Detecting, mitigating harmful gases in the home

As residents start sealing up their homes for the winter, they are concerned about making sure they can keep the cold air out. But they might not be thinking about the air they're trapping inside the home.

As residents start sealing up their homes for the winter, they are concerned about making sure they can keep the cold air out. But they might not be thinking about the air they’re trapping inside the home. 

 Gases like radon and formaldehyde can cause adverse health effects in high concentration.

   “It’s something to be concerned about but not to get paranoid over,” says Bill Hastings, president of Hastings Heating and Air Conditioning, who is also licensed to mitigate harmful gases like radon.

   Buying a simple, inexpensive test canister is a good place to start if you’re concerned about air quality in your home, Hastings says.

   When testing for radon, focus on the most commonly used areas of the home. A little radon in a rarely used basement is not a cause for major concern, he says.


   He says radon concentrations tend to increase in homes during the winter, not only because the homes are sealed, but also because the ground is usually covered with precipitation, sealing off one of the gas escape routes.

   If radon or other harmful gases are detected in the home, there are several options for mitigation.

   Hastings says his first step is usually to seal off the sump hole with clear plastic. He prefers to use clear plastic over other types of covers because it allows homeowners to see if water starts to build up, so they can fix the problem before their basement floods.

   Then he will use a combination of pipes and fans to suck the air away from the house.

   Rarely, he says, he’ll need to come back later and increase the fan size, but usually that will take care of the problem.

   In other cases, he will only need to seal a location where radon is leaking into the home. He says this is most common in houses that have showers in the basement because the drain area might not be properly sealed.

   In other cases, he will need to create a place for the radon to escape outside the home, so he will drill holes in the concrete to allow air to escape.

   In most cases, the mitigation process takes about a day and costs $1,000 to $1,200.


   For people building new homes, there are options to prevent radon during construction so it doesn’t become a problem later on.

   Justin Otto, the radon and indoor air quality coordinator at the North Dakota department of health, suggests looking into these options, which include building a radon mitigation system into the home to avoid the cost and hassle of having one installed later. He says this is usually aesthetically more pleasing to home owners and costs about the same.

   Oil workers and other people living in new or temporary housing should be sure to check for air quality issues, he says.

   Formaldehyde is especially common in new homes, as it is commonly found in most building materials. He says, if your home smells new, check the air.

   Mitigation options for formaldehyde generally involve raising the temperature of the home to essentially “cook out” the gases. Then, air out the house.

   Of course, residents should vacate the home while this is done to limit their exposure.

  Formaldehyde is commonly found in new homes, especially in building materials including the following:

  Plywood Particle-board Furniture Paint Varnish Carpets Permanent press fabrics

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