You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. But radon is found in homes around the world – including Canada and the US – and is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind cigarettes. It is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can enter your home through basement floors and walls, building up indoors over time. If you’ve got a basement where you or your family spend several hours each day – like a play room, office, or tv room, you might want to look at testing your home for radon.
Here’s what you need to know about radon and testing your home.
How bad is radon?
Health Canada conducted a study between 2009 and 2010 that found 7% of homes have radon above the guideline. The risk of developing cancer depends on how much radon you breathe in over how long.
Radon is easily diluted in open air, so it’s really only a concern in enclosed, regularly occupied spaces. Basement offices, bedrooms, and living areas are most likely to exceed the recommended limits, but there are many factors that affect how each home and its residents are affected.
While not everyone exposed to radon will develop cancer, 16% of lung cancer deaths in Canada are attributed to radon exposure.
How to test your home for radon
Testing should be done using a long-term test for at least 90 days. You can purchase DIY detectors and send them off for lab testing, or you can hire a contractor. I opted for the DIY option and will be setting up my detector soon (October/November) as the test is best done in cooler weather.
You can find out where get test kits in Canada here and the US here. I ordered a home detector online from AccuStar Canada and the process from ordering to receiving the report was very straightforward.
You should test the lowest level that you occupy for more than 4 hours at a time per day. For me, that’s my basement office. For others, it might be your kids’ playroom or a ground floor bedroom. The test kit you buy will come with instructions on where to position the detector exactly, and which areas are best (i.e. kitchens and bathrooms are not good options).
Health Canada recommends that remedial action be taken if the results exceed 200 becquerels per cubic metre (this is a measure of radioactivity).
What can you do if your home has high radon levels?
If you are building a new home, make sure your contractor is taking steps to mitigate exposure during construction, as it is more difficult to address issues in a finished home. But if you are in a finished home, there are some relatively inexpensive measures you can take. If levels are very high (over 600bq/m3), you’ll want to act sooner rather than later.
The most common way to reduce radon from building up in your home is to install a pipe under the basement slab and vent the gas either out a side wall or through the roof. Covering openings like sumps and floor drains with special covers that prevent gas from leaking through can also help.
There is a wide range of strategies depending on the construction of your home, whether or not the basement is finished, and your budget. Some more details are provided in this Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation Guide.
So, while some of the blogs and literature on radon initially sound pretty terrifying, my research has made me a bit more relaxed about the whole issue. That being said, I spend 6 or more hours a day in my basement so it’s something I want to look into a little further.
Luckily, our report came back with very low levels of radon, nothing close to concentrations to be concerned about. I’m glad I did it, and can now breathe easy. You can order your home test kit here.