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Leah Sattler
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I've always thought it would be cool to have a home partially buried or even use a natural cave for a portion of one but have recently read of problems with radon in homes like these. Anybody have some good, non-hyped info on this? 
 
paul wheaton
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I've had a helluva time telling what to believe is true. 

It would be great if a trusted authority could stand up and give us the final word.

 
Susan Monroe
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From the federal Environmental Protection Agency, start with map of your state, then click on left for particular issues:

Radon in WA:  http://www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap/washington.htm

Radon in OR: http://www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap/oregon.htm

Radon in ID:
http://www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap/idaho.htm

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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thanks sue! hadn't found that yet.
 
paul wheaton
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So the EPA says it's for real.  Are there any authorities claim it's a load of horse potatoes?
 
Leah Sattler
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I have done enough reading to convince me its not bunk. But as soon as "radiation" enters a conversation people start getting unreasonable, so it is difficult to tell how much of a threat it is. It appears some people prey on peoples fear  (imagine that :roll and provide "services" revovling radon detection and proofing that may or may not do something other then drain your wallet.
 
            
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I know this is an old thread but I had to comment anyway.

I used to have a paper that gave all the properties about radon.  One of them was that it is 7 times heavier than air.

One of the things that some building codes required for those living in areas where radon occurs (everywhere according to the feds) you had to construct this drainage system under your house which was plastic and drain rock and pipes to the outside of your house.  The theory being that the radon would "drain" out from under your house.  I always wondered how it could even get in your house if it was heavier than air. I suppose it could be a concern in an underground house, but in my opinion if you have a door that leads outside it should drain out on its own.

I though it was all hooey and so looked for info on it.  From what I read I decided to not ever worry about it.  If it is heavier than air then it would be difficult to breathe in.  I suppose wind could blow it around but then it would be diluted.

I decided to treat it like most other things from the government doom and gloom sources:
  It may kill you just like everything else. bit since everything else will kill you anyway, why worry about one particular thing that may?

Radon is generally found in areas where there is a high level of granite or uranium ore, if you live in that kind of area, it may be of concern.  But, since the world is made up of a lot of granite, chances are we are doomed to die from radon poisoning.

sigh
 
                            
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Radon is a dangerous as water can be. Get too deep in it, absorb too much of it, breath too much of it in, engulf yourself with it,  etc... and you are a goner.

And, btw, so is Mother Earth.

The point being.....?

a dwelling that, by design, entrap soil gases in a manner that accumulates densities into the bio-cidal concentrations for the residents, will be a killer.

Blaming a normal, ubiquitous Earthly exudant for the consequent poor human design costing lives is a poor response, a mark of a less than worthy driver at the wheel.

Now, if someone here can send me a link as to informing of the magic that gets the cool emoticons into this response... while (:> is my usual style, I'd sure like to try them out... and I'm a lot, a real lot lazier than you'd expect. And I haven't a clue how to do this in the wysiwyg world of old style Windoze.

 
paul wheaton
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So you're thinking that radon is an issue.  An important issue. 

And your moniker contains "hobbit" - so .... something to do with underground shelter

My impression has been that the key is lots of fresh air exchange.    And perhaps building in areas where radon is naturally low. 


 
Jocelyn Campbell
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I used to work at a place that installs granite counter tops and tiles. A news story came up saying this could create too much radon (in even an above-ground home). I didn't research it much, because I wasn't exactly looking at doing any granite installations in my own home. I think one of our sales people began using a radon meter (what are they called?) to assuage buyers' concerns.

I agree with mrhobbit that it's all in the design and working with what is happening in your surroundings, being an intelligent, informed consumer, and perhaps looking into the venting or "drain" that KurtW describes if it might be an issue. I think that is much smarter than simply saying, 'oh, everything can kill us, so why bother?' Radon levels can be measured. Why not do what you can to protect your health?

Oh, and mrhobbit, the emoticons here on permies are right above the box you type your message in. Simply click on the one you want and it will insert the code for you! 
 
