As you research radon gas, you may be asking yourself the questions; “how would a radon mitigation contractor fix their own house?” or “how would a radon measurement provider test their own house?” These are great questions to ask because a radon professional who has been dealing with measurement and ventilation of radon gas in all types of situations would probably deal with it using the best methods and industry secrets for their own homes. For the purposes of this article, I will put myself out there. I will tell you some of the ways I would deal with radon if, your home was my home.
So let us begin. Stop reading for a moment. Close your eyes and imagine your home is now my home. Now open your eyes so you can read some more. Think about your living room, basement, bedrooms, kitchen and cars in your garage. Now imagine removing all of your pictures, furniture, belongings then replacing them with fishing pictures, fishing products and imagine a fishing boat in your garage…..Okay now your home looks like a place I would like to live.
All jokes aside, my wife would never allow that to happen either.
We can, for the purposes of this article, imagine different scenarios that may or may not play out in your own home when dealing with radon gas. These topics should offer you some helpful insight when making decisions about testing for and fixing radon problems.
What would a radon professional say is a safe level of radon in their own home?
If your home was my home I would want the radon levels to be as near to zero as possible.
The answer is simple, the only safe level of radon gas is zero. Humans each have a unique genetic profile that can make one person more or less susceptible to different types of cancer than another. I often use the analogy; “some people smoke cigarettes until they are 100 years old and never develop lung cancer while other people get lung cancer at an early age from exposure to secondhand smoke.” Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Radon is radioactive and the less of it you breathe, the lower your chances are of developing lung cancer. So what do I consider “safe?” I have small children and I don’t like the thought of them breathing radon gas in our home so my answer is, as close to zero as possible. Remember that there are trace amounts of radon gas in the outside air so absolute zero is unlikely. Properly done radon mitigation systems can reduce radon gas to the equivalent of outdoor air which is usually very close to zero.
When would a radon professional test for radon gas in their own home?
If your home was my home, I would test for radon at least every two years and try to test during various seasons.
The EPA recommends that you should test for radon gas every two years. It is very important to test more than once. For instance, when I first purchased my home it was in the late spring. I performed a radon test to see where our radon levels were. Being that it was a warmer/drier time of the year in where I live in Utah, the radon level came back under the EPA action level. Knowing what I know about radon gas, I know that radon levels can fluctuate from time-to-time. I re-tested for radon during the winter to find that my levels were above the epa recommended action level. This is a common scenario in homes all over the country. Remember to test for radon gas in various seasons throughout the year because the weather can have an influence on the results. You don’t want the impression that you are “safe” because you tested during a low period but your radon levels are actually quite high during other periods. Also, If you have a radon mitigation system in your home, don’t assume it is working properly based upon the one test that you did right after the system was installed. Re-test any home with or without a radon mitigation system at least every two years.
What type of radon test would a radon professional use on their own home?
If your home was my home, I would use a DIY radon test kit to save money if I had time to wait for results. I would use an electronic radon test if I needed the results quickly or if I wanted to see the fluctuations of radon levels over the testing duration.
There are several answers to this one that depend on a few scenarios. Budget wise, the cheapest way to test for radon gas is by using a DIY radon test kit. Time wise, the quickest way to get radon results is through an electronic radon test.
- DIY radon test kits are most commonly a passive charcoal type test that you place yourself and send to a laboratory for analysis. These kits are accurate as long as proper storage and placement procedures are followed. I prefer doing simultaneous radon testing when using this method by placing two radon test kits within 6” of each other, exposed to the air at the same time and averaging the results. The benefit of these kits are that they cost substantially less and you can do them yourself rather than hiring a professional. The downside is that there is room for user error and it can take time to get the results due to shipping and lab analysis. These are commonly used for homeowners who want to check the health and safety of their own home.
- Electronic Radon Monitors are professional grade measurement devices that are placed by radon testing technicians. Some monitors generate the results in a digital screen, others print data for the technician to generate a report and others send data to a remote server at a radon lab and the report is generated from there. Electronic radon monitors will help you see the fluctuations of radon levels over a period of time (usually 48 hours.) This method will help you get results faster because the report can usually be generated immediately following conclusion of the sample period. The downside is that you have to schedule with a technician and this will cost you more money. These types of radon measurements are commonly used during real estate transactions.
- Long-term radon tests will help you best understand the seasonal variations of radon in your home. These tests are usually deployed for 90+ days. I like long term radon tests for post mitigation monitoring.
I think it is best to use a different testing company from the repair company when initially testing homes. Radon is an invisible gas. Avoid the conflict of interest by verifying the radon results before hiring a contractor.
