Monday, February 28, 2011

Radon Mitigation System Installation

I'm usually skeptical about environmental hazards. Although I became aware of radon several years ago, I didn't think much about the radioactive gas until recently. The deaths of two friends grabbed our attention. Both were lifelong residents of Tazewell County and neither had ever smoked. Both died of lung cancer.

Over the past year we've tested our home for radon both with a one-week test, and a 3-month test. Both tested over the EPA's recommended level, with the highest test measuring 16.1 pCi/L. Knowing we had relatively high levels of radon in the house, we set about the research of figuring out what to do about it.

If you've read a few posts on this blog, you probably realize that I'm a DIYer. I could hire someone to mitigate our radon, but most of the aspects of the job don't look that difficult, and I'm sure my perfectionist tendencies would find fault with some part of anyone else's work. So after a good bit of surfing the internet and gathering information, I began buying the necessary components and dove right in. Pictured above is the heart of our system: the fan (Fantech HP190). We chose an active sub-slab depressurization system given the success of that type of system in other homes in our area, and my expectation that our ranch style house might be well suited to that method.

The ASTM E2121-09 Standard was very helpful in identifying system options, and helping me recognize where cutting corners might render my system ineffective. I recommend that document as essential reading for anyone installing their own system.

One of my mistakes was trying to locate the hole in the basement slab too close to the basement wall. As you can see, the footing for the wall extends about 4.5" from the wall, so I had to enlarge the hole for the pipe so it was completely over the gravel under the slab, and not on top of the footing. I used a 1/4" bit in my hammer drill along with a chisel and hammer to get through the floor, although I'm sure renting a larger drill with a larger bit would have made the job go much faster.

The rubble in this photo is mostly the broken concrete block pieces I found beneath the floor and on top of the gravel. I doubt that there is a lot of this rubble under the floor, but it stretched beyond where I could reach through my hole in the floor. The negative thing about these pieces of block is that they are a bit difficult to break up and remove unless they are immediately below the hole. The positive thing is that they are fairly loosely packed under the floor, so I think the sub-slab gas should travel freely around any pieces still under the floor. I did not test the media under the slab for air movement, which is one advantage a good contractor may have offered.

A 4.5" hole saw proved to be the perfect tool for cutting through the floor in the closet we chose as a chase for the PVC pipe that will transport the gas from beneath the basement to above the roof. It was painful to cut a hole in the oak floor, but I think the radon system will be a permanent addition to the house, so it's unlikely anyone will ever have to fill this hole in.

The plaster ceiling in the closet received a similar sized hole, although I found a small chisel and hammer are all that's necessary for this opening into the attic.

Rather than move my shelves to the other side of the room, I put a couple of 45 degree elbows in the pipe to align the hole in the slab to the joist space above. In this photo, the floor has been patched with concrete mix, and after that dried I filled adjacent cracks with caulk. I used 4" PVC to keep the pressure losses to a minimum since I used about 40 feet of pipe and several elbows.

This is the joist space I chose in the basement -- just big enough to comfortably fit the pipe fittings, and suitably located under the first floor closet. Because the basement is not very deep, I was not able to run a section of pipe from this elbow in the basement all the way to the fan in the attic without a joint in the closet. I suppose I could have enlarged one of the holes in the closet to allow more room to manuever a longer piece of pipe into place, but I didn't think that was worth a larger patching job later.

The fan is mounted in the attic just above the first floor ceiling with flexible rubber couplings on both the inlet and outlet. I ran a new wire to the attic from the breaker box so the fan can have a dedicated circuit. A switch in the attic might be handy should the fan need service, but I didn't bother to install that now. The smaller black tube connecting the inlet and outlet pipes is part of the condensation bypass system I installed to reduce the amount of water flowing back through the fan. Small plastic elbows on either end of the tube allow the condensation to flow from the uphill outlet side of the exhaust pipe to the downhill inlet side. The Fantech literature recommended a condensate drain like this in installations where condensation was likely, so I complied to avoid the risk of a voided warranty.

Here's a closer view of the internal features of the condensate dam. Pretty clever looking -- I hope it works! In case you're wondering, the primary reason for putting the fan in an inconvenient place like the attic is to insure that the pipe in the living spaces of the house is at lower pressure than the air outside the pipe. If any of the pipe joints on the inlet side of the fan would leak, air from the house would be pulled into the pipe instead of the radon-rich air being blown out of the pipe and into the house. The attic is well ventilated, so hopefully any radon leaks up there would be exhausted from the attic in short order.