                            
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paul,

You are exactly right... re: ventilation.  Unventilated Home = Coffin with Windows and a View. Enjoy?

It's incredible how engrained we get with energy savings, thinking that a perfect way to save on the heating bill is to live in a sealed container, not letting out our precious little bit of heat.  The fact of the matter, it's always been the house that keeps us warm, not the air in it.  Why get so bent out of shape trying to capture old, stale hot air?  The trick is to build a house that is insulated on the outside and sufficiently massive that as the temperatures outdoor change, it simple sits there resisting the change.  Then you can let the air move in and out at the maximum rate that  maintains life and supports that stability.  BTW, 5 air exchanges an hour is a MINIMUM in some scenarios.  And your heat source?  The core of the Earth is source one, it's molten iron, should do the trick  up to 50 deg F anywhere. If you use that temperature as the primary starting point, not the outdoor air temp, then you can see you've only got a wee bit more to go to get to comfort.

To get that extra bit of 'clothing optional' comfort we enjoy, use the sun to get that 20-30 deg boost. No sun in cold weather where you live? Move. Or use summer sun to grow trees, and use that as your solar heat source.  Designed right, a home can become a living, breathing expression of you, your third skin and a comfort to you and yours for millenia.  Radon?  no more deadly than breathing your own stink over and over... that alone would kill most of the honest hobbits I know....

Want to get into house design?  Start with an exploration on how we did it the last 100,000 years or so, starting from about 200 years ago.  Not a bar code in site then, and we were doing just fine...  Mass, insulation, solar gain, done. Having a building official tell you how?  NOT priceless.

I see how to use the emoticons now... it's not WYSIWYG, duhhhh... just code.
 
paul wheaton
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Interesting.  So the strategy that most homes have to keep heat in (lots of insulation) could work provided that they are insulated from a layer below that has complete ventilation.

Something like an umbrella / PSP home could work since a lot of their heat is in thermal mass - as long as they do an air exchange.

Right?
 
                            
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paul wheaton wrote:
Interesting.  So the strategy that most homes have to keep heat in (lots of insulation) could work provided that they are insulated from a layer below that has complete ventilation.

Something like an umbrella / PSP home could work since a lot of their heat is in thermal mass - as long as they do an air exchange.

Right?



Yes, if the insulation envelope carries to grade, then you are capping the radon and breathing it.  The real problem comes when the captured gas leaks up through only one or two openings, creating deadly concentrations in closed in areas above (bedrooms etc...) If the home is earth coupled and you are walking on the ground on the ground floor, then ventilation is your only option.  Sealing the ground off is done, but all it takes is one pin hole in the seal and you have concentrated radon leaking up.  If it enters a bathroom or bedroom, you'd be breathing all of the gas from under the entire footprint of the house in just one small area.  Not a good plan... better to keep the gas dilute and ventilate. 

Generally, in a framed building you must SEAL off the basement/crawl space from living quarters and ventilate it.  Insulate the separation zone too if you want warm floors.  Standard practice is to just seal off the ground under the house with poly and ventilate above that seal.  You should do both if you know you're on a radon burp zone. 

PSP?

And yes, any style home will work if there is plenty of ventilation.  Otherwise, they are coffins with a view.
 
paul wheaton
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umm, but if radon is heavier than air, considerably heavier than air, then how could it "burp up" into a room?  Once it comes into contact with the air pressure found above ground, wouldn't that keep it down where you couldn't breathe it?
Just wondering
 
                            
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KurtW wrote:
umm, but if radon is heavier than air, considerably heavier than air, then how could it "burp up" into a room?  Once it comes into contact with the air pressure found above ground, wouldn't that keep it down where you couldn't breathe it?
Just wondering


Good thoughts, but as with all things obvious, life works differently at times.  If radon is in a room and you are too, it will get mixed up with all the air as there is movement. Air in a house full of breathing, moving humans seldom stays laminar.  If the radon has no where to go, it will stay where it surfaces, but it will also move around if the air moves.

The normal venting levels of radon coming from the ground change throughout the year - a 'burb' would just be my way of describing higher than normal venting (warm weather, low atmospheric pressure, wind response in the building, they all affect the release.)