How would a radon contractor deal with radon in real estate transactions?
If your home was my home and I was considering selling it, I would test for and fix radon problems before I listed the home. I would then have time to make sure the system is working properly and have peace of mind that I can show prospective buyers the post-mitigation test results of low radon levels. Plus, I would enjoy the benefit of having reduced radon in my home while living there before selling.
If the home you are considering to buy was the home I was considering to buy and the radon test came back high, I would not have the seller hire the radon contractor at that point. I would negotiate a credit or insist that I choose the radon contractor who installs the system.
With awareness trends the way they are, most people only hear about or think about radon when they are buying or selling a home. Radon often comes up in real estate transactions during the home inspection process. Often times the buyer requests that a radon test be done before they will purchase the home. If radon levels come back above the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L the buyers and sellers go into negotiation of how to deal with it. Sometimes the seller hires a radon contractor to install a mitigation system before closing. Sometimes the parties negotiate a credit be applied toward radon mitigation. What many don’t foresee when dealing with radon in real estate transactions is that the whole process takes time and can cause stress. A test will take at least 48 hours, the radon system install will usually take a day after waiting to get on the contractor's schedule and the retest will take another 48 hours. Then if the radon comes back low, often times the transaction proceeds without a hitch. If the radon comes back high, you have to wait to get on the contractor's schedule, can possibly pay more money, wait for additional mitigation work be done and then re-test again. These things can postpone a closing for weeks or even months. Nobody wants to go through that when trying to sell or trying to buy a home. If I were selling a home that hadn’t tested for radon before, I would do the radon test well before listing the home. This way I can find out if the radon levels are above the action level. I would have time to find the right contractor and make sure the radon problem was fixed well before any potential buyers might get scared away during the due diligence phase. Knowing what I know about radon in real estate transactions, I would not allow the seller to hire the radon contractor if I was buying that home. When radon is discovered during the due diligence phase of a real estate transaction, people get stressed. Sellers are annoyed that they have to deal with it and buyers wonder if they should actually purchase the home. I have seen time and again, the sellers want to spend as little money as possible just to get the radon levels to drop so they can sell. They don’t have the long term concern of how the radon mitigation system will perform to keep radon levels safer for the future of the home. They end up selecting the cheapest and quickest radon mitigation contractor possible which doesn’t always translate into a system that will work well. I would not walk away from a real estate deal out of fear the radon levels could not be fixed. I know that radon mitigation systems work when properly installed. I would negotiate the credit and hire the best radon mitigation contractor for the job.
What would a radon contractor look for in a radon mitigation system in their own home?
The answer to this one is complicated. It would take a book rather than an article to go over all of the details of which radon mitigation systems are better when, where and why. I will touch on some key items that I think are worth mentioning in this article.
If your home was my home and I was having a radon mitigation system installed:
What is the best radon mitigation system?
- The best radon mitigation system is a system that reduces the radon levels as close to zero as possible based upon budget.
What is better, 4” PVC or 3” PVC?
- It depends on the type of soil conditions and the type of fan required. If the home has dense clay or sand and a high suction 3” duct fan, I would go with 3” schedule 40 pvc for the suction pipe.
- I like a minimum of 4” PVC above the fan even if 3” pipe was used below the fan. This helps reduce back pressure.
- Always have schedule 40 PVC installed. Foam core, sch40 PVC will be quieter than thin wall PVC plus I’ve seen the thin pipe crack.
- Keep in mind that the primary pipe should be a minimum of 3” but additional suction lines can be smaller diameter pipe like 2” and 1.5” pvc.
What is the best radon fan?
- The best radon fans are determined by radon professionals based upon the density of the soil under the foundation and the characteristics of the footprint of the home or building.
- Each fan’s performance curve depends on the soil conditions under the radon suction point. Some fans perform better under dense soil but not as well in porous soil. Other fans work well in porous soil and crawlspace membranes but don’t have enough power to pull a strong vacuum in dense soil.
- Bigger is not always better. A “bigger” fan will not always fix the radon levels better than a “smaller” fan. In some cases, a “bigger” radon fan can actually be dangerous. If the radon contractor does not seal well enough, the bigger fan can pull radon in from further areas of the home that radon are not under suction or worse, the fan can create vacuum in the basement risking backdrafting of combustible appliances. Backdrafting can pull in deadly carbon monoxide.
- Some radon fans use higher quality motors, parts and bearings than others on the market. Research the difference in radon fans and make sure your contractor is using the best fan for the job.