The run across the attic is over ten feet horizontally, has plenty of slope, and doesn't have a lot of obstacles to avoid. I ran that far to avoid exhausting the radon-rich air close to other openings in the roof per ASTM E2121-09. In my case that meant avoiding the chimney and roof vents.

The top side of the roof has a simple flashing and protective cap for the pipe. I figured the cap will keep some of the rain and critters out, although the mesh does represent a surface on which frost or ice could form and block air flow. I'll keep an eye on that when the outside air temperature is low.

I ran 14 gauge wire back to the main house panel, and installed a 15 amp circuit breaker dedicated to the fan.

Finally, here's the manometer mounted to the pipe in the basement that allows one to quickly ascertain that there is indeed less pressure in the pipe that outside it, which means the fan is running. I've noticed a slight variation in the liquid levels on this gauge from one day to the next, but I'm not sure if that represents pressure differences beneath the slab, or atmospheric pressure changes, or both.

We have not yet tested our radon levels now that the system is operational, but we should have that data soon, and we'll share it here. I'll also summarize the cost of the system in a future post, so we can all determine how much my time is worth. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions since I'm sure I left many details unmentioned.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February cycling -- Illinois style

My friend Tim in Pennsylvania posted a video on Facebook of a motorcycle ride he took last Friday in gorgeously uncharacteristic weather there. That prompted me to get out on the bike yesterday to enjoy the mild (55 F) weather here in Illinois. Although it was not as sunny and pleasant here as it was in PA two days earlier, it was still satisfying to enjoy the mild weather, and record the ride on video for Tim's, and your, benefit.

This was my first attempt at recording video while riding (I didn't have the luxury of having someone else do the filming), so I was disappointed that the wind noise makes it hard to hear what I'm saying. I'll leave it to our carefully observant readers to determine the full message I've left for Tim in the video. Give me your best guesses in the comments section.

Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Twenty-four hours later, the radar indicates that it's all over but the blowing. The skies are clear over our house right now, but the snow continues to redistribute itself.

We haven't seen a plow on our road since yesterday afternoon, and have heard that the interstate highways are shut down except for emergency vehicles. The National Weather Service measured Peoria's snowfall at 15 inches, but we'd be hard pressed to confirm that here.

This is the view this morning to the southeast. Notice the bare spot on the driveway, and the drift closer to the house. I'd estimate the drift at a bit over two feet, and will confirm depth when I take the shovel out later. The tracks on the road were made by our neighbor's tractor that has a big snow auger on the back end (which can be seen at the far right of the photo).

Here's the view to the southwest that shows bare grass by the barn and drifts over three feet closer to the deck. Notice also the bare wood on the deck, where the wind evidently likes to keep things moving.

The view to the west-southwest shows a nice drift next to the snow fence which is probably a result of the wind switch to the northwest last night at about 2 AM. The drift on the deck is big enough that it will probably be ignored for quite a few days.

Finally, the view to the south-southwest shows one major drift in front of the garage and an interesting little drift to the right of the chlorine feeder tube that runs about 50 feet across the yard, driveway, and into the field -- I wonder what caused that one to be formed?

Considering the forecast, things are not as buried as I expected, but reports from around the area indicate it will take awhile to plow all the roads. In the meantime, I guess we'll pop some popcorn and settle into a bit more relaxing.

Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The National Weather Service is expecting 16 to 20 inches of snow in our yard by the time this storm is finished tomorrow, so I thought it might be nice to document our conditions on Tuesday morning.

This radar image grabbed from Intellicast indicates we are firmly in the snow band (blue) as of 10:45 AM.

The view from the living room toward the southeast at 10:54 AM.

The view from the family room toward the southwest at the same time.

The view across the deck toward the west-southwest.

And finally the view toward the south-southeast.

The wind is currently out of the northeast, so our best drifting action may be on the southwest side of the house today, although if the wind shifts later we could have nice drifts on several sides. The NWS is predicting 25-35 mph winds for the airport, and we usually get stronger winds than they do, so I think drifting is inevitable, and could be impressive!

I think I could use Noah tomorrow, because we don't normally get snow like this....