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Before people jump all over me, let me state; I am NOT trying to fool a test! We already had the tests done 2 days ago and it came back at 6.8 pCi/L, which is high enough to cause concern. The only reason we did this test is because my wife and I work out of our home with basement offices and pretty much live down there a good 16 hours a day. We've had health issues for the last 2 out of the 3 years we've lived in this house. I won't go into details as my question is simply about mitigation.

I live in Aurora CO and there is a LOT of radon issues here. The mitigation places are all backed up weeks / months behind. I'm not willing to be exposed to radon levels like this even one more day.

I have just the regular 1960s basement window wells. Should I put fans in there in a couple of rooms? Is it better to suck air in from outside or force it out from inside? Is this possibly going to make the radon worse until I get the mitigation installed or better? Also, any advice in selecting a good mitigation installer or is it pretty much just run of the mill common sense? The places i'm looking at all do follow-up tests and grantees.

Further information: We had the house tested for mold and other allergens. Nothing there. Not surprising since it's Colorado.

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    This is important. The answer you accepted really will solve your radon problems. It may even mitigate your cough, if it also clears out whatever you are allergic to. For you to have absorbed enough Radon dose for it to cause a cough, you wouldn't be alive right now, as that would indicate massive lung damage from ionizing radiation. Radon is an alpha emitter, and dangerous in the long term, but your cough is something different. Anybody with a legitimate background in radiological controls can confirm this, and I got mine during 8 years on nuclear submarines. Food for thought. – Sean Boddy Apr 15 '15 at 6:30
  • Right. I hate to have this turn into a medical forum as that wasn't the intent. My question was answered perfectly regarding mitigation. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned anything medical in my question to avoid this kind of dialect? But, since you mentioned it; what are your thoughts on this conflicting info (basically where I derived my concerns from): nationalradondefense.com/radon-information/radon-symptoms.html Is this company just engaged in fear based marketing? – maplemale Apr 15 '15 at 18:07
  • They are sensationalizing a misunderstanding. They don't lie - you would get a cough. But even they say you will not get better. The doses they are talking about are an order of magnitude higher than whats in your basement, and I can find places above ground where the reading is higher than your basement. Radon is naturally occurring, relatively stable, and everywhere. Also, bananas are radioactive, and everyone already has cancer in their body - it just gets handled when it shows up. You should move your office to change the statistics in your favor, though. – Sean Boddy Apr 15 '15 at 18:20
  • @SeanBoddy, Re outdoor radon. Radon gas, because it is a noble gas that will not bind to anything, is not the direct cause of ill-health effects. What you mainly have to worry about are the decay products (a.k.a., "radon daughters") which also are radioactive, and which tend to bind to dust and smoke particles that later can lodge in your lung. I don't know enough to describe the whole picture, but the upshot is, indoor radon is much more of a concern than outdoor radon. – Solomon Slow Apr 15 '15 at 19:38
  • @james, dose depends on exposure and nothing else. Lookup temperature inversion and its related effects on radon concentration. The dust thing isn't true. – Sean Boddy Apr 15 '15 at 19:41
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First Radon is a pretty serious thing if you are working that much inside your basement. I have seen Radon levels in basement stay consistently at 4 times what is in the upper levels. Your 6.8 reading is high but not alarm bells until you get a few readings that high.

Initial steps:

  • Open windows. Better than using fans is trying to create a convection pattern in your basement where the air is moving. Is your basement open enough to make this happen. Are your windows on sliders and easy to open. Get your basement aired out. Also don't close the doors by the steps. Let the basement air convect up to the upper level. Air flow is key.
  • Seal any cracks that you have in your basement using caulk or epoxy sealants.
  • Have your basement retested periodically over the next few weeks/months. I would say every 2-4 weeks.

If your future tests aren't dropping below the 4.0 pCi/L range than you need mitigation for sure. If they are falling below 4 then you need to figure out if you can keep up the good habits (airing the basement out continuously) even when the weather isn't great. So if your Radon levels drop with just improving airflow and sealing, then you need to test it every couple of months on its worst days. Radon levels can fluctuate greatly from day to day in a home (I had a house tested at 7.5 one day and two days later and me not touching airflow it was 4.3) so there is no way of knowing the "worst" day. But you can approximate during the winter "we haven't opened the windows in 3 days because it's cold as hell so let's test for Radon".

Now as far as mitigation, for most homes this will involve running a PVC pipe from your basement to the outside of your house - most of the time venting out your roof/attic. Sometimes the air cleaner is installed in the basement and sometimes in the attic. It probably involves opening a few walls. It is definitely a DIY type of job but that is a different question that would require a ton of details. I have installed Radon mitigation systems in basements in one day with just my son helping. A mitigation company will charge you anywhere between $800-2000 depending on the access to your basement floor (finished areas cost more), access to running the venting, how big your house is, if you have a circuit available to handle the electricity for the system, and what kind of system you want (you can get them at big box for $100-500 usually). DIY this could be a $200 job - it is just labor intensive - mainly patching drywall in your house.

How to get a good contractor? I would make sure they are certified to mitigate Radon. You can also call your local city hall and talk to the building inspector for local businesses that are certified or a suggestion. Radon mitigation is a lot of common sense (seal your basement and pump air out of it) so it doesn't take long talking to a contractor to tell if they understand how to do the job.

