DIY Radon Mitigation. A Step-by-Step Guide to a Radon-Free Home

Chris Kristiansen
June 7, 2016

Introduction

Radon mitigation systems are great ways to remove radon from your home, but they can be tricky to install. DIY radon mitigation is no small feat, but for those confident enough in their abilities we are providing step-by-step instructions to a DIY Radon Mitigation system installation.

Why Do it Yourself Radon Mitigation?

Radon mitigation system installation can be expensive, and if you have radon you may feel like you cannot avoid that expense. You certainly should not go without a mitigation system over the long term if you know your home has high radon levels. So, how do you mitigate the expense, as well as the radon? Perform a DIY radon mitigation installation.

We hinted at this above, but it bears repeating: installing a radon mitigation system is a serious task. Check out the steps in this article to see if you’re up for it. If any part of the installation steps make you uncomfortable, hire someone to install your system. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and time, and potentially money. Nothing is worse than spending countless hours and dollars on a DIY radon mitigation installation only to check your radon levels and see them stay the same!

Basic Overview of DIY Radon Mitigation

Installing a radon mitigation system involves several steps. The basic goal of the system is to remove radon from the home. Radon comes up from the ground, so the way this is accomplished is by drilling a hole in the home’s foundation and actively sucking the air up from the ground and expelling from the house via the roof. You heard that right: the air must go from the ground below the house, through the foundation, up through piping that runs through the inside of the house, and up and out the roof.

Connecticut_Radon_Mitigation

So, the system will require running PVC pipe through multiple stories or at the very least through a slab of concrete and out through your roof. It also involves drilling holes in your basement’s foundation and your roof, both of which must be properly sealed to make sure no radon gets around the pipe in the foundation and no moisture gets down through the roof.

The other crucial element to install is the fan. A fan creates suction in the pipe, drawing air out of the soil beneath the house and pushing it out above the house, allowing it to disperse. The fan is situated in the attic or usually at the top of the system. And if pipe does run through the attic, it should be insulated to make sure the warm air from the bottom of the house doesn’t hit cold air at the top of the house and cause moisture to condense. It would be a shame to solve one problem, radon, only to create another, moisture and mold in the attic.

The final element you’ll want to have on your radon mitigation system is a pressure gauge (manometer), usually just a fluid gauge that tells you the fan is working: it’s creating a pressure differential in the pipe and therefore pulling air up from the ground.

Of course, after your system is installed you will want to use a radon detector to regularly monitor the system and make sure it’s actually reducing the amount of radon inside your home.

The next part of the article walks you through exactly what you need and what to do to install a radon mitigation system in your home.

If you want to check out the steps in video form, check out this video

For the full step by step breakdown with links to the products you’ll need, keep reading this DIY Radon Mitigation guide.

Steps for DIY Radon Mitigation

1. Get Initial Radon Reading

The first step to mitigating the radon in your home is to understand where radon levels are high in your home and how high they are. To do this, you need a radon detector. The detector you buy depends on your budget, but we recommend a long-term detector. They are more expensive than short-term detectors, but they tell you radon levels in your home for years. Short-term detectors only give you readings over several days and then they are done; they cannot be reused.

What’s more, you’re going to want to monitor radon levels before, during, and after installation of the system, so a long-term tester is actually more economical than buying multiple short-term tests.

2. Age of Structure

Knowing how old your home is will help you plan the DIY radon mitigation system installation. If the home was built before the 1970s, the fill used beneath your cement slab foundation is probably not ideal. An ideal fill is porous, meaning it lets gas breathe. This would allow you to suck out the air relatively easily. A non-ideal fill is dense, either very wet earth or rock. These require more effort as you need to figure out how to suck the air through this dense earth and out through your system.

3. Structure

Before you run pipe through your foundation, home, and roof, you should analyze your home’s structure for a couple key details.

First, additions. If sections of your home were added on after the initial construction, you may need to mitigate radon from multiple areas of your home. This would be the case if your foundation slab is not fully continuous, meaning there are pockets of air beneath your home each of which would require different mitigation systems, complicating the DIY radon mitigation system installation.

Second, current drainage systems. Do you have a french drain or a drain tile inside the house that you can use to draw radon up out of? If so, you may not need to drill through the foundation slab.

Third, soil composition. You may be able to call your home’s builder to find out what type of fill was used beneath your foundation slab. If not, you can drill a hole and check. You want a gravel-like fill because it promotes airflow. Wet sand or earth allows much less airflow. If you have a wet earth situation, you will need to put your arm into the hole you drill in the foundation and dig out a foot or two in each direction. This should allow the pipe, situated well above the bottom of the pit, to pull up an adequate amount of air.

