST-NRPP.com.
Remember, each state has its own laws regarding what is required for radon testing and remediation. You can contact the EPA and groups, associations, and other resources involved with radon legislation, training, and remediation.
Do your homework, and you may find this to be the next profitable add-on service for your growing company.
Jeff Cross is the executive editor of Cleanfax and is an industry trainer and consultant. He can be reached at JeffCross@ISSA.com
Sources: U.S. EPA, RadonAway, and