Radon: Is it in Your Home?

This week, I attended a very interesting training seminar and learned more about radon in the home. What is it? How does it get into your home? How to test for it? How to reduce the radon level in your home? Here are some tidbits I picked up...

What is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when the uranium in soil and rock breaks down. It is invisible, odourless and tasteless. When radon is released from the ground into the outdoor air, it is diluted and is not a concern. However, in enclosed spaces like homes, it can sometimes accumulate to high levels, which can be a risk to the health of you and your family. It becomes dangerous when we breathe it in. Once absorbed into the lungs, it can continue to damage the lung cells and result in cancer.

How it Gets into Your Home

Radon can enter a home 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, support posts, window casements, floor drains, sumps or cavities inside walls. 

How to Test For It?

There are 21 options to test for the radon level in your home. You can buy a kit and do it yourself or hire a professional. If you choose to do it yourself, you can buy radon test kits from places like Home Depot. They are little canisters that are about the size of a grapefruit. Once it is activated it takes a good 3 months to get a proper reading. The kit will include instructions on how to use it and where to send it for results. If you hire a professional, ensure that they too will conduct a long term reading and that they are certified. 

How to Reduce the Levels

For any home built before 2010, you can ventilate the basement sub-floor by first digging a small pit under the basement slab and installing a system that includes a small pump and fan to draw the radon from below the concrete slab to outside before it can enter your home. These systems run about $3000 and should be installed by a professional. For homes built since 2010, the small pit has already been dug and a pipe for the fan system has already been roughed in. You will find it in your unfinished basement - a short black pipe with an orange cap on it. Be sure not to confuse it for the toilet rough in when completing the basement! YIKES!

Other tips for reducing the levels are to increase the mechanical ventilation with something like an HRV system (Van ee, etc) to allow air exchange. Also to seal all cracks and openings in foundation walls and floors, and around pipes and drains. 

Want to learn more about radon? visit www.healthcanada.gc.ca/radon

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