DIY radon measurement for Canadians

Six Reasons Why Canadians Should Test Their Homes for Radon Gas

It has no smell and you can’t see it. It may be lurking in your home undetected. I am talking about radon gas. It is a radioactive gas that comes from the ground, released from the breakdown of uranium and radium in the soil. Through small openings in a home such as in cracks,  along wall joints or service pipes, radon gas can seep undetected into a home in areas where the house contacts the ground.

Radon is harmless in the outdoors, however it can accumulate to high levels inside homes. Given that radon is radioactive, exposure to high levels of radon for a long period of time causes lung cancer.

The health effects of radon gas are well documented. In Canada, radon-related lung cancer kills about 3,200 Canadians every year. That is why Health Canada recommends that every home in Canada should be tested for radon gas. Any reading above 200Bq/m3 indicates a high level of radon that should be fixed.

Testing is the first step of addressing the risk from radon gas. Knowing the levels of radon in your home means you can take action if necessary.

There are effective and easy ways to test for radon gas and fix high levels in a home.

A recent Health Canada radon study of 18,000 homes in Canada found that there are no radon-free regions in Canada. Radon is present in all regions of Canada. The only way to know your levels is to test.

Here are the six reasons why you should test for radon in your home:

1. Radon is a serious health risk

We are all aware of the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada. Every year more people (~3,000) die from lung cancer caused by radon gas exposure than motor vehicle accidents, fires, and drownings combined.  The risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure is significantly high for smokers. This is a health risk that we all want to pay  attention to.

2. We can’t smell, see or taste radon

Radon is odourless, colourless and tasteless. We cannot detect it using our senses. In addition, we cannot tell whether we are being exposed to radon because there are no short-term symptoms for radon gas exposure. The only way to know is to do a test using a radon gas test kit or by hiring a certified radon measurement professional.

3. It is relatively easy to test for radon

Surprisingly many people believe that testing for radon requires setting up a car-sized apparatus in the home that sucks all the air in the house and spews out radon-free air. Radon testing equipment typically measure from a few inches long up to a feet long. All the equipment used for radon testing is non-toxic and poses no health risk to homeowners. Health Canada has developed recommendations for testing protocols. Radon testing can be conducted using a DIY radon test kit, or hiring radon measurement professionals. The cost of an average long-term test can range from $50-$250 for DIY kits to about  $150-$350 for radon professionals.

4.  Other than testing, there is no other way to determine radon levels

A recent Health Canada study estimated that about 7% of Canadian households have a high radon level, above recommended guidelines. That amounts to more than 600,000 households in Canada. Elevated radon gas concentrations can occur in any building regardless of age, heating system, foundation type, geographic location, air tightness, ventilation rate or building materials used. In addition, Radon levels have also been shown to vary greatly even among next door neighbours. Whether your neighbour’s radon levels are high or low, it has no bearing on your radon levels. The only way to know is to test your home.

5.  There are effective ways to reduce radon in a building

If your house has radon levels above guideline (200Bq/m3 or more) it is recommended that you take action to reduce radon levels. There are simple ways to do this depending on the structure of your house. The most common and effective radon mitigation method is sub-slab depressurization. This method basically involves drilling a hole in the slab of a basement and installing a pipe with a fan that draws the radon gas from under your house and pushes it outside. It is recommended to get a C-NRPP-certified contractor to carry out radon mitigation.

6.  Radon testing should not affect property value

A radon test may actually determine that the levels in your home are low. If they are high, it can easily be fixed. Like any regular home maintenance, this may actually help the value of your home. However, home value is ultimately subjective to the buyer.

Being safe from the health risks of radon starts with knowing your radon levels through a radon test.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Iam in the process of buying a new home in Edmonton (which is high Radon mapped area), can any thing be done as a prevention to avoid accumulation of Radon or install the pump system in the house when its getting build, that takes the radon out of home.
    Iam very serious about this thing please reply as early as possible.

    Thanks

    1. Great question!

      The Alberta Building Code now requires all new homes to be built with features that minimize radon entry into homes, and a radon mitigation rough-in to make reduction of radon easier should it be required. The radon prevention features include having air-barrier (polythene) membrane underneath the basement slab, proper sealing around wall-floor joints. As much as these measure are meant to prevent radon entry, it is not 100% preventative – radon can still gain entry. That is why the requirements also mandate the rough-in of radon mitigation (reduction) pipe. Radon mitigation features include roughing in in a radon pipe in the floor, and properly sealing it. This pipe can be hooked to the radon pump system should radon testing reveal that the home has high radon levels. Note that the code mandates the rough-in only and not installation of the pump. The idea is to make it easy to mitigate should that be required in the future. In the meantime, the code requires that the pipe is properly sealed and labelled.

      Note that these requirements kicked in as of 1st November 2015, and will apply to homes where the building permit was obtained on or after that date. I would check with your builder to see if the home you are purchasing was built according to the new code (that has radon requirements).

      Once you purchase such a home, it is still advisable to perform a long-term radon test to establish your levels and determine if mitigation is needed.

      I hope this answers your question.

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