Radon Removal

Removing radon from most homes is a simple process–a tube going beneath the foundation and a fan remove the radon and vent it outside, away from windows and places where people are most likely to go. The radon is quickly diluted by the outside air.

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from https://sosradon.org/reducing-radon-in-your-home

My house, however, wasn’t as easy as the picture shown above. First of all, the vent must be ten feet away from any windows that open. My house is filled with windows. We found a spot in the side yard to place the fan and vent. It was close to the high radon side of the house, too. We don’t hang out much in that section of the yard.

Second, the radon was coming from one nasty spot not easy to vent–a place in the cellar where a drain had been cut into the foundation. This is a thick walled cellar. By cellar, I do not mean a basement, I mean, a true cellar that’s underground with no windows.

Warning: photos of my old basement ahead.

 

 

 

An area where radon is coming in is a drain vent added there recently.  It’s near a deep cellar. The heavy gas concentrated in the cellar–great for tornados, bad for radon.

Here’s the solution:

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Insert a pump /fan near the offending section of the basement.
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Then get the pipe ten feet away from any opening window. (The pink window is another project–more on that later.)

 

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Our basement is enormous. Four pipes were inserted into the foundation. One in the cellar and three in adjacent rooms.

 

The next step is to test for radon using several meters throughout the house to make sure the gas is expelled and not re-entering. It can take a few days for radon level to drop. If we don’t get it below the level of 4 pCi/L we’ll need more tubes.

You might wonder if I can hear the radon fan. I’m not sure. I hear a fan when I’m next to the window closest to the fan. However, is it the refrigerator or the radon fan? I have radiators that make a gentle rumble. (In the summer, it will be next to the air conditioner.) If it makes a noise, its not a loud one.

One in fifteen homes in the United States tests high for radon and in Iowa, the ratio is seven out of ten–the highest in the nation! (However, some states such as Pennsylvania and South Dakota have higher average ratings. Click here for a map.) Even though I don’t spend much time in my basement, I’m glad to have done this.Going into the cellar always made me sneeze. I though it was mold but maybe it was the irritating radioactive gas. Now I can dodge tornados more safely.

Big, bad radon

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You’ve no doubt heard of radon in basements. Where is radon prevent? Here is a radon map.  The United States doesn’t have much radon compared to other countries. It’s common in many states, especially in the North. Iowa and North Dakota are the two  totally Zone 1 states. That means that here in Iowa, it’s hard to avoid this odorless, colorless, harmful gas. It’s inside and out, concentrating in low lying areas and clinging to dust particles. Inside it can reach harmful concentrations and promote lung cancer.

What is radon? It’s a non-reactive element, in the same family as helium and neon. It hangs in the air as a solitary atom. It doesn’t like to form chemical bonds. The problem is, it’s the big cousin to those elements. It’s heavy. It would NOT float a balloon. Big elements, those with an atomic number of above 81, aren’t stable. They decay and toss off radioactive particles as they strip down to something lighter. And for radon, its light form is lead. So not only does it beat on your lungs with energetic particles as it decays, it goes through a series of forming dangerous atoms, and it’s not too nice when it settles down as a lead atom. Here it is on the periodic table, Rn, radon. There is also an Ra, radium–kind of confusing. Radium is related to calcium. Radon, the one we are talking about, can be in water but exists as a gas. Because it is a gas, you breath it in. That’s a problem. Radon’s atomic number 86 so it’s a big one! (Carbon by example is 12.) But not so big that you can wear a particle mask and keep it away. It’s got a bad size. Where does it come from? Heavy atoms tend to be found further down in the ground and radon comes from uranium break down. Uranium has atomic number 92. It’s a solid and tends to stay where it’s put. It lets off the gas of radon. (And also helium.)

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from lueribbonpestandradon.com/radon-testing/

In retrospect, I wasted time waiting until the basement was done to get after the radon. I have decided that patience is over-rated! We put down radon sealant on our new floors and thought that would be enough but no, It worked in some rooms but not in others. In fact, by adding a drainage system and two sump pumps we probably made our radon worse. 

Curious about radon your house? The first step in figuring out if you have radon is to do a short term test. In this test, the radon is collected on carbon, which can suck things in and get them to stick The small package of carbon sits in your home (basement in my case) for a few days is sent to a lab and measured. Want to buy one? Look up “radon test kit.” They aren’t expensive.

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The first step is collecting a sample of air to be tested for radon.

The next step–if your reading is high– is to call a radon specialist. This person will probably put some radon monitors in the lowest level the home to see where it is most concentrated.

No surprise. Ours was-concentrated in the root cellar/tornado shelter/bomb shelter. It was less so in other spots in the basement but the average level was too high.

One thing we had going for us–we don’t have any duct work in the basement. We kept our radiators. The duct work for the air conditioner is in the attic. This means were were not blowing the cellar radon around the entire house as can happen with radon. On the other hand, the radon in the basement wasn’t going to go anywhere without help. And we go down to the cellar during tornado scares and store things down there.

We signed a contract with a radon specialist to fix the problem. Then,  we waited four months for the problem to be fixed. I think the radon specialist will be here Monday. I’ll keep you posted.

The takeaways from my experience are this:

Don’t wait to test for radon.

When you sign a contract to have it removed, have both a level of reduction AND a completion date specified.

To read about my results, go here.