1:5:10:365 EcoTip Blog

November 29, 2008

:334 Radioactive Materials

Take the 1:5:10:365 challenge: Do one thing – for 5 to 10 minutes – 365 days a year to make our home and planet environment better.

1:5:10:334 EcoTip: Radioactive uranium is sometimes present in rock used for construction. This is more likely when the rocks contain granite, phosphate, pitch-blend or shale. Radioactive aggregate has also been mixed with concrete for foundations. Radon test kits and monitors can be used to determine if radon releasing materials are about to be used in new construction or if they are present in existing buildings.

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 Additional Information:

Suggested Review: :128, :129, :130

The following recounts an experience I had almost two decades ago when inspecting a home a family wanted to purchase. I conducted radon testing with electronic monitors, and found radon levels in the guest bedroom of about 27 picocuries per liter of air (EPA’s action level is 4.0 picocuries). The following excerpt is from Prescriptions for a Healthy House which I co-authored and is now in its third edition:

Upon visual examination of the guest bedroom, it was noted that the headboards for the two beds were made of rock that appeared to be granite. The headboards were later tested with a small Geiger counter. While normal radioactive background levels away from the headboards were approximately 12 radioactive counts per minute, the counts close to the headboards were over 300. It was clear that the headboards were at least one source of radon in the room. The headboards were in fact a decorative granite rock imported from Italy. Each headboard weighed several hundred pounds. The floors and walls had been especially constructed to hold the extra weight. It took six strong men to remove each of the headboards to a detached garage. The radon tests were repeated throughout the home with all values now under 1.0 picocurie. The home was given a radon clearance, contingent upon the proper disposal of the headboards.

This was the first home I ever inspected in which a radon source was caused by a building material or furnishing. Although radon from the soil is the most common cause of elevated radiation levels in a home, there are many other possible sources. Since granite rock is sometimes high in uranium, it must be considered a potential source of radon when used in construction. Rock can be a superb building material, but it should always be tested prior to use for the rare possibility of radiation.

Most U.S. manufacturers of granite rock products are now aware of this problem – but it never hurts to double check. Probably the easiest way for occupants to test stone is to set up a radon test kit or monitor in the room with the stone.

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November 17, 2008

:322 Radon in Water

Filed under: :322 Radon in Water — Tags: , , , , , , — John Banta @ 12:21 am

Take the 1:5:10:365 challenge: Do one thing – for 5 to 10 minutes – 365 days a year to make our home and planet environment better.

1:5:10:322 EcoTip: Radon doesn’t always enter a home from the soil. Homes on wells or small community based water cooperatives should check their water for radon if elevated levels are identified in the home’s air. In some cases people have spent a few hundred to couple of thousand dollars to unsuccessfully fix their home’s radon problem – only to find out the source was their water – requiring a completely different fix. Municipal systems are required to monitor radiation levels – so they shouldn’t be an issue.

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 Additional Information:

Suggested Review: :128, 129, 130

A variety of methods are available for removing radon from water. One method involves aerating the water and venting the radon gas to the outside before the water is brought into the home. Another method uses activated carbon to “scrub’ the radon from the water. Since the half life of radon is a little less than 4 days, two whole house carbon filters are used and alternated at 4 day intervals. This prevents the radon level from building up too high. 

If you suspect radon in water you can have it tested by contacting National Testing Laboratories.

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November 4, 2008

:309 Radon Gas Mat

Filed under: :309 Radon Gas Mat — Tags: , , , , , , — John Banta @ 12:19 am

Take the 1:5:10:365 challenge: Do one thing – for 5 to 10 minutes – 365 days a year to make our home and planet environment better.

1:5:10:309 EcoTip: A radon gas mat system is sometimes installed under a concrete slab before it is poured to help control radon gas. If you have a crawlspace the same gas mat system can be installed on top of the crawlspace soil with the gas mat underneath a polyethylene moisture barrier to keep the radon exiting the crawlspace and entering the home. Other types of gases such as water vapor and pesticide treatments also seem to be controlled well by the gas mat systems.

Source: http://www.radonpds.com 

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 Additional Information:

Suggested Review: :050, :128, :129, :130

Instructions and materials for the installation of a radon gas mat system under a slab foundation are available at: http://www.radonpds.com/Instructions_SM/Instructions_SM.htm. Using it in a crawlspace under a soil mat follows the same basic steps except the soil mat substitutes for the concrete.

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May 9, 2008

:130 Radon Monitoring

Filed under: :130 Radon Monitoring — Tags: , , , , , — John Banta @ 12:06 am

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:130 EcoTip: If you are going to be doing more than a few radon tests or know that your building has a radon problem, you may want to purchase an electronic monitor. Family Safety Product’s monitors look similar to a smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector, but are set to record radon gas.

Source: Family Safety Products

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 Additional Information

The Safety Siren -ProSeries 3 radon detector can be purchased (if you shop around) for about $100.00. It requires at least 48 hours of exposure to provide the first reading (but – so do all the other types) and then averages the readings from then on. You can clear the unit and move it to different parts of your home.

I like this system for buildings where you know you have a radon problem and want to be alerted if the mitigation system has stopped working.

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May 8, 2008

:129 Prevent Radon Entry

Filed under: :129 Prevent Radon — Tags: , , , , , , , — John Banta @ 12:07 am

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:129 EcoTip: Fixing radon problems isn’t a nightmare, provided you do your homework and understand what your doing. EPA has excellent guidance information on how to do-it-yourself as well as choosing a contractor to do it for you.

Source: EPA

The diagram is a composite view of several mitigation options.  The typical mitigation system usually has only one pipe penetration through the basement floor; the pipe may also be installed on the outside of the house.

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 Additional Information

EPA states:

Since there is no known safe level of radon, there can always be some risk. But the risk can be reduced by lowering the radon level in your home.

There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home, but the one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside.  This system, known as a soil suction radon reduction system, does not require major changes to your home.  Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost-efficient.  Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors can use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.

The cost of reducing radon in your home depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs. The average house costs about $1,200 for a contractor to fix, although this can range from about $800 to about $2,500.  The cost is much less if a passive system was installed during construction.

A more detailed description of methods and cost is at: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/consguid.html

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May 7, 2008

:128 Radon Testing

Filed under: :128 Radon Testing — Tags: , , , , , , — John Banta @ 12:56 am

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:128 EcoTip: Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas which is naturally occurring in many parts of the world. EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General have recommended that all homes be tested. The radon test process is simple and inexpensive to do it yourself.

Source: EPA

RADON GETS IN THROUGH:

  1. Cracks in solid floors
  2. Construction joints
  3. Cracks in walls
  4. Gaps in suspended floors
  5. Gaps around service pipes
  6. Cavities inside walls
  7. The water supply

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 Additional Information

EPA has published good information on how to test for radon at http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html#howtotest:

SHORT-TERM TESTING:

The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device. “Charcoal canisters,” “alpha track,” “electret ion chamber,” “continuous monitors,” and “charcoal liquid scintillation” detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.

 

LONG-TERM TESTING:

Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. “Alpha track” and “electret” detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home’s year-round average radon level than a short-term test.

 

EPA Recommends the Following Testing Steps:

Step 1.  Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher take a follow-up test (Step 2) to be sure.

Step 2.  Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test:

  • For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test.
  • If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test.

The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.

Step 3.  If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more.  If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.

Tomorrow’s blog will be about fixing radon problems.

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