Wednesday, November 22, 2017

radon testing

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that may accumulate in a home. Radon is colourless and odourless; it can enter a home anywhere there is contact with the ground, such as basements. Testing is the only way to know if it is present. 

I have begun two long term radon gas tests in the basement of my old house. Radon gas in a dwelling or at work is a possibility in most parts of Canada and the US. We should test for radon.

There are excellent web references and tons to read. I have never done a test for Radon.

I was excited to have a "free" kit offered by local Grey Bruce Public Health. I thought I would purchase a long term test kit (SKU 3616930 $43 with tax + $40 analysis report fee in six months) from Scott's Home Hardware to compare. My plan is to run both tests for six months (from today will be May 21 2018).

I have had most concern about where to place the test modules for the duration of the test. The kits and online info provide guidance. But if I followed it all, in my case, there would to be no place better than the middle of my living room on the main floor except it is adjacent to the kitchen which is a no-no. According to most instructions, I am to test in the lowest "lived-in" room in the house. A basement if it is finished and someone spends some amount of time down there.

I am probably erring on the side of excessive caution but I'd rather know if the room was safe BEFORE I put someone's living quarters down there. Unfinished and probably will never be except perhaps for some insulation. There is still a chance of a "water event" in my basement although things have been improved and it has been pretty dry down there the last couple of years. I wanted a worst case type of reading.

Other negatives, I am not to test in a furnace room although the furnace is across the room. I am to be away from walls and floors.  I built the little test stand to keep the modules safe and dry, about 2 foot off the concrete floor sitting under the open stair well.

Today I cut open the sealed bags. Both modules look the same, a black top hat module about 3cm in diameter with identical markings (but different numbers) just like they had been made in the same factory. Same air desiccant bag inside the plastic.

The one from the Public Health comes with paperwork from AccuStar Canada (with address POB Cap-Rouge Office Quebec. There is a plastic bag and a postage paid return envelop addressed from the Cap-Rouge Office to ACCUSTAR LAB 11 AWL STREET POB 158 MEDWAY, MA. I am supposed to mail the Public Health module together with the completed AccuStar Datasheet in this envelop. No additional charges mentioned. There is a statement in their instructions which states that test devices must be sent to the US address, not AccuStar Canada.

AccuStar calls the test "Long Term Radon Test Kit for Radon in Air (Alpha Track)". I had read that I could not measure for the presence of radon with a Geiger type counter since the radiation is alpha which is not detected by a Geiger tube. I need an alpha transparent window, like a mica window to make an active detector.

Passive radon detectors like these rely on a small piece of sensitized plastic film. It has to go back to AccuStar for reading. A one shot reading of which time is a key element to determine an exposure range.

The Public Health package includes a booklet "Radon: A Guide for Canadian Homeowners". Good basic information. I notice that you can get a pdf copy here if you submit your email.

The package from Home Hardware, a Pro-Lab "Long-Term Radon Gas Test Kit, product number RL116 contained an envelope made out to Pro-Lab with address in Woodbridge, Ontario, a short "information sheet" to be filled in and on the other side instructions. The standard Lab results are obtained by sending back the detector and test info sheet together with check or money order for C$40. They also take Visa, MaterCard, AMEX or Discovery cards. A phone number is given.

So now we wait for six months...

Thanks for your interest.
George Plhak
Lions Head, Ontario, Canada

Radon Cancer infographic
Radon -

Saturday, May 06, 2017

heat 3

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(click graph to enlarge)

It has been interesting to record how hard my furnace works as the outside temperature changes. The points are observations of the running time of the furnace and how often it comes on taken first thing in the morning from my smart meter compared to the outside temperature. The process takes about the same time as a morning cup of coffee to record one point. The graph fills in as I add more points but I can already clearly see the trend (the line).

I divide the run time by the time between cycles to get a fraction (and then a percentage) which I've called the Duty Cycle. This is how much of the time the furnace runs. The colder it gets outside, the more the furnace runs, using electricity and oil in my case to generate heat for the house.

As an example, here is the smart meter graph from this morning with some measurements I have made from the graph.

Being overnight, the only things going on in the house electrically (other than the base load) are the furnace (the peaks that I have put dimensions on), the refrigerator and the freezer. The fridge and freezer are the "choppiness" in the graph. They use much less electricity than the furnace.

I can pick them out with difficulty but I don't need to since I am only interested in when the furnace is running. The water heater is also "running" but it does not appear in this section of chart because it cycles over a much longer time (six to twelve hours) so it does not show up in this time period from about 1:30am to 6am. So the furnace is relatively easy to measure.

The dimension lines I add to a screen capture with a drafting tool (CorelDraw). The dimensions are cm which I convert to time by noting the length of an hour on the graph bottom scale. The top set of numbers is the furnace run time, the middle set is the time between runs (the cycle time) and the bottom number I use to convert centimeters to time.

Here is the calculation for this morning's data point at 4 degrees C. The spreadsheet is here.

Since I don't have smart meter data from last year I can't compare historically like I could with degree days. Next year I should be able to see the effect of improvements to insulation for example. When I get a new, more efficient furnace I should be able to see a difference in this chart.

"You can't manage what you don't measure" - Peter Drucker

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

heating degree days 2

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(click graph to enlarge)

This graph shows my progress at using less electricity for heat.

The blue line is the 2016-2017 heating season. The blue line is lower than the others and slopes less. The graph tells me that I used less electricity per heating degree day last year than the previous three years.

Although I heat with an oil burning furnace, a fair amount of electricity gets used to power the two motors in the furnace, about 600 watts while it runs. If it runs less often, it uses less kWh.

The graph was simple to make and only requires two numbers for each month. One number, the total kWh used, is from my electricity bill. The second number is the heating degree days for that same month that the electricity was used from a government site like the one I showed in the previous article. A copy of my spreadsheet (.xls) is here.

I made a number of improvements in the house to reduce heat loss but particularly last summer (new insulation, leaks plugged, air circulation cut from the sun room and a new door) so it is good to be able to show the improvement in spite of changing weather.

I am ignoring price here and focusing only on the kWh used and the outside temperature as expressed in the heating degree days for my location.

Last winter was not as cold as the previous three but that does not matter when the data is compared as kWh per heating degree day.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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