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Q&A Spotlight

Radon Mitigation in a Leaky House

A reader weighs the pros and cons of various ventilation options as a way of lowering the health risks from radon

Nineteenth century charm and 21st century air quality problems. The log house, built in the 1830s and sided with more conventional materials, has several crawlspace and basement areas beneath it. Ridding the house of radon has been a challenge.
Image Credit: Images #1 and #2: Andrew S

Radon mitigation in new construction is now routine when testing finds that concentrations of this odorless, cancer-causing gas exceed government-recommended levels. Writing from southeastern Wisconsin, Andrew S. has a slightly different problem: How to control radon levels when you live in a leaky log home built in the 19th century.

“Our radon issue is being worked on via traditional methods with mixed success,” he writes in a Q&A post at GreenBuildingAdvisor. “The radon issue improves dramatically when windows are open — I assume this is dilution and perhaps also pressure equalization?”

That may be fine in warmer weather, but leaving windows open during the winter in Climate Zone 6 to keep the concentration of radon under control doesn’t seem like much of a solution.

Andrew wonders whether other forms of ventilation might help. He weighs two possible options:

Andrew knew about the radon problem when he bought the house, but he was assured by a well-recommended radon specialist in the area that controlling it would not be a problem. When the sale went through, that expert came to look at the house — and never came back. Other contractors have looked but never followed through with a plan. Although Andrew has found a contractor who’s willing to work on the problem, he still has his doubts that a traditional approach will work.

So what will?

That’s the topic for this Q&A Spotlight.

What’s been tried so far

There are essentially five “basement systems” in the house, Andrew explains, including two basement foundations, two dirt crawl spaces, and a slab-on-grade room. Here’s what they’ve done:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the “action level” for radon at 4.0 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L), and when the door to the room built on a…

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