Air Quality

Is Radon the Issue?

While this may seem hard to believe, up until 2005 there was no confirmed clear connection between any major harm to our health and radon gas. A study released in the USA and in Europe has shown that effects of radon in “some” homes, depending upon the length of time the occupants were exposed to the interior air, are now confirmed. It is well documented that poor indoor air quality of any kind can cause health problems, more so in children, seniors and anyone with any immune deficiencies. The acceptable
standards in Canada up until a few years ago were about four times higher than the majority of the rest of the world, especially in the USA. I have an engineer friend in Pennsylvania whose firm has full time staff doing radon testing; it is mandated for every house sale in that state. Pennsylvania also has huge deposits of coal and its side effect, uranium.


First, let’s discuss what Radon Gas is. It’s a colourless, odourless and tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in our environment. It is a reaction of the natural breakdown of uranium in the ground. It can also be found in some concrete, drywall and bricks. There was some talk a little while ago about granite counter tops and radon gas. A test done in 2012 by Health Canada of 33 types of countertops and none were found to have a significant level of radon.


Radon is very slowly released from the ground and water. Once this gas enters the atmosphere it breaks down into particles called radon daughters or progeny, these can be breathed into your lungs. Over an extended period of time, it is proven this exposure can cause lung cancer. Released into the atmosphere as the majority of it does, has no direct effect on humans, where it does become an issue is when it is entrapped in a well-sealed, insulated home. Radon concentrations do change, mostly due to seasons. In the summer homes are opened up and naturally ventilated, in the winter…no so. This is why we only
recommend testing from the late fall to early spring. Health Canada has established acceptable levels of radon in our homes and places of work. Radon is tested by measuring the units of Becquerel’s per cubic meter (Bq/m3) or picocuries per liter. These are units of measurement used for radioactive concentration.


In Canada today the base level before any remedial work is required is 200 Bq/m3.  These guidelines were announced in 2007, bringing Canada in line with most of the developed world’s standards.  There are a number of short term testing methods, usually 7 days and based upon what I have been told, most are marginally effective. The most accurate is a 90 day test and this is where you should start. If you go to www.takeactionradon.ca/test/radon-tst-kits/ This web site offers provincial organizations who kits a home owner can set up to test their