First you need to recognize that installing a radon mitigation system is serious business.
Installing a radon mitigation system involves alterations to the structure of the building or home, that is not performed properly could cause damage to the structure and possible harm or life threatening danger to the installer and occupants.
You may or may not be able to install your own radon mitigation system. There are a lot of variables when it comes to radon mitigation, no two jobs are the same. Some radon mitigation systems are relatively simple and fall into what I would consider do-able for an average handy person.
You will need a well rounded set of skills
Radon mitigation system installation requires a well rounded set of skills but is not outside reach of some enthusiastic do-it-yourselfers. However be sure of what you are getting into. It is not as easy as it appears. If you are comfortable taking on remodeling your kitchen or bathroom, including doing the plumbing and electrical work yourself, this may be something you can do. If you are not comfortable on a roof or high ladder, or working on electrical circuits, running wire to install a new outlet or switch, this is probably out of your league.
Some radon mitigation jobs can prove to be very difficult
Even for seasoned veterans, every now and then there is a radon mitigation system job that is a major pain in the butt. About 5% of the jobs I do, fall into a category of what we in the industry call “radon jobs from hell”. It’s not that they look evil or particularly old, in fact they are often newer homes.
Initially some of these problematic radon mitigation systems appear to be no different than an average mitigation job. But they can turn into a whole lot of extra work. Often less experienced or profit driven radon contractors bail out on these jobs, telling the home owners, “I did the best I could”, or “Sorry, but it is going to cost you a whole lot more than the original quote”.
Good radon contractors
Whereas a good radon contractor will have included in the written proposal, a contingency plan and cost for additional work that may be required. In my proposals I disclose that some jobs may require a second or even a third phase that could incur additional expense of a given amount, usually not to exceed a certain cost cap.
Some good radon contractors will absorb part or all of the additional labor and material expense required to get the radon level to below 4.o pCo/L. They will keep at it until the job is done right. This should all be spelled out in a written proposal provided by the radon contractor:
- The guarantee to reduce the radon to below 4.0 pCi/L
- And what happens if the radon can not be reduced to below 4 pCi/L.
- Give some idea of what the extra work might cost or give a cap on the total amount
Most radon mitigation system installations go well
Most of the radon mitigation systems I install go fairly well, so I can absorb some of the added expense and labor on those “radon jobs from hell” as we call them, which come along once or twice a year. If installing your own radon mitigation system and your house turns out to be one of those “radon houses from hell”, good luck, check out some radon mitigation help forums, or bring in a professional. There is an open “Radon How To” forum and a contact form on this site. I will help the best I can.
Some of the tasks required are dangerous
Even in an average radon mitigation system, some of the tasks required can be tricky or dangerous, like boring large holes in concrete floors, sometimes those floors have radiant heating pipes embedded in them. If they do you need to plan ahead in case you break a pipe, be ready to shut down the boiler and know how to repair it, or who can do it for you. I would have to say a radon mitigation system is one of the most challenging home improvements that there is, it will usually require at least intermediate skill levels in plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and masonry or concrete work.
The tools are large and expensive
The tools are large and expensive, and they can easily cause injury if your not careful and even sometimes when you are careful. The drills are heavy and heavy duty, and cost from about $500 up to $2000 each, if possible you want one with some type of a torque arrest for safety. It might be best to rent or borrow these tools if you are trying to save some money.
The hole saws for drilling wood cost about $35 each and require a $20 arbor, and a $20 extension. The concrete core bits I use for drilling through cement floors and walls cost about $400 to $500 each. You can get by with a smaller drill, drilling small holes and chiseling out the center, it takes longer and is not as neat. Small drills easily be burned up on one job.
A variable speed drill used at the slower settings and a shop vacuum will help control the dust if you keep the filter clean. In the picture to the right the vacuum is running and hose placed near the core bit, while drilling will just about eliminate dust.
Proper tools help avoid injury
Drilling large 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 inch holes with a very powerful drill through a wooden beam or concrete floor or cement wall is not easy. If you happen to hit some 1/2 inch steel re-bar drilling through concrete you are in for a real treat – not.
If the drill catches and torques your wrist or shoulder you might be out of commission for a few days or more. This happened to me a lot when I started out, using less expensive equipment with out the “torque arrest” safety feature, which makes a “Big” difference. You can rent good, heavy duty equipment from your local tool rental. If will save you time and may save burning up your small drills.
You need to be prepared in some situations for things you fore see that could go wrong. Like drilling through concrete floor that has radiant heating pipes in it. If you drill into a heating pipe the system needs to be shut down or isolated immediately and then you need to make your repair, or get it repaired. Most of the time with careful planning you can avoid this mishap but sometimes it can be very difficult.
One radon mitigation system I installed the only location acceptable for the suction point was in a small boiler room, and there were about 30 water pipes embedded in the concrete in a 50 square foot area. Yes, I drilled into a water pipe. I had already reviewed where the shut offs were and had the equipment and materials to make the repair if needed. It did add about 2 1/2 hours to the job.
