Did you know that an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year are attributed to radon exposure in the United States? That makes radon the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, and a more common cause of death than automobile accidents due to drunk driving. The good news is that when radon problems are identified, they can usually be fixed in a cost-effective manner.
January is National Radon Action Month. Take action this month to protect yourselfand your family by testing your home for radon and fixing problems if they exist. This newsletter will explain more about why radon is a concern, how to test for it and how to mitigate problems.
What is Radon?
Radon is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas that is radioactive. It occurs naturally where the radioactive metals uranium, thorium and radium are present in native rocks and soil in the environment. These metals break down to produce radon. Because radon comes naturally from the earth, people are always exposed to it, but it can build up to dangerous levels inside homes, schools and other buildings when it is trapped inside.
Radon can enter a building through:
Cracks in solid floors
Cracks in walls
Gaps in suspended floors
Gaps around service pipes
Cavities inside walls
The water supply
Soil gas containing radon is drawn into a building through these openings through a pressure differential created by wind and other air movement above ground.
Why is Radon a Concern? When radon is inhaled, it is trapped in the lungs and emits radioactive particles as it decays. These particles bombard lung cells with radiation, which has been identified as one risk factor in cancer development. The higher the level of radon in the home, the greater exposure to radioactive particles, and the greater increased risk of
cancer development. Elevated levels of radon are found in nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States. Flagstaff Radon loaned out their radon monitors to home owners around Flagstaff for a number of years and found that in some Flagstaff neighborhoods as many as 30% of homes had elevated radon levels. This anecdotal information, gathered from a limited number of homes, is on their website. EPA recommends that buildings with a greater than 4 pCi/L (pico-curies per liter of air) test result install some kind of mitigation system.
Radon Testing- The only way to assess if radon is a concern in your home is to test for it. While some areas have been found to be high in radon and others low, there is variability within any given area. Radon levels can even vary dramatically between neighboring houses.
There are two kinds of radon test kits: short term and long term. Both kits contain cannisters that collect radon particles from the air. The test cannister should be placed at the lowest livable level of the home away from drafts, vents, doors or windows. Once the test period has passed, the unit must be sent to a lab for analysis. It is important to mail the sample to the lab quickly. Tests that are done more than 4 days after the sampling period will not be as accurate. Short-term radon test kits give results more quickly, but they don't give you as full a picture as the long term kits. They stay in place for 3 to 4 days, so changes in seasons are not taken into account. It is recommended that short term tests be done in the winter when the house is closed up and radon levels are highest. Long-term radon test kits stay in the home 3-12 months and give a clearer picture of what the radon levels are in the home year round.
Radon Resistant New Construction (RRNC)-
Unfortunately, it is not possible to accurately test a site to identify radon risks before building a home. Because of this, there is a trend to build radon-resistance into homes, so that homeowners don't need to go back in afterward to mitigate a problem if test results show elevated levels of radon. It makes sense to do this because the cost of adding the radon resistance features is only a few hundred dollars.
The Double Efficiency project, designed and built by Green Mountain Construction and Jirsa Construction, included a passive radon ventilation system. Perforated pipe was installed in the sub-slab cinders. A Perminator vapor barrier was then put over the cinders; it was taped to the stem wall and all openings in it were taped off to prevent gasses from escaping into the home. A vertical pipe was attached to the perforated pipe in the slab and extended up over the roof. Gases from the soil under the house will be drawn up through the porous cinder layer and out the vent stack through air movement over the vent pipe. See EPA's Step-by-Step Guide for How to Build Radon-Resistant Homes for more information on building a radon resistant building. There are a number of local contractors who have experience in Radon Resistant New Construction; you can find them on the Sustainable Building Resource Directory.E3 Energy LLC, a local company, also provides radon system consultation services for new construction.
Base cinders with perforated pipe
Perminator vapor barrier with all openings taped
Vapor barrier taped to stem wall
A radon-resistant home!
When testing is done for an existing home, and the results are found to be above 4 pCi/L, mitigation is recommended. If a passive radon ventilation system (radon-resistance) was built into the home, a fan can be added to the system to actively draw air up from under the home. If no radon resistance features were built in, there are different options to reduce radon levels. The best type of mitigation system for a particular home is dependent on a number of factors and requires diagnostic research to determine the source of the radon and how it is getting into the home. Iowa State University has developed a comprehensive resource on mitigation for homeowners- Radon Reduction Methods- A Homeowners Guide. This document recommends a professional contractor be hired to determine the best path forward. In Flagstaff, Architectural & Environmental Associates (AEA). provides these services.
Briefly, some mitigation measures are:
Covering exposed earth with concrete or a vapor barrier
Sealing cracks in floors and walls
Install piping and a fan to create suction on an existing drain-tile system
Adding a sub-slab suction system to the aggregate that underlies the slab
Adding a suction system to the crawl space under a home
It is important to test your home again after mitigation work is complete to be sure that the issue has been addressed adequately.
Pictured above, this active radon system was added by local homeowners to draw radon from beneath their home.
