January 18, 2012

Contractor gets sued for neglecting to deal with radon!

This is an idea that a very difficult and sue-happy customer mentioned to me. This guy, we’ll call him Mr. Lakefront, has nothing better to do than sue everyone he deals with to take up his time, as making money is not a pursuit he really needs to be concerned with. I am hired to take mold samples and test radon levels to gather evidence for his lawsuit against his builder. His home, not more than a year after they getting the COO is leaking from most of the back doors and windows as well as having a synthetic deck that is pealing. Everything to me appears to be manufacturer defects. Overall, this is a good build and I tell the customer that.

He says, “Ned, I asked my builder whether we should install a radon mitigation system when building this home and he told me that we don’t need to worry about this as it isn’t a big issue around here. Was that a reasonable thing for my builder to say?” This guy is smart and has spent the last 4 months learning about radon, so of course he already knows the answer. He pushed the whole idea of builder negligence, and all I could say was that I was surprised the builder knew what radon was. I am not saying I think this builder is an idiot, anything but. I regularly field contractor’s questions about radon, and it is apparent that most of you are not familiar with what radon is and how it is mitigated. Don’t worry; please read the following and always feel free to call me with any questions you may have.

So what is radon?

A chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium or thorium. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of 3.8 days. (Wikipedia)

I hope I didn’t lose you there. To break it down, radon is a gas that is very common in the Tahoe area due to the large amounts of granite we have under our feet (not the floors you just installed). This rock gives off a gas that rises into the atmosphere. Not a big issue. It becomes a problem when a home is built on top of the earth, and not only traps the gas that is rising naturally, but also creates suction on the earth, sucking this gas into our homes. Through a natural stacking effect (the way at which heat and gas rises) and mechanical ventilation systems in the home including bathroom exhaust fans, heater exhaust, water heater exhaust, stovetop exhaust, dryers; you name it, most appliances create a suction in our homes when they duct out their exhaust. So now we have this gas in our home, what now?

The issue is that radon, like many unstable elements, will break down giving off radiation. The actual radon gas is not the problem; it is the radioactive elements that it breaks down to. They attach themselves to the lungs, and give off radiation that can lead to lung cancer. The statistics are staggering!

So now you know what it does, how do we deal with it?

Radon should only be measured by the homeowner or a certified radon tester. Do not do this work yourself!! If the homeowner is cheap, as we know many are, they can purchase a charcoal device that will absorb the gas and then they can send it to a lab that will give them a report with their radon levels. The device should be left in the lowest livable level of their home, and have all windows and doors closed 12 hours before and during the test for “closed house conditions.” They just need to read the directions as it explains the process. If they would like to have a certified radon tester test their home with a piece of equipment that measures radon levels every hour, then they can hire our service for a fee. Of course this is what I recommend, especially for real estate transactions and lawyer customers.

After radon is found, there is a solution. It is called a radon mitigation system. In basic terms, it creates suction on the earth like the house. It will divert the gas through PVC piping with the help of an in-line fan to vent this gas out above the roof line and diverting it from entering the living space of the home. Since we deal primarily with earth floor crawlspaces, installation of a radon membrane is usually necessary. We also have to deal with snow up here. In many no snow areas they run the fan and piping on the exterior of the house and vent the gas over the eave with a gutter pipe. If we did that in Tahoe, the gutter pipe would be ripped off in minutes. So we are limited to installing the fan unit in the attic, and the exhaust pipe through the home and out the roof.

Unlike mold remediation, it is illegal for you to install a radon mitigation system unless you are certified by one of the two radon boards and the State of California. So leave the after the fact mitigation systems to the professionals. However, installing mitigation ready systems into new homes is a service you should offer for any of your new construction builds. It simply requires installing a membrane over drain rock before slab pour, or installing a simple French drain throughout the proposed earth crawlspace to catch soil gas. Then you run a 4” PVC up through the membrane and chase it through closets or cavities to exhaust the pipe above the roof line.

If after construction, it is found that the home has high levels of radon, we attach our equipment to your system and save the homeowner money. Call us today for a mitigation design plan for your new build. In most cases, we charge less than $150 for the design and can supply parts and equipment at an additional cost. If your homeowner is really handy, he can hire us for the design and equipment and do it themselves.

Nevada and California are at the fore fronts of many things, though radon they are not. In some states radon testing and prebuilt mitigation systems are required by law. It is common for people from the east to ask about radon. Don’t be the last to know, check out the resources provided to enhance your knowledge and always feel free to call us.

Tahoe Mold and Water offers free consultations over the phone to any licensed CA/NV contractor. Call Ned at (530) 448-6494. He is a certified radon measurer and a radon mitigation contractor.

Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to EPA's 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003). The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2005-2006 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2006 National Safety Council Reports.
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