Consequences of Improper Installation
Beware that there could be consequences to an improperly installed radon mitigation system. I regularly see safety hazards in mitigation systems installed by radon mitigation companies, not to mention do-it-yourselfers. Any exterior wiring needs to be properly sheathed in water proof conduit, electrical wiring and connections if improper, can be a fire and or electrocution hazard.
If proper ventilation is not provided with a radon ran depressurization system, it can cause back drafting of combustible gas appliances leading to carbon monoxide poising. If the radon mitigation system is not properly designed it may not lower the radon to below 4.0 pCi/L. Some mitigation systems can even make the radon level higher than before the system was installed.
If the workmanship is shoddy, the radon mitigation system may fail in as little as the first year, because it is falling apart or for other reasons. Make sure to do your homework, read a book or two on the subject and think through how much money you will actually save by doing the job yourself.
Steps Involved In Radon Mitigation:
The following list should give you a rough idea is you are up to the task of installing an average radon mitigation system. The most common type of radon mitigation system, (which is a “sub-slab depressurization system”) would require the following tasks or procedures.
Note – the following list does not apply to every job neither is it a complete list, it is for an example only. These are not specific instructions to install a radon mitigation system. You may use the following example how you choose, but I cannot assume responsibility for how you use it.
- Diagnosis and system design (This is a very important part of the job, you can educate yourself on this first step, read a book on the subject, take a class or course on radon mitigation, do your own research, or hire out this part to consultation from a radon professional.
- Order the required components for the system.
- Unless you do proper diagnostics, you will need to guess as to which fan will work the best if ordering one ahead of time. Here are some basic guidelines for choosing the best radon fan.
- Check local codes, speak with code enforcement, or association regulations that may apply to your property. You don’t want to be in violation of any state or local agencies. You may have to submit a proposal or set of plans of your system design for approval.
- From your diagnosis, determine fan and pipe size. There are dozens of different radon fan sizes for different situations.
- Drill your hole in floor and excavate 5 or 20 gallons of soil and rocks or gravel.
Drill your hole through the rim joist or wall if mounting the fan on the exterior wall or route the pipe up to the attic where the radon fan will be installed.
- If an attic fan installation, drill hole through the roof. Make sure roof flashing for vent pipe is properly installed and sealed to prevent leaking. Be very careful on roof.
- Install your pipes, make sure all joints are sealed water and air tight. All piping needs to be back pitched properly so condensation drains back into the sub-slab area.
- Run wiring for the electrical circuit supply/switch for the fan following the local electrical code. Electricity can kill you, this part of the job is best left to a professional. Local electrical code may require a permit or installation by a licensed electrician.
- Install the manometer “U” Tube were it will be easily and regularly observed.
- Start the system and do your post mitigation diagnostics, to make sure you have sufficient suction, air flow, and proper fan size.
- With the fan running perform a back draft test on combustible gas appliances (water heater, furnace, boiler, etc.). This is an important safety test for a condition that can cause carbon monoxide gas to leak into the home. Some radon reduction fan systems can cause or exacerbate this life threatening condition. (Note, many radon contractors are unaware of or skip this test.)
- Check for vibration and noise. Make necessary adjustments or changes.
- Let the radon mitigation system run for at least 24 hours. You can also air the house out at this time to help rid it of latent radon. Close up doors and windows for 12 hours minimum prior to the performing the post radon mitigation system test.
- Follow the proper testing protocol for a short term test. Conduct the post mitigation radon test to ensure the radon mitigation system is reducing the radon to below 4 pCi/L. If you can get the radon level below 2 pCi/L that is better, most of the systems I install reduce radon to 1.9 pCi/L or less. Your goal should always be to get the radon level as low as practically possible.
- Review your test results and diagnostic data and decide if you want to modify the system for better results, this may include increasing the fan size, adding additional suction points and vent pipe, increasing fresh air ventilation, installing a make-up fresh air intake to reduce the negative pressure inside the building or any one of or combination of a number of other things.
- Make any changes or modifications to further lower the radon level, and repeat the above review.
- Retest, and repeat the last four steps as necessary until you achieve desired results.
- Properly label the radon system components as directed by the EPA Radon Mitigation Standards.
- Use the EPA Radon Mitigation Standards guideline, for putting together a Radon Mitigation System Folder for your home or building. File it away in a safe place, this document record contains important information about the system and is now part of the radon system and is to stay with the home or building if sold.
- Once a radon system is installed in a home or building it should be re-tested every 2 years to ensure it is working to reduce the radon level to below 4.0 pCi/L or lower. Additionally you can purchase and install a continuous radon monitor that can also be used as an alarm, warning occupants if the average radon level reaches 4.0 pCi/L or higher. See more about Digital Radon Detector/Alarm designed for home use.
If Installing Your Own Radon Mitigation System is Not For You:
Some relatively easy and minor radon mitigation techniques (to lessen the harmful effects) that can be done by a non-professional are:
- Increase the ventilation in your home (open windows and doors whenever possible.)
- Limit the amount of time anyone spends in the areas of your home which have the greatest radon concentration (for example, the basement.)
- If your home has a crawl space, keep the crawl space vents on all sides of the house fully open all year.
- Stop smoking and discourage smoking in your home.
For more about installing a radon mitigation system, see the How to Reduce Radon page.
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