Updated on October 5, 2019
Your Passive Radon System Sucks – Or Does It?
Let’s make this simple. If you have a passive radon system installed in your house and it doesn’t have a fan blower and it’s not popping outside your roof or the outside of your house, you have a PVC pipe. That’s it. You have a white PVC pipe that the contractor decided to install to help in the radon mitigation process. The problem is, it isn’t doing anything. A part of the definition of “Passive” according to Webster’s dictionary is, “Of or being an inactive.”
Here’s some more great news for you since you think you are ahead of the game when it comes to radon mitigation, while the US EPA and the state of Iowa require that anyone installing an active radon mitigation system be properly trained, certified and licensed by the State, there are no training or certification requirements made on the contractor installing a passive system.
Sometimes these passive radon systems are installed in such a way as to make them unusable or ineffective. The only way to tell is to cut or disconnect the PVC pipe where it goes through the concrete to investigate what is below. When the PVC pipe is installed it is supposed to go through the sub-slab, or concrete and reach the dirt, gravel or sand below. When professional and licensed radon mitigators install an active radon mitigation system it is typical for them to dig through the sub-slab and then dig out or remove up to 10 gallons of dirt, gravel or sand to properly create a good suction point. They are creating a cavity to communicate with the rest of the dirt, gravel or sand below the concrete.
So now what do you have to turn your PVC pipe into a radon mitigation system? Here are some general guidelines and remember depending on your state, installation should be done by a licensed radon mitigation specialist. Most passive systems are built as part of the house so they typically go up through the house within the walls, through closets or along the corners of a room. The PVC pipe can sometimes be exposed the entire way. The PVC pipe should end through the roof and have the proper roof flashing and sealing as to not create leaks. Some contractors will install the passive radon system just as far as the attic, but will not penetrate through the roof. The purpose is to get the radon gases out of the house, so going through the roof is essential.
One of the most essential items needed to make your passive radon system active is the electric blower fan. Running electricity to the attic to connect the fan is rarely done as part of a passive radon system. The size of the blower fan could vary depending on what kind of material is under the concrete. Once connected to the PVC pipe it will now suck or blow the radon gas out from below the foundation out through the vent pipe and away from your home.
If you are a visual person imagine the PVC pipe as a giant straw running through your house to the gravel below the foundation. The gravel stones are like ice cubes in a drink. The blower fan is sucking up the harmful radon gas from between these stones like the liquid of a drink. Now your passive radon system is active and really does suck, but in a good way.
If you are concerned about radon gas and not sure if you should install a radon mitigation system the first thing to do of course is to test your home. Home radon test kits can be bought at most hardware stores or home improvement big box stores like Lowes. Your local radon mitigation companies will also have some test kits for purchase.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has recommended the action level of 4.0 pico Curies per liter of air. To put that into perspective though 4.0 pCi/L is equal to half a pack of cigarettes a day coming into the house. Are you okay with that? Are your kids and pets okay with that? Getting your radon levels as close to zero should be the ultimate goal when trying to protect your family. Radon gas is the number one cause of lung cancer for non- smokers.
After you get your radon test results back and if they are high it’s time to mitigate. If you have a passive radon system installed review the article again and see what you will need to get the system working. Silence radon before it silences you.