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What is Radon?

Radon is a natural, tasteless, odorless, colorless, radioactive gas produced from the decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. Radon gas moves from the ground under and around your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is esti­mated to have elevated radon levels. The only way to know the radon level in your home is to test.

 

How does radon get into the house?

Houses act like large chimneys. As the air in the house warms, it rises to leak out the attic openings and around the upper floor windows. This creates a small suction at the lowest level of the house, pulling the radon out of the soil and into the house. You can test this on a cold day by opening a top floor window an inch. You will notice warm air from the house rushing out that opening; yet, if you open a basement window an inch, you will feel the cold outside air rushing in. This suction is what pulls the radon out of the soil and into the house. You might think caulking the cracks and the openings in the basement floor will stop the radon from entering the house. It is unlikely that caulking the accessible cracks and joints will permanently seal the openings radon needs to enter the house. The radon levels will still likely remain unchanged.

 

What is the risk of radon exposure?

Scientists believe radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer. When radon decays, it shoots off alpha particles. These are small, heavy, electrically charged, sub-atomic particles consisting of two protons and two neutrons. If an alpha particle strikes the chromosomes in a lung cell, it could alter the way that cell reproduces. Our body's immune system should recognize and destroy these mutant cells before they can multiply over the next 10 to 20 years into a recognizable cancerous growth.
Some people's immune systems are better than others. Because of these inherent differences, radon doesn't affect everyone the same.

Nationally, radon contributes to about 21,000 deaths per year from lung cancer. The risk of developing lung cancer increases as the concentration and length of exposure to radon increases. Many scientists believe children may run an even greater risk from radon exposure than adults, and smokers are definitely at greater risk than nonsmokers.

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