Some essential pieces of a radon-mitigation system could be built into every new home when the new county building codes are approved.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas released by decaying uranium in rocks, and long-term exposure can cause lung cancer.
The gas is common in La Plata County, but there is no way to test for it before a house is built. So the county may require parts of radon-ventilation systems be included in every home as part an updated building code, said Butch Knowlton, director of the building department.
Updates to the code could be ready for adoption in early 2016, he told the county commissioners Wednesday.
“It’s easier to mitigate with new home construction than it is to go back in an existing home and try to retrofit,” Knowlton said.
Radon requirements for buildings already have been adopted by many Colorado towns and counties, said Wendy Rice, a consumer science agent for the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
The gas gets trapped under homes, and it filters up to the living space. The mitigation system would include pieces of a ventilation system. The building code could require a membrane to be installed under each new home and small pipes to be built into the home to vent out the gases.
Once the home is built, it can be tested for the gas, and if it is needed, the ventilation can be completed for about a fifth of the cost of installing a system into an existing house, Rice said.
Retrofitting a house with this kind of system can cost $1,800 to $2,500 depending on the size of the house, she said.
New homes may need these systems more than older homes, as well.
A new home built over radon-producing rocks and soil is likely to trap more of the gas than an older home because it has better insulation, she said.
Rice is hopeful the proposed building-code update will help prevent instances of lung cancer. In Colorado, about 500 people die from radon-induced cancer annually.
“I think it’s very wise and proactive on the part of the building department,” she said.
However, the county is still in the preliminary stages of considering this requirement, said Jon Tuthill, a member of the board of appeals that reviews building-code changes.
But he said the county is trying to keep the radon requirements as reasonable as possible. He said there could be homeowners who will pay for the installation of the membrane and pipes that will never need it.