Another approach to radon resistance and mitigation is ventilating the building. As homes are built more tightly to improve energy efficiency, there is less dilution of indoor air pollutants, including radon gas. Air quality can be improved through incorporating a ventilation strategy. This can be planned and built into a new building, or can be installed in an existing home as a means of radon mitigation. Two types of ventilation are suitable for radon reduction:
Positive ventilation- This method involves mechanically bringing fresh air into the home- this creates positive pressure. An example of this is a fresh air intake to a furnace. Pressure that is built up in the home from the added air is then released when a door or window is opened. Balanced ventilation- This approach balances fresh air coming in with exhaust going out. The typical method to achieve this is an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) or Heat Recovery Ventilator(HRV). These mechanical ventilators provide fresh air while retaining the heat from the air through a heat recovery mechanism; they are the most energy efficient means of ventilation.
Heat Recovery Ventilator, Photoby Green Energy Futures/ CC BY -NC 2.0
A third type of ventilation, negative ventilation, can exacerbate radon problems. Negative ventilation involves setting up exhaust fans such that they are used regularly. Typically this is done by wiring bathroom fans to light switches, or having them tied to a timer or motion detector. The negative pressure created when the air is drawn out is then released by air coming in when a door or window is opened. The vacuum created by this approach can draw radon gases into the home. If radon is found to be elevated during testing, this ventilation strategy should not be used.
Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture is now accepting applications for our 2017 Spring Natural Building Internship Program. This program is part of a larger effort to promote sustainable building design in partnership with a student education program. Our goal is to build natural, energy-efficient, passive solar homes while training young dedicated and emerging building professionals. Our student interns are the backbone of our organization and we encourage young adults to apply today!
Ezra Builders LLC is hiring carpenters! Contact Tom Elsass at 607-2717 if you are interested.
E3 Energy LLC is hiring a full-time field technician.
As a field technician, your job will be to assist our field manager while learning the skills needed to eventually work more independently. The scope of work will include inspections at various stages of the building process, conducting final home energy tests and delivering certificates. Since we work with Homebuilders all over Northern Arizona, long driving days will be very common.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension of Coconino County seeks full-time
Family Consumer Health Science (FCHS) Program Coordinator.
Successful candidate will Coordinate the activities and functions of the Family, Consumer and Health Science (FCHS) program(s) in Coconino and Mohave Counties under the direction of the FCHS Extension Agent. Programming will provide research-based education for both youth and adult populations in the area of food systems education and early childhood education.
The Oak Creek Watershed Council is seeking a new Executive Director
The Oak Creek Watershed Council Executive Director is responsible for providing long‐term strategic vision of future goals and objectives, effectively supporting and monitoring program staff in developing partnerships, and enhancing and maintaining relationships with community partners and funders. The Board seeks someone who demonstrates vision, courage, patience, and the ability to provide diligent external and internal leadership.
Benefits: PTO, extreme flexibility with work schedule Salary Range: $20,000 - 25,000 exempt
Currently a half time position at 20 hours per week. Hours can increase depending on future funding.
Application Deadline: January 20, 2017, 4:30 pm MST.
Send resume, cover letter and three references to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject: "OCWC Executive Director Position" or mail to: Oak Creek Watershed Council c/o Executive Director Search Committee P.O. Box 732 Sedona, AZ 86339.
Water Challenges: Part 1 - A Future of the Colorado Plateau Forum
January 23, 2017 6pm-8pm
Museum of Arizona, 3101 N. Fort Valley Rd.
Join the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon Trust for Water Challenges: Part 1, the next Future of the Colorado Plateau Forum. Climate change, drought and low water levels in the Mead and Powell reservoirs grab the headlines, but on the Coconino Plateau our water future depends largely on old water—our aquifers. In part one of this two part series, participants will explore the hydrology and condition of our region's groundwater, who owns it and who controls its use.
Seating is limited to 100 participants. RSVP required. Email email@example.com, or call the Museum of Northern Arizona, 928.774.5213.
Wildlife Tracking Adult Workshop
January 28th 10am-12pm
Join Willow Bend and the Arboretum at Flagstaff for our 3rd Annual "Basic Wildlife Tracking" workshop. Lynne Nemeth, Executive Director of the Arboretum at Flagstaff, will teach participants about basic animal tracking through a fun hands on presentation and guided hike around Sawmill Park, the Rio de Flags and the FUTS trail below Willow Bend (weather permitting).
Space is limited. Please sign up in advance to secure your spot.
Workshops costs $10 per person or FREE to Willow Bend and Arboretum members.
February 4th, 9am-1pm
Join us for a fun Science Saturday that's all about winter! Whether it's snowing outside or not, we will have fun learning about snow adaptations, looking at snow crystals through a microscope, and hearing winter stories while sipping hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows.
Become a Master Recycler!
Join fellow waste reduction enthusiasts and become an advocate for the three Rs in your community as a Flagstaff Master Recycler.
Master Recyclers are trained on waste prevention and composting through an extensive six week course that features industry experts and field trips to local waste processing and recycling facilities.
Once the training is complete, participants commit to volunteer activities include staffing booths at events, or help with community projects like Fix-it Clinics, event recycling, and green teams at work.
The first Master Recycler course is offered this spring on six Wednesdays, February 8th to March 22nd, from 6 – 8 pm at the East Flagstaff Library.
The Master Gardener Program is a nation-wide program offered through the Cooperative Extension network for those interested in learning more about the specific gardening and horticulture needs in their geographic areas. The 15 session Coconino County Master Gardener Program emphasizes the needs and challenges of high elevation gardening. The program involves both classroom learning and a hands-on volunteer commitment to share gardening skills with the community. For an application, contact us at (928) 774-1868 x110 or by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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