Test for radon - for peace of mind

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - OUR WATER QUALITY - By Paul Wei­de­man

RADON IS NOT AN IN­SIGNIF­I­CANT THREAT IN THIS PART OF THEWORLD. The gas that can’t be de­tected by eye or nose is a killer — it’s re­spon­si­ble for about 21,000 lung can­cer deaths na­tion­wide every year, with nearly 3,000 of those in peo­ple who have never smoked. And the in­ci­dence of dan­ger-level radon in North­ern New Mex­ico is four times the na­tional aver­age.

“In our area, one in three homes that are tested have radon lev­els that pose a sig­nif­i­cant health risk, mean­ing over 4.0 pic­ocuries,” said Steve Burke of Clean Sweep En­vi­ron­men­tal Soluitions. “That’s the limit at which the EPA would like to see mit­i­ga­tion oc­cur.”

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency es­ti­mates that one in every 15 Amer­i­can homes has radon lev­els at or above 4.0 pCi per liter. Taos, Santa Fe, and Los Alamos coun­ties all have shown a much higher in­ci­dence. Burke says it’s be­cause of the re­gion’s high-desert ge­ol­ogy.

Radon’s health haz­ard comes from the ra­dioac­tive par­ti­cles that are emit­ted as radon gas, and which is pro­duced by the decay of nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring ura­nium. Those par­ti­cles can be in­haled into the lung and bom­bard your cells with dan­ger­ous, can­cer-caus­ing ra­di­a­tion.

The only way to de­ter­mine if a home or build­ing has el­e­vated in­door radon is to test it, ac­cord­ing to the New Mex­ico En­vi­ron­ment Depart­ment, and you can do that your­self. Test kits are avail­able for less than $30 at Home De­pot and Lowe’s, as well as through Al­pha En­ergy Lab­o­ra­to­ries, www.doc­torhome­air.com.

“We do radon test­ing for real-es­tate transactions as well as radon mit­i­ga­tion,” said Burke, part­ner with Paul DeDomenico in the Clean Sweep busi­ness. About seven years ago, they added radon to their 1977 com­pany’s ros­ter of ser­vices, which also in­cludes mold de­tec­tion and mit­i­ga­tion, chim­ney clean­ing, and wa­ter-dam­age so­lu­tions.

Home radon test­ing re­quires a min­i­mum of 48 hours. Dur­ing the test­ing, win­dows and doors must re­main closed (other than for nor­mal en­try and exit) and fans must be turned off in the room where the radon mon­i­tor is lo­cated.

If your house tests over 4.0 pCi/liter, it is rec­om­mended that you per­form, or hire a com­pany such as Clean Sweep to per­form, a sec­ond test. If high lev­els of radon are con­firmed, it’s time to ad­dress the prob­lem, for ex­am­ple with sub-slab de­pres­sur­iza­tion. Radon in an ex­ist­ing house can be mit­i­gated by hav­ing the con­crete slab pen­e­trated at one or more lo­ca­tions and an out­side fan in­stalled to cre­ate a neg­a­tive pres­sure be­low the slab.

Due to a pres­sure dif­fer­ence, soil gases move through holes in your foun­da­tion, your slab, or the floor over your crawlspace, said Santa Fe ar­chi­tect and home­builder Bob Kreger. In­te­grat­ing a pas­sive sub-slab ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem to con­trol soil gas mi­gra­tion cre­ates a thin air zone of neg­a­tive pres­sure un­der the slab. In­te­grat­ing a prop­erly in­stalled “air bar­rier” (a plas­tic mem­brane) over the pas­sive radon col­lec­tion area is fun­da­men­tal in iso­lat­ing radon from your liv­ing space.

A vent pipe con­nects the sub-slab ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem to the ex­te­rior through a roof vent.

Radon mit­i­ga­tion sys­tems can typ­i­cally be in­stalled for $1,500 to $3,000. Adding a heat re­cov­ery ven­ti­la­tion (HRV) sys­tem also can also help by di­lut­ing any in­door radon.

If no radon-pre­ven­tion is built into a foun­da­tion, the dan­ger is no less real in a new­house. Nor does the type of foun­da­tion mat­ter. The best way to avoid con­tact with radon is in a new house that has built-in pre­ven­tion. “What I do is very in­ex­pen­sive,” Kreger said. “It’s gener­i­cally re­ferred to as flat pipe, which is a Mira Drain dim­ple mem­brane that you lay un­der the slab.

“The old way of us­ing four inches of crushed rock and per­fo­rated pipe is un­nec­es­sary. Both sys­tems sim­ply en­able un­ob­structed col­lec­tion of the radon gas to pipe ris­ers that go through the roof.

“The flat pipe is two feet wide and it goes around the perime­ter and maybe a few runs across the slab, de­pend­ing on the square footage, and that will get cov­ered with rigid foam, then they pour con­crete.”

Kreger said the flat pipe was orig­i­nally designed as a prod­uct for re­leas­ing hy­dro­static pres­sure on the ver­ti­cal sur­face of a foun­da­tion. It al­lows the wa­ter from the ground to run down through the dim­ples and into a drain. “But when you turn the dim­ple mem­brane hor­i­zon­tally, it works to al­low radon gas to be vented.

“We vent pas­sively. We don’t put in a fan un­less an in­spec­tor upon re­sale finds radon. I’ve done all the hard work in the con­struc­tion, then at that point they can just add an in­line fan and plug it in.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about radon and pre­ven­tion and mit­i­ga­tion al­ter­na­tives, see clean­sweepnm.com, env. nm.gov/nm­rcb/radon.html, and epa.gov/radon.

CON­STRUC­TION AL­TER­NA­TIVES A newer way to in­stall pas­sive sub-slab radon ven­ti­la­tion: the black “flat pipe” (left) is an eas­ier so­lu­tion than the old, but still valid, crushed rock with per­fo­rated pipe (be­low left).

Be­low, a vari­a­tion us­ing both flat pipe and crushed rock un­der the air bar­rier

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