Buildings vented to established minimums seldom have need to be concerned about a buildup in concentration.
 
paul wheaton
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Anybody done anything about measuring radon?

I did an hour or two of research on this and it would seem that the best approach is this contraption



I am thinking about getting it.

 
Henry Bjorklid
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Radon is bad, very bad.

[center]We have thought the solution like this:

[/center]

From underneath:
- Stones, so that the water can't be soaked up to the structure.
- The stones are laid so that together with the pallet-construction that is above, the air can freely "flow". An opening tunnel is to the right where-from fresh air is coming. The tunnel slopes slightly to right so that the water runs out.
- There are air-tunnels built through the wall, not seen in this picture.
- To the left we build an additional tunnel filled with stones. The air comes also through this construction.
- The top of the tunnel has to be covered against rain and snow.
- We cover it with a dark-painted tube, so that whenever, in whatever temperature, the sun warms up the dark tube, the air is going upwards as it is warmer than the air around.
- Thus the air sucks air that is underneath the house.
- The tube has a roof, not airtight, but so much that the water and snow does not come in.
- The construction is made to a wind-mill. Functional or not functional.

In our case it is functional, as we have very little sun in the winter-time and thus the draugth is not suffcient.
Without going too much into details, we will have a small generator that we build, connected to the wind-mill. The generator gives power to an small accumulator that is inside the building.
From there the electricity, 12 volt, goes to fans that sucks out the air. (A special construction inside the windmill.)
Now, the fans do not cost anything, as the old computer-fans works with 12 volt!! 
These fans, even if you use 3 - 5 of them, does need so little current that it is not a problem for a normal car-accumulator.

Mark! The floor has so much insulating straw-bales under it, that it does not matter if you have a freezing storm under your floor. 

The most important thing, here, in the Finnish conditions, is that the floor is very well ventilated from underneath.


Henry
 
Ardilla Esch
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KurtW wrote:
umm, but if radon is heavier than air, considerably heavier than air, then how could it "burp up" into a room?  Once it comes into contact with the air pressure found above ground, wouldn't that keep it down where you couldn't breathe it?
Just wondering


The physics of gases aren't that simple, especially when you have mixtures with the radon having a relatively low concentration in air.  The radon effectively mixes with air and doesn't separate out easily.  The Brownian motion of the atoms/molecules has a much stronger effect than the relative densities of pure gases.  This is a good thing.  If our atmosphere was to spontaneously stratify by density, we would be stuck in carbon dioxide and other nasties with the oxygen being hopelessly above our heads.

I have one pet peeve about radon - some people get overly concerned about using granite gravel beneath their foundation or granite counters, etc.  It is the cubic miles of material underlying your home that is of concern not the cubic yards of material used to build it.  The If you live in a high hazard area (as I do), radon isn't that hard to mitigate.
 
Jami McBride
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Some additional information on Radon has just been posted here:

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/02/16/this-silent-killer-now-verified-in-nonsmokers-lung-cancer.aspx



The five basic features of a radon-resistant home are:

  1.  Gravel laid below the foundation which allows radon in the soil to circulate freely underneath your house
  2.  Plastic sheeting or other vapor retarder laid over the gravel to stop soil gases from entering the structure
  3.  Vent pipe run vertically from the gravel layer up to the roof to safely vent radon from the soil outside the house
  4.  Sealing and caulking of all cracks, crevices and other openings in the concrete foundation and the walls of the structure
  5.  Electrical junction box installed in the attic for use with a vent fan, should one be needed

For more information on Radon-Resistant New Construction (RRNC), visit the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/radon/rrnc/basic_techniques_builder.html.



It is a real risk-issue, but not something to panic over, rather something to learn about and take into consideration.  The how and why of it seems to be the part that is just coming into focus.  Ventilation is key, as well as knowledge.

My big question is this - cob, true cob with natural plaster allows moisture and air pressure to move through it, balancing the inside air pressure, humidity, etc. of a cob house with the outside air.  I do not know of all the ways cob allows movement through it, but I wonder about the 'release' of possible radon.... if you follow my thinking.

