Saturday, March 24, 2012

Radon Revisited


A continuous radon detector at work. These are not much larger than a carbon monoxide detector.
     I knew, and had reported to you earlier that following even following a small earthquake, that the radon levels within your home and your basement could change.  I urged you to retest your home for radon should you experience an earthquake there, or near there.   This may help clarify for you, exactly why you should.  As you know, we have a high ceilinged, well built basement which has a large amount of finished living space, as well as mechanical rooms and a workshop.  After it was built, and again, after it was finished as living space, and got some extra bedrooms, it was tested for radon.  As long as reasonable ventilation was occurring, then it was below the American standard of 4 picacuries per liter  (Canada measures using a different standard)     Now that we have had the 5.8 Central Virginia earthquake, and more than 100 aftershocks since, it is fair and reasonable to recheck these levels.   Theoretically, fractures in rock below can allow enhanced leakage of radon daughters from rocks with uranium.  This radon can become trapped particularly in well built homes, built with strong "R" values for energy-efficiency.  I waited a bit longer than I wanted to, to take these measurements because aftershocks of 2.2 and 3 were continuing, and if minor damage was continuing, it made more sense to get readings when the activities which altered the readings were complete.   This week, when the continuous radon detector I spoke of in a prior post arrived, I reread the directions and began to get readings.   I deliberately closed up things and cut ventilation in an attempt to discern what are likely our worst case scenario readings here.

      These are just a few of the basement readings which are still under way.

     Basement bedroom 4        10.2
     Disaster supply room         8.7
     Basement bedroom 5         8.5
     Library                              8.4
     Basement bedroom 6         8.3
     Bathroom                          7.6

    As you can see, these are about twice the readings they should be, and are substantially higher than they
   were, when we built and tested the house almost four years ago.  For us, the earthquake has made a substantial difference in the amount of radon leakage from soil into our home.  My husband, an engineer, is completing his gathering of information on radon abatement.  It is his plan to begin two abatement strategies starting next week.

          Radon is a colorless and odorless gas, which is unlikely to do anything in the short term.  However, breathing it for years, will raise your lung cancer risk, and if you are a smoker raises it substantially.   Everyone should measure their basement and each room for radon, if you have a continuous device. If you do not own the continuous device, then cannister variety testers are available for radon testing, at most hardware stores.  Steps should be taken to abate radon, if it is found to be higher than 4 picacuries per liter.

            I will share with you what I learn about these abatement strategies that we will employ, as I learn about them.  I will also post the normalized figures as we attain them.   Keep in mind, that elevated radon levels can also be a sign of impending earthquake activity, and so this also, may be what we are seeing.
            The important thing is to get homes tested, and then to research abatement, which can be easier than I had first believed.  There are some inexpensive, yet effective alternatives for homeowners.  In the early 1980s, much less was known about the science and the art of radon abatement in homes, and a lot of contractors did things which amounted to overkill.  Now, much more efficient and inexpensive strategies can be employed, which are a great deal less expensive.

"Rational Preparedness" prior posts on radon include:

They also include information for radon in Canada


Matt said...

I live probably 2.5 to 3 hrs (as the crow flies) from the epicenter and hadn't given this any consideration. Wife and I are looking to sell and this may be an issue when they do an inspection. Both she and I have allergy issue and the house stays closed up almost all the time.

JaneofVirginia said...

You may be fine. I am actually surprized that this has made such a difference to our readings. Whether a radon inspection is done upon sale, depends upon your state and your region. Some states are very hot on radon, and others don't even mention it, other than a realtor asking if you are aware of any radon elevations in the time you have owned. Since radon is really only an issue if you live somewhere over time, many people choose not to address it. Since this is a permanent home for us, and some of my sons live in the lower level, it's a big deal to us.