Updates to Routt County building codes will reflect local issues with radon and, yes, earthquakes | SteamboatToday.com

Updates to Routt County building codes will reflect local issues with radon and, yes, earthquakes

The only way to know whether radon exists in a home or building is to use a test kit available for $6 at local extension offices, including the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office in the Routt County Courthouse Annex on Sixth Street. Mitigation can significantly reduce elevated radon levels.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Recently updated Routt County building codes include changes meant to curb the effects of two potential problems: radon and earthquakes.

The changes come as the county updates local building codes as it does every three years. Two of the more noticeable changes adopt codes requiring new construction of single-family homes to lay the groundwork for radon prevention and a reclassification of what seismic zone the county is in.

Radon, a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that forms naturally in soil when uranium breaks down, is found in high concentrations across most of Colorado, according to Colorado State University Extension. It is also the second leading cause of lung cancer. 

Building code changes would require new single-family houses to be built with the piping needed for radon mitigation in place below the foundation.

“There is no change with radon levels in our area,” said Todd Carr, a building official with the county. “It is just about being preventative and proactive.”

Shane Campbell, operations manager with Certified Radon Mitigation based in Steamboat Springs, said radon is found in roughly half the homes in the area. Campbell anticipated completing up to 200 mitigation jobs in Routt County in the next year, which typically cost around $2,000.

Campbell said that having the pipes needed for a mitigation system in place would make it much easier to install a full system in the future.

No level of radon is safe. While the average indoor radon level is about 1.3 picocuries per liter of air, in Colorado that number is 6.3. A house measuring at 4 picocuries per liter should have radon mitigation installed. The risk of that level of radon in a home is similar to the risk of dying in a car accident, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

While much less common than radon, earthquakes are not unheard of in the Yampa Valley. There have been 24 earthquakes in Routt County since 2000, the largest with a magnitude of 3.9 in 2005. There were six recorded earthquakes in 2019, though the largest registered just a 2.5 magnitude.

New data about earthquakes in the region caused a small area around Steamboat to be classified as a category D seismic zone. Much of the Continental Divide was reclassified as a category C. Both these areas had previously been classified as a category B. 

Most earthquakes that are a 2.5 magnitude or less go unnoticed, and a quake needs to be around a 4.5 magnitude to have an effect on buildings or infrastructure.

Still, the new classification pushed Routt County commissioners Tuesday toward adopting building codes outlined for areas in category C. The towns of Hayden, Yampa and Oak Creek already approved a move to category C.

“It does not create hardly any impacts to residential construction at all until you get to a townhome building of three or more,” Carr said. “Even then, it is only slight modifications to how we would build today.”

Though the entire city of Steamboat is within the category D zone, making the larger move from category B to D would have “huge impacts in design and construction,” Carr said. Commissioners could revisit this classification in three years when they look to update building codes again.

The new codes are expected to be fully approved on Nov. 3 and take effect in the new year.

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