The Radon Man Cometh

January 2010 – we meet our first enemy: radon. 
As if the homebuying process wasn’t confusing and stressful enough already, add to it a positive radon test. We were lucky to find an inspector who also performed a radon test on our house prior to purchase, but not lucky enough to have an EPA determined “safe” level in the house. The radon test came back at 6.0 pCi/L. The EPA recommends that some type of mitigation be done to lower radon levels below 4.0 pCi/L. Generally, assuming the home has a full basement or at least true crawlspaces (with enough room for a person to crawl – hence the name), mitigation can be performed relatively simply. With high hopes, I began contacting mitigation companies in the city.  All of them asked about the type of basement, and after my explanation of the layout of this strange little house, they all wanted to see it before suggesting a reduction method.  After getting the “no guarantee” response from the first 3 contractors, I started to lose hope.  The one stroke of luck we did have was the caveat in our purchase agreement – the seller would pay half of the mitigation costs if radon was found, and if no mitigation could be completed, we were off the hook. ML and I needed to decide if we still wanted a little house with a little radon problem. We mulled it over for a few days, while I continued to make calls to the State of Iowa Radon Hotline. My real question in this situation was how high is 6 pCi/L, really? Are we talking lung cancer by 30, or probably no cancer at all? There were two promising facts that came from my many calls to the hotline – (1.) 6 pCi/L was not that high, and we should probably test for a few years before getting too worried; (2.) there is one contractor in our area who can mitigate anything.  The first bit of information would have been more useful if we didn’t have to make the mitigation decision prior to closing (January 29). If we chose not to mitigate now, but mitigated a few years down the road, we would have the whole cost. If we decided to mitigate upfront, we would have half of the costs covered.  I contacted the radon hotline’s ringer contractor and he said he would guarantee mitigation below EPA standards. We got his quote and continued with the purchasing process.

February 2010 – we meet our second enemy: the radon man.
After 2 destroyed floors, a broken light fixture, an extra $1000 out of our pockets, and many missed hours of work (me), the mitigation was complete and I would commence the smearing in the mud of the radon man. We had our house, we had 3 giant holes in the floors of 2 different rooms, and I had a headache for 3 weeks. I began the hunt for replacement floorboards. Apparently, around 1940,  the previous owners had purchased custom made southern yellow pine boards.  Each board was 7/8 in thick, 12 ft long, and 3.25 in wide. Unbeknownst to me, this was an impossible board to find. Dubuque has a number of architectural salvage stores – none of these had my boards. Not even the high end furniture and flooring stores could find a supplier. I was eventually referred to a wonderful mill in Wisconsin – Twin Oaks Lumber. They couldn’t meet my thickness requirement, but they could meet the other two. I placed my order for the boards and picked them up a week later. I was able to take a a few days off of work to undertake the repairs. After three near-nervous breakdowns (prevented by my mom’s offer of help), there were no longer gaping holes in our floors. I vowed never to trust a contractor again. At least not one I didn’t know personally and/or couldn’t hunt down if necessary.

Dark-stained southern yellow pine floor – post carpet removal, pre radon mitigation
One of the 3 large holes repaired – shout out to my mom for the help wiggling the tongue & grooves together. 

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