Radon – What You Should Know

Would you be surprised to learn that Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking?  16% of lung cancers deaths in Canada are attributable to radon exposure.   What is Radon and what can you do to protect yourself?  Below is a brief overview:

What Is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas that is formed naturally by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water.  It is colourless, odourless and tasteless  but can be easily measured with a radon detector.

Radon can enter a house any place it finds an opening where the house contacts the soil: cracks in foundation walls and in floor slabs, construction joints, gaps around service pipes and support posts, floor drains and sumps, cavities inside walls, and the water supply.

The age of a house is not factor when it comes to whether high levels of radon are present in the dwelling.

There are no areas of Canada that are ‘radon free’ and levels vary significantly across Canada.    In an Alberta survey, 5.7% of homes were above the guideline limits.

Where test results for homes exceeded the Canadian Radon Guideline (200 Bq/m3), recommendations were made that the homeowners take action within a two-year (where results were greater than 200 Bq/m3 but less than 600 Bq/m3) or a one-year (where results were greater than 600 Bq/m3) time period.

Source: Health Canada

Source: Health Canada

Test For Radon

Health Canada recommends that houses be tested for a minimum of 3 months, ideally between September and April when windows and doors are typically kept closed.

To provide a realistic estimate of the radon exposure of the occupants, all measurements should be made in the normal occupancy area of the lowest lived-in level of the house. The normal occupancy area is defined as any area occupied by an individual for more than 4 hours per day.

If you choose to hire a service provider to perform the radon test in your house, Health Canada suggests you ask the following questions:

  • What type of radon test device do you provide (short term or long term)?    Health Canada recommends a long term test of minimum 3 months.
  • Are you certified/trained to provide radon measurement services?   Health Canada recommends that they are certified under the  Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP)

If you decide to purchase a do-it-yourself radon test kit, keep in mind that if it’s in the ~$15 price range, there will be additional lab charges when you mail it in.

Radon TesterI decided to go with an ongoing monitor.  However,  I will hire a professional if the results ever get close to the guideline limit.

How can I reduce the amount of radon in my house?

The most common and effective radon reduction method is Active Soil Depressurisation (ASD); a method where a hole is drilled in your basement floor and a pipe is installed with a fan that draws the radon gas from under your house and pushes it outside.

Other methods include:

  • Ventilate the basement sub-flooring by installing a small pump to draw the radon from below the concrete slab to the outside before it can enter your home (commonly known as Sub Slab Depressurisation typically performed by a contractor).
  • Increase the mechanical ventilation, via a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), to allow an exchange of air.
  • Seal all cracks and openings in foundation walls and floors, and around pipes and drains.

How much will it cost to mitigate my house?

The cost of reducing radon in your house depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. The average radon remediation process, typically done using a contractor, will cost between $1500 – $3000 according to Health Canada. The cost is much less if a passive system was installed during construction.

Health Canada has much more information – the above was just a quick overview.  Here are the links to recommended reading:

4 responses to “Radon – What You Should Know

  1. I have received a few emails asking which type of radon detector I’m using. It’s a Safety Siren Pro Series 3 Radon Gas Detector. I purchased it for $129 on Ebay, but I noticed it’s now available on Amazon for Canadians as well.

  2. Renata MacQueen

    Really enjoyed the article. Great job creating awareness with good information. Noticed your continuous monitor is reading in PiC/L which is the American unit for measuring radioactive disintegrations. May be informative for readers to know to times this unit by 37 to get the unit in Bq/m3 and then compare your reading to Health Canada’s actionable level. Also the monitor is set to a short term reading which only measures the last 7 days. Important to take a long term reading as well ( toggles with button ) which will continuously average all the days of your test. Radon levels are always fluctuating due pressure differentials in your home as well as what is happening in our outdoor enviroment. Again really informative article. Thanks.

    Excellent tips, thank you!
    -Mike Fotiou

  3. CREA has just released a new guide: “A Home Owner’s Guide To Radon”

    To download the PDF, click here

  4. A Calgary scientist is spearheading a project to collect data to map the prevalence of the cancer-causing gas in our area. So far, the team has tested 268 homes and aims to have 1,000 homeowners enrolled by the end of January. Read more about it in this Calgary Herald article, and sign up for the project here.

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