Reasons for Home Builders to Consider Radon Reduction Features in New Homes
Currently there is no law or standard in Ontario, Canada to force home builders to include radon reduction methods during construction of houses, with the exception of three different areas – The Ministry of Municipal Affairs has designated buildings in the following areas to be designed and constructed so that the annual average concentration of radon 222 does not exceed 200 Bq/m³:
- the City of Elliot Lake in the Territorial District of Algoma,
- the Township of Faraday in the Country of Hastings, and
- the geographic Township of Hyman in the Territorial District of Sudbury.
In addition, since 2016, there exists a proposed code change that will designate all buildings in Ontario, not just the previously mentioned 3 townships/areas, to include radon mitigation methods in new buildings.
So, why would a home building company, that is not building in those 3 areas, want to include radon reduction features?
Also, is the cost of including these radon reduction methods worth it? Well, we all know that home builders follow the building code and build according to standard. Homes are inspected, evaluated, and tested to make sure all the codes are met and the home performs well in terms of energy conservation and air balancing. Well, radon reduction, by means of active sub-slab depressurization, does not fall under any of these circumstances except energy performance. Now, it is true that a radon fan needs to be running consistently in order to have any effect, and therefore will generally increase energy consumption; consequently increasing annual home economic costs, especially with Ontario’s recent increase in hydro rates.
However, there is a beneficial side-effect in terms of energy conservation. Let’s say a house is built without a vapor barrier beneath the basement slab… A radon fan will definitely lower the humidity levels in the basement by drying up the soil and extracting the humid gas. If your house falls into this category, you may be able to eliminate the use of any dehumidifier; consequently, the cost to run the radon fan will be more than offset by the savings of running a dehumidifier.
Now you may be thinking, why would I build a house with a radon fan already installed if the house may have very low levels of radon without the fan? Since it’s impossible to test a house for radon during construction, it would make no sense to install a radon fan (active radon mitigation system) in the house before the house is done being constructed. You would be correct, and the best alternative would be to install a few essential components – a PASSIVE mitigation system.
To take this approach, a radon mitigation professional would do the following:
- Install 4 inch deep layer of clean, crushed stone under any basement slab or slab on grade.
- Install a horizontal length, or a closed loop, of perforated pipe within the layer of crushed stone with a tee that connects to a vertical, non-perforated pipe (riser).
- Install a layer of at least 6-mil polyethylene (vapor barrier) above the crushed stone, but under the concrete slab.
- Caulk and seal any and all cracks in the slab as well as all penetrations through the slab and around the perimeter.
- Install an air-tight sump pump lid over any sump pump pit if required.
- Hard wire an electrical cable from the electrical box to where the radon fan is expected to be installed.
After the house is done being constructed and a radon test determines that a fan is required, the fan can be installed very quickly with a cheap cost attached. A low flow fan, with very low amperage, can be used with very effective results associated to it. With this active sub-slab depressurization system running constantly, the radon concentration within the house will drop by at least 90%. Since radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada and the United States, AND radon is linked to approximately 16% of lung cancer deaths, this reduction in radon levels is very, very significant for any home buyer. It’s more significant for home buyers who smoke, since smokers who live in a house with high levels of radon, will have a 1 in 3 chance f developing lung cancer.
Aside from the massive drop in radon levels, what are the advantages of having what they call Radon Resistant New Construction (RRNC) elements? Here are a few:
- The piping can easily concealed under the concrete slab and within the a wall.
- The vent pipe can exit the roof and appear as a normal roof penetration.
- The sub-grade can be prepared so that it is easy to collect and expel radon to the outside; and
- In many cases, especially in colder climates, these systems work well without the need for any fan, mostly due to the stack effect.
A passive system is one where the installed, PVC pipe is used to draw radon from the soil beneath the home in a natural fashion. If a radon fan is required, it can be added easily in very little time to make it active. Check out the active and passive mitigation systems below.
Another means of decreasing radon concentration is by use of a heat reclaiming ventilator (HRV). This system draws in clean, fresh air while simultaneously exhausting stale, possibly polluted, indoor air. An HRV is an automatic, mechanical means of ventilating air within any building and will therefore decrease the level of any indoor air contaminant. In regards to radon however, this is only a “trim technique” and should not be relied upon as the only means of decreasing radon levels.
Now, I have gone from construction site to construction site and entered many different site trailers within Ottawa, Kanata, Stittsville, Barrhaven, Riverside South, Russell, Embrun, and Orleans. I would speak with site supervisors, project coordinators, and sales associates to pitch to them who I am and what I do. I remember speaking with one site supervisor who actually laughed and said “no way”. While he was laughing he told me that he installs granite counter tops in houses. He said these counter tops would be a source of radon, poisoning families, yet he was still permitted to install these counter tops in houses. So if radon is a real threat and people are being exposed to the radiation from these counter-tops, then why is this permitted and what would be the point of installing a radon mitigation system? I was very confused by this response, not to mention shocked by his level of ignorance. I looked into this “granite counter top” claim to see if it had any validity what-so-ever. This is what I found out…
On July 24, 2008, a New York Times article reported that some granite counter-tops emitted high levels of radon. Apparently a man by the name of Stanley Liebert, the quality assurance director at CMT Laboratories in Clifton Park, New York, assessed a few granite counter-tops only to conclude that they might “heat up your Cheerios a little.” Since then, researches have looked into this claim and concluded that there is no need to worry about granite counter-tops in kitchens. In addition, at this time, the EPA does not believe there is sufficient data to conclude that the types of granite commonly used in counter tops are significantly increasing indoor radon levels. “There is no agreed-upon method specifically for measuring radon or radiation from granite counter tops. Any direct measurements taken of gamma radiation or radon emanation from a material like granite is not a reliable indicator of the radon concentrations within your indoor air.” The same EPA radon program goes on to say that any attempts to use such measurements for the purpose of estimating risk are subject to large errors.
Regardless of all of this, the following facts remain:
- Radon is present in every single building everywhere. It even exists outside at a concentration of approximately 7 Bq/m³ with an obvious variance depending on the area in question. The reason why it is such a concern today is because houses today are built “air tight” as per energy star requirements; consequently, radon gas builds up more and more and, over time, causes lung cancer.
- Radon is undetectable by the human senses. The only way to know how much radon exists in any building is to test for it.
- Laws, codes, regulations pertaining to radon in buildings are changing/evolving over time as more studies, investigations, and public outcry are being done.
- People are only as healthy as the home they live in. It is fairly easy and relatively inexpensive to protect/safeguard any indoor environment, including its inhabitants, from radon infiltration.
- Any house equipped with a reliable means of protecting against radon will have a significant, perceived increase in value by at least $10,000.
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