Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction - Radon Reduction Techniques
There are several methods that a contractor can use to lower radon levels in your home. Some techniques prevent radon from entering your home while others reduce radon levels after it has entered. EPA generally recommends methods which prevent the entry of radon. Soil suction, for example, prevents radon from entering your home by drawing the radon from below the house and venting it through a pipe, or pipes, to the air above the house where it is quickly diluted.
Any information that you may have about the construction of your house could help your contractor choose the best system. Your contractor will perform a visual inspection of your house and design a system that considers specific features of your house. If this inspection fails to provide enough information, the contractor will need to perform diagnostic tests to help develop the best radon reduction system for your home. For instance, your contractor can use a "smoke gun" to find the source and direction of air movement. A contractor can learn air flow sources and directions by watching a small amount of smoke that he or she shot into holes, drains, sumps, or along cracks. The sources of air flow show possible radon routes.
Another type of diagnostic test is a "soil communication test." This test uses a vacuum cleaner and a smoke gun to determine how easily air can move from one point to another under the foundation. By inserting a vacuum cleaner hose in one small hole and using a smoke gun in a second small hole, a contractor can see if the smoke is pulled down into the second hole by the force of the vacuum cleaner's suction. Watching the smoke during a soil communication test helps a contractor decide if certain radon reduction systems would work well in your house.
Whether diagnostic tests are needed is decided by details specific to your house, such as the foundation design, what kind of material is under your house, and by the contractor's experience with similar houses and similar radon test results.
House Foundation Types
Your house type will affect the kind of radon reduction system that will work best. Houses are generally categorized according to their foundation design. For example: basement, slab-on-grade (concrete poured at ground level), or crawlspace (a shallow unfinished space under the first floor). Some houses have more than one foundation design feature. For instance, it is common to have a basement under part of the house and to have a slab-on-grade or crawlspace under the rest of the house. In these situations a combination of radon reduction techniques may be needed to reduce radon levels to below 4 pCi/L.
Radon reduction systems can be grouped by house foundation design. Find your type of foundation design above and read about which radon reduction systems may be best for your house.
Basement and Slab-on-Grade Houses
In houses that have a basement or a slab-on-grade foundation, radon is usually reduced by one of four types of soil suction: subslab suction, drain tile suction, sump hole suction, or block wall suction.
Active Subslab suction (also called subslab depressurization) is the most common and usually the most reliable radon reduction method. Suction pipes are inserted through the floor slab into the crushed rock or soil underneath. They also may be inserted below the concrete slab from outside the house. The number and location of suction pipes that are needed depends on how easily air can move in the crushed rock or soil under the slab, and on the strength of the radon source. A contractor usually gets this information from visual inspection, from diagnostic tests, and/or from experience. Acting like a vacuum cleaner, a fan connected to the pipes draws the radon gas from below the house and then releases it into the outdoor air. Passive subslab suction is the same as active subslab suction except it relies on air currents instead of a fan to draw radon up from below the house. Passive subslab suction is generally not as effective in reducing high radon levels as active subslab suction.
Some houses have drain tiles to direct water away from the foundation of the house. Suction on these drain tiles is often effective in reducing radon levels if the drain tiles form a complete loop around the foundation.
One variation of subslab and drain tile suction is sump hole suction. Often, when a house with a basement has a sump pump to remove unwanted water, the sump can be capped so that it can continue to drain water and serve as the location for a radon suction pipe.
Block wall suction can be used in basement houses with hollow block foundation walls. This method removes radon from the hollow spaces within the basement's concrete block wall. It is often used together with subslab suction.
In houses with crawlspaces, radon levels can sometimes be lowered by ventilating the crawlspace passively (without the use of a fan) or actively (with the use of a fan). Crawlspace ventilation lowers indoor radon levels both by reducing the home's suction on the soil and by diluting the radon beneath the house. Natural ventilation in a crawlspace is achieved by opening vents, or installing additional vents. Active ventilation uses a fan to blow air through the crawlspace instead of relying on natural air circulation. In colder climates, for either natural or active crawlspace ventilation, water pipes in the crawlspace need to be insulated against the cold.
Another effective method to reduce radon levels in crawl space houses involves covering the earth floor with a heavy plastic sheet. A vent pipe and fan are used to draw the radon from under the sheet and vent it to the outdoors. This form of soil suction is called sub membrane depressurization.
Other Types of Radon Reduction Methods
Other radon reduction techniques that can be used in any type of house include: sealing, house pressurization, natural ventilation, and heat recovery ventilation. Most of these methods are considered to be either temporary measures, or only partial solutions to be used in combination with other measures.
Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction. Sealing does two things, it limits the flow of radon into your home and it reduces the loss of conditioned air, thereby making other radon reduction techniques more effective and cost-efficient. EPA does not recommend the use of sealing alone to reduce radon because, by itself, sealing has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly or consistently. It is difficult to identify and permanently seal the places where radon is entering. Normal settling of your house opens new entry routes and reopens old ones.
House pressurization uses a fan to blow air into the basement or living area from either upstairs or outdoors. It attempts to create enough pressure at the lowest level indoors (in a basement for example) to prevent radon from entering into the house. The effectiveness of this technique is limited by house construction, climate, other appliances in the house, and occupant lifestyle. In order to maintain enough pressure to keep radon out, the doors and windows at the lowest level must not be left opened, except for normal entry and exit.
Some natural ventilation occurs in all houses. By opening windows, doors, and vents on the lower floors you increase the ventilation in your house. This increase in ventilation mixes radon with outside air and can result in reduced radon levels. In addition, ventilating your house can help to lower indoor radon levels by reducing the vacuum effect. Natural ventilation in any type of house, (aside from ventilation of a crawlspace), should normally be regarded as a temporary radon reduction approach because of the following disadvantages: loss of conditioned air and related discomfort, greatly increased costs of conditioning additional outside air, and security concerns.
A heat recovery ventilator (HRV), also called an air-to-air heat exchanger, can be installed to increase ventilation. An HRV will increase house ventilation while using the heated or cooled air being exhausted to warm or cool the incoming air. HRVs can be designed to ventilate all or part of your home, although they are more effective in reducing radon levels when used to ventilate only the basement. If properly balanced and maintained, they ensure a constant degree of ventilation throughout the year. HRVs also can improve air quality in houses that have other indoor pollutants. There could be significant increase in the heating and cooling costs with an HRV, but not as great as ventilation without heat recovery (see "Installation and Operating Cost Table" below).