- Don’t stress about the noise. All radon fans make noise to be able to get rid of radon. Noise isn’t always attributed to the fan motor but to the types of materials and installation procedures of the contractor. You are going to have to understand that there will be some level of noise from any radon mitigation system. In my opinion, the sound of a radon system is a small price to pay knowing that I’m not breathing radon gas. Note: If you want a quieter system, have the contractor install it internally through the attic or use PVC for all system parts.
- Is downspout okay for the vent stack on exterior radon mitigation systems?
- Many contractors use aluminum downspout for exterior vent stacks because it looks better than PVC on the side of residential homes. Aluminum downspout is usually painted to match the existing gutters or the siding on the home. This is nice because it helps conceal the system. When done well, aluminum downspout can be an effective vent stack material. I prefer the look of downspout in radon systems.
- You want to make sure that the installer will seal all of the seams and joints of the aluminum downspout so that radon gas and condensation will not escape the vent stack.
- Aluminum downspout can make more noise than PVC vent stacks because it is a thinner material and the screws/rivets in the seams can cause turbulence in the air which results in louder radon mitigation exhaust.
- Downspout can create more condensation in the radon system in colder climates.
- I used 4” schedule 40 PVC for the vent stack on my own radon mitigation system because I think it is the best choice. I painted the PVC to match the stucco on my home. I also wanted PVC because I chose to route the vent stack through my roof overhang rather than out and around it.
- Keep in mind, thousands upon thousands of homes across the country have radon mitigation systems installed with downspout without a problem. You make the best decision for your home. I wouldn’t want a white PVC pipe going up the side of my house because I don’t have a white house.
Which are better, attic radon systems or exterior radon systems?
- The most important part of system placement is how to effectively reduce radon gas.
- If the system is able to achieve the same suction under the foundation, I would choose an attic installed radon system every time. (An attic install wasn’t a viable option in my own home.) I like the fact that the radon mitigation system is hidden internally. The radon fan and its electrical components can be better protected from the cold weather when installed in the attic.
- Garage attic radon mitigation systems are nice because the pipe is visible in the garage so you can easily read the radon system gauge. Also, the garage attic is usually far away from any bedrooms which helps reduce any noise you would hear from the radon fan in a quiet house.
What about homes with multiple foundation types?
- If the home has more than one ground contacting level, make sure that you test for radon over each one. For instance; if the home has a basement, a crawlspace and a slab on grade addition you should perform at least three radon tests.
- Radon mitigation systems should add suction to each level of the foundation whenever possible.
- If there is a crawlspace that does not have a concrete floor, it should always be sealed. I would choose to seal the crawlspace with a thicker plastic than the standard 6 MIL polyethylene. Many contractors use the 6MIL plastic that you can buy at the local hardware store. I have been in crawlspaces where this type of plastic disintegrates from contact with soil and I have heard of cases where this type of plastic can off-gas vapors. I like plastics that are made for crawlspaces and dirt vapor barriers which are thicker than 10 MIL. The radon contractor should add suction to the soil under the crawlspace whenever possible.
How would a radon professional go about hiring a contractor for their own home?
If your home was my home, I would make sure I hired a radon mitigation contractor who I can trust to install the right system and someone who will be around to honor their radon reduction warranty.
Radon mitigation is serious business. It takes experience for a radon contractor to be able to consistently install radon systems that actually reduce radon levels. I would make sure that the contractor is licensed with the state and/or certified by National Radon Proficiency Program. I would check how long the company has been in business. Keep in mind, there are some companies who say they have been in business since the 80’s yet the owners were kids at the time. Others combine the experience of their technicians to say “+ years experience” yet the company hasn’t been around very long. If they don’t tell you the full truth on their level of experience, can you trust them to tell you the truth about anything else? Read the reviews, make sure to keep an open mind to know if the reviews are legit or not. Sources like Angies List and Home advisor work to verify the reviews of their contractors. Remember you can get a grasp of how long the company has been in business by looking at old reviews. Do an internet search on the company and names of the techs. This will give you a full history of that company. Whenever I hire a contractor, I like to meet them in person. Although some homes can be quoted over the phone in radon mitigation, the best radon systems are designed in person by proficient technicians not call centers. The radon contractor will be spending at least a half day in your home, walking through bedrooms, bathrooms and other rooms. I like to see that a radon company hires background checked technicians. This is another reason why I like to meet my contractor in person before hiring them to come into my home, around my family.
There are many questions surrounding radon gas and how to deal with it. One contractor may tell you something and another may tell you the opposite. This article is intended to help you know what I would do when dealing with radon gas in my home, around my family. While it’s a start, there is a lot to more to learn. Try to be as informed as possible when making important decisions about this deadly gas. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions.
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