  • Follow up question: What do you mean by convection pattern airflow? You mean, get it going cross-ways? ie. maybe putting one window fan on exhaust mode and another one on opposite side of basement on intake? Also, this house has a 1960s full concrete bomb shelter which is mostly just left open to the rest of the basement. Maybe we should go about sealing seams there first? It's 100% un-finished walls with seams. Have no other cracks I can see elsewhere in the basement. Difficult to say though, cause it's mostly finished. – maplemale Apr 14 '15 at 17:49
  • If it is cool outside and given your basement windows are at the top of your basement just opening the windows along with opening stairs should cause cooler air to come in and fill basement and drives hot air out of basement. Fans might be needed in summer but not now. – DMoore Apr 14 '15 at 17:57
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    And I do agree with the others with your coughing having nothing to do with Radon. There are just too many things that could be causing you to cough. This answer was just for getting your Radon levels lower, not for fixing your health issues. – DMoore Apr 15 '15 at 15:53
  • nationalradondefense.com/radon-information/radon-symptoms.html Just fear based marketing? – maplemale Apr 15 '15 at 18:11
  • To some extent yes. But there is truth in what they say, with embellishing. Actually the link given (and not read correctly) in your other answer is pretty good/neutral/scientific. If someone said they are coughing I wouldn't suspect Radon, but its linkage to health issues is in its infancy and who knows? Probably the worst part of dealing with Radon is figuring out the true Radon levels in your house. Of course the mitigation companies have a reason to project high readings. – DMoore Apr 15 '15 at 18:21
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Radon doesn't cause persistent coughs, and certainly doesn't cause miscarriage. Radon is a non-reactive, radioactive gas that can increase your risk of lung cancer after being exposed to it for long periods of time (years to decades). Reducing the radon levels in your home will do nothing to stop your cough or any other chronic health problems.

Mold on the other hand can certainly cause allergic reactions, and mold is commonly found in basements.

Even at the radon level you're measuring the risks are relatively low. Assuming you don't smoke, if you lived in your current home your entire life you'd have an additional 1% chance of getting lung cancer. And that assumes you live in your current home your entire life. Even these risks are estimated risks, not measured ones.

If you look at the risks, a level of 4 pCi/L is the equivalent risk of dying in a car crash. But yet nobody seriously advocates not driving. The point being, we accept this level of risk all the time without serious issue.

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

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    +1 - see if bleach and a dehumidifier make a dent, or have mold tests run. Just because you have radon does not mean it's the cause of your major short-term symptoms.... – Ecnerwal Apr 15 '15 at 1:15
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    Who knows why they are feeling bad? We don't have enough information. But saying Radon is equivalent to driving a car is just poor logic. First their Radon levels are higher than 4. Second the numbers are out of the entire population. The entire population does not live in their basement. Third driving is a risky thing albeit one that we most likely have to do to live. You don't have to live with Radon in your basement. Your logic is equivalent to saying take air bags out of cars because people could die of second hand smoke. – DMoore Apr 15 '15 at 5:03
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    There's been absolutely zero association of radon with coughing. Comparing the risk level of driving a car comes directly from the EPA, and is used as a gauge with the danger level. I believe this is a reasonable thing to compare to, and shows that this is a risk we're willing and able to take every day. Worrying about radon is something that lowers peoples quality of life, and the risks need to be put into perspective with the other risks we already take. Life is never going to be safe, and we need to be concerned about the right things and ignore the rest. – Steve Sether Apr 15 '15 at 5:40
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    @maplemale - I think it is pretty clear that Radon is not asbestos. It is not on that level. But pretty much every country in the world is upping the trace amounts that can be found in new construction. It causes lung cancer and there have been other known side effects. Some people react to it very easily - I have had several workers that got headaches with basements over 10. As we limit things in our lives that cause issues, this is a no brainer because it is easy to mitigate. From past experience (asbestos) as things unravel the % go down for mitigation. – DMoore Apr 15 '15 at 18:16
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    ...a lung cancer caused cough would not go way when you left the house, and return when you returned to it. So that points to something else going on here. I think addressing the radon is a good idea - I also think addressing something that makes you cough while you are in the house is ALSO a good idea. And I very much doubt they are one and the same. – Ecnerwal Apr 15 '15 at 21:42
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If you are trying to mitigate it, mitigate it; if you can't get a company in to do it, do it yourself. You need to suck it out of the soil under/around the house before it enters the house (indeed, you'd like to change the air leakage to "from the house to the soil", not vice versa) and you do that by reducing the pressure under and around the foundation - by using any existing drain pipes or sump, and by adding holes, and sucking with a fan - a radon fan. You can buy them on the internet...

Sump, no sump? If sump, seal and suck. No sump, or to cover areas away from sump, drill holes and suck. Easy-peasy approach (and quite common for retrofit) is to put the pipe/fan mostly outside the house. If you want to call it a stop-gap and have it checked over and/or improved by a pro later, fine. But if it needs doing, do it, don't just fiddle with opening windows.

Mind, if you feel this affected by working in your basement 16 hours a day, there's a really obvious solution which is to use the basement for storage or the like (bomb shelter should make a nice root cellar) and move your offices out of it. Priorities, folks - working at home should not mean that your boss is a jerk who makes you work in a basement 2/3rds of the day...you'd be better putting your bedroom in the bomb shelter by those numbers - half the time in high-radon (and/or mold) environment (and you won't miss the view while you're asleep), though "neither in the basement" seems a much better approach at least until the basement problem(s) are solved.

You could even follow a trend and use your bomb shelter as your server room - computers don't mind radon or even mold that much (and the heat off the computers might even help with the mold) - just run network cables up to daylight for anything you actually DO with them. They don't require much face-to-face time, normally, and they'll be bombproof ;)

  • Agree with this, I did it myself. Took about 8 hours and maybe $300 - $350. amateurdiy.com/mini-projects/how-diy-radon-mitigation – user222054 Jul 12 '16 at 20:00
  • AmateurDIY, it is possible to take the same amount of time and do it correctly in a way that would pass a home inspection. As documented there, it needs some tweaks. – Peter J Oct 24 '17 at 21:09

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