Last, current foundation compromises. Check where pipes go through the foundation to make sure they are fully sealed and plug up cracks, even hairline cracks, in the slab. These efforts will make the slab airtight, allowing the mitigation system to get a good level of suction.

4. Planning the Pipe

You’ll want to use PVC pipe from 3 inches to 4 inches in diameter [no great options on Amazon]. This means you’re going to need to drill 3–4 inch holes in different levels of your home. Again, there are couple specific details to consider about your particular home.

First, you will want to avoid running the pipe through your living areas as it looks bad. So, is there a path you can take that avoids frequented areas? Common solutions include running it up from the basement into an attached garage and out the garage’s roof, or else through a closet inside the home. You do want to keep the PVC running inside the home to reduce condensation and limit exposure to the elements–this helps the system last longer.

Second, the pipe needs to come out of your roof at a point that is at least 10 feet away from any windows on a horizontal plane. This is because the pipe expels radon gas, and if it’s too near a window it can come back into your house through a window.

The pipe, which is often several different pieces of pipe fitted together with necessary elbow or other joints and PVC cement, must also extend 1 foot above the roof’s surface.

You will need sandpaper and a hacksaw (or equivalent) to section the piping and debur it (which is necessary to keep a tight seal).

5. Fan Placement

You will need to place the fan such that it is outside the living area of your house: in the attic, in the garage, or outside (least preferred). This is required of a radon mitigation system, as it protects you from a leak at the site of the fan, which would result in a pooling of radon as the fan pulls radon up but then fails to expel it from the home. This is why it’s also essential to constantly monitor radon if you have a mitigation system installed. The intake/outtake hole size of your radon mitigation fan will dictate the size of the PVC pipe you should buy.

6. Drilling holes

Find a good location in your foundation to drill. An ideal spot is near a wall that you can bracket the PVC piping to.

Once you are ready to drill, measure a hole slightly larger than your PVC diameter. Using a jackhammer, drill through the foundation until you hit the fill below. Take necessary steps if this fill is dense. You will probably want to have a roto driller to help create the initial ground hole beneath your foundation hole.

You will need to use a handsaw or a wide-diameter drill to get through the various walls, floors, and roofs involved in running the pipe from the foundation to the roof.

7. Laying pipe

Run the pipe from your roof to your basement. Start with the roof and make sure the entire piping system is sealed and bracketed in place from the roof to the basement. As part of this process you will need to attach the fan to the piping structure, ideally in an attic-like space. If the piping does run through a space that might be a different temperature than the rest of the house (attics and garages), insulate the piping in those space. This helps you avoid condensation on the piping. Put the final pipe in the hole you’ve drilled in the foundation and seal it into the system. You’re now ready to make the whole thing airtight.

8. Sealing Holes

You’re going to want to caulk and hydraulic cement to seal the roof and foundation respectively. You should also have some backer rod to fill the space between the PVC pipe and the foundation hole before applying hydraulic cement to the seam.

9. Testing the System

Finally, you need to make sure your system mitigates radon. To do this, turn on the fan and, with a small hole at another point in the foundation (drilled for testing purposes) use a smoking piece of burning paper to see if air is being sucked into that hole. This tells you the system is up and running, sucking air from across the foundation to the site of the mitigation piping. Finally, install a manometer on the basement piping, which will tell you whether or not the system is creating the pressure differential necessary to suck air up from the ground.

Product List for DIY Radon Mitigation:

  • 3-4” PVC (depending on intake/outtake hole of your fan)
  • Elbow joints as needed by your home’s structure
  • Piping insulation (depends on the size of your PVC)
  • Piping brackets (depends on the size of your PVC)
  • PVC cement
  • Radon Mitigation Fan
  • Manometer
  • Hydraulic cement
  • Backer rod
  • Hacksaw
  • Sandpaper to debur the pipe
  • Jackhammer (suggest renting rather than buying)
  • Roto driller (suggest renting rather than buying)
  • Buzz saw

Summary

You have a lot to think about in undertaking a DIY radon mitigation system installation. If you are comfortable with all these steps, you can do the job yourself.

Most often, however, people should get a system professionally installed. And after the installation of your radon mitigation system, it’s important to keep testing for radon. You wouldn’t want to stop checking radon, trust the system, and then not notice a system malfunction. So, a long-term radon detector is also a good investment as you install your radon mitigation system.

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