Any cobbers out there care to speculate on this?

 
Ernie Wisner
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you would have to use granite sand fro one
also the heavy stuff moves in and out of the walls radon might be a problem if you have a house lower then the surrounding area, no ventilation, and very small sealed up rooms.
in effect you would have to make a cob house deliberately to concentrate radon. as long as you have a good floor pad and the drainage system around the house is good, you wont get much if any exposure.

its one of those good design things that us cobbers keep yammering about. in a good house design its such a minimal concern that its mostly not considered. however; some of us have looked at it and pretty much agree that its not a factor.
 
Jami McBride
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Ernie wrote:
you would have to use granite sand fro one


You mean 'use it' to make a cob that would be releasing radon it's self?  Or use granite sand under a cob building in order to have a constant supply of radon?  Or what....do you mean?

also the heavy stuff moves in and out of the walls


You mean 'heavy' like radon? 

radon might be a problem if you have a house lower then the surrounding area, no ventilation, and very small sealed up rooms.


So in your opinion, for radon to be a problem, several factors combined together would have to occur, as though you were trying to facilitate the capture and holding of this invisible gas.  Hum.... I see.


as long as you have a good floor pad and the drainage system around the house is good, you wont get much if any exposure.


By 'good floor plan' you mean - unsealed rooms, open floor plan, not so tight, freer air movement.... rock-trench for drainage under the steam wall - yes?  Anything else?


 
Ernie Wisner
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1. yes radon is produced as granite rots, there are specific conditions under which this happens. if you build a cob wall with rotting granite its going to produce radon.

the smily was because getting rotting granite sand is pretty hard to do.

2. yes radon is very heavy and it tends to flow out rather than in; CO2 will do the same given a little time. the clay also will bond with some gases and hold on to it rather than let it off.

3. yes in any house the collection of radon is due to not paying attention to the fundamentals of site planning. mostly its cause folks think all you have to do is bulldoze a pad and build a house on it. or just scoop out a hill and build a house in it.

it just aint so nature is bigger than us and will not bow to our ideas. however we can work with nature and have homes that are really nice  and safe.

4. not necessarily an open floor plan but one that has good air flow and is not a collection point for any gas. in kids rooms for example a vent in a closet is a good idea,
kids sometimes like to sleep in the closet or play in it. so it just makes sense. course then again venting the closet is good for your clothes.

as a general rule on house design in cob or bale you dont use anything that will totally seal up your house. this does not mean that you have a daft it means you dont use materials that wont allow air/vapor transport (oil paint, cement stucco, ETC.) lots of folks confuse this when builders talk about cob breathing. its not drafty its just the gasses flowing through the wall
 
Jami McBride
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Excellent!  The details I was in need of...

One more question:  That closet vent - is that down to a crawl space under the house or out through an external wall.

BTW - I own a copy of the Hand-Sculpted House handbook    But I don't remember it addressing radon, so I love addressing this issue of radon and cob in a public forum where more people will see it.

Thank you for your replies,
 
Ernie Wisner
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I would put it out of the wall into a hall or a larger room.

two reasons for this 1. kids like to play spy
2. a parent that is cagy will also use it to find out if the kid is is fact in the closet.

venting it down is not necessarily a bad thing but any thing that lets the kids play and use there imaginations to me is worth a little trouble.
 
Jami McBride
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Ah yes, my daughter always requests passageways and hidden rooms, but then shes a bit older now with larger dreams.
 
                    
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In my 22 years of conventional home building, I have been faced with building on Radon laden soil many times, I have always used simple methods to make sure Radon isn't vented into the home.

The number 1 method for preventing Radon from venting into the home is to not build a home on a site that is known for high levels of Radon, simple solution, but not always a viable option.

The number 2 method is to make sure that adequate venting system is installed in the sub grade well before any slabbing is poured. This is the basic method used besides super sealing every nook and cranny in a basement or foundation.

Fan-based mitigation systems are the most available and widely used and they can be simple as hell to make your self. A porous "bulb" installed sub slab, this can be made from loose materials like pea gravel and similar, then inserting PVC into the bulb and laying it so that the ends protrude the slab or foundation, a small DC powered fan inserted into the ends to provide a constant ventilation to the outside, this creates a negative pressure. This can be hooked to a solar panel for daytime running or adding a battery for full 24 hour running.

I have always been told that a dirty secret that most people don't know about Radon is that while it is the breakdown gas of granite, it is VERY attracted to large amounts of concrete, it almost becomes a toxic sponge of the gas.

I have no data to back that up but I have been told that all of my building career.
 
paul wheaton
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If radon gas is heavy .... it would seem that a good strategy is to have a sort of floor drain .... ??


 
                    
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It is heavier than air but not like a liquid, my suggestion would be to to either go the proven route or double up on a nice visqueen  vapor barrier, remember its an accumulative gas.
 
anita Bell
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Radon is the number 2 cause of Lung Cancer in the United States. #1 is cigarettes, I found this out when my best friend who never smoked was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within 2 months of diagnosis, the level of radon in her basement was off the scale. Get yourself a meter and test.
 
paul wheaton
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I bought the contraption and plugged it in.  The alarm is going off every hour. 

It started with 42.7.  Then dipped below 40 and earlier has 40.0. 

According to http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html

Levels of 1.3 is pretty average.

At 2 you should do some little things.

At 4 you need to remodel your home. 

The alarm on the contraption is set to go off at levels of 4 or higher.

I put a big box fan on the floor and and pointed it at an open window for a couple of hours. 

Looking into longer term solutions.


 
Jami McBride
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Paul, can you tell us about the house your staying in with these high readings?

Does it have a crawl space?  And if so, is it vented?

Is it built just above the ground, no crawl space, but not touching the ground?

Anything else you could add would be helpful.

Thanks
 
Ernie Wisner
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might also see if some of the paints and such in your house are mimics for radon.
As i understand it you live in a newer home so i would think about all the stuff that might be off gassing. if this is the norm for the area you might be wanting to head west or something 
 
paul wheaton
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Basement rooms.  No crawl space.  The rooms have a sort of stained/painted cement floor.  No vents although the rooms do have windows. 

The home is remodeled many times.  The basement seems really new.  Apparently the walls are some sort of super thick foam.

 
Ardilla Esch
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I would get a couple of the test kits that you install for a couple days, then send off to a lab. Confirmation of your device's alarm would be good.

Beware that some of the kits have bad reviews on the timeliness of the lab response and the cost of some of the kits are included in the price while some do include the cost.  I would look for the metal canister type and not the pouch of carbon type they sell in stores.  The canisters are generally more reliable.  There are many on-line sellers of these.
 
paul wheaton
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paul wheaton wrote:
Anybody done anything about measuring radon?

I did an hour or two of research on this and it would seem that the best approach is this contraption



I am thinking about getting it.




This is what I got.  And the reviews seem pretty good.  And I did do a lot of fishing around before getting this.

The reading today is 38.9. 

I think my thing with the fans wasn't enough.


 
                                
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Paul,

what are the units for the reading on that radon detector?

Thomas
 
Ernie Wisner
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paul you should not be getting readings that high. can you dig a test hole out side and see if the readings stay consistent?  maybe ask a fellow person in your hood that has a basement.
 
paul wheaton
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I'm a few hundred miles away at the moment.  I'll get some more info when I get back home.
 
paul wheaton
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So I got back.  And we hooked up 60 feet of eight inch duct to a pretty impressive eight inch duct fan.  The duct was laying on the floor near the worst spot.  We ran it for about four hours.  The duct went about ten feet away from the building on the outside. 

We reset the meter and it takes two days to come up with a reading.

This morning it reports:  53.1  - it went up!

 
Water! People swim in water! Even tiny ads swim in water:
Complete Wild Edibles Package by Sergei Boutenko (1 HD video + 10 eBooks)
https://permies.com/t/70674/digital-market/digital-market/Complete-Wild-Edibles-Package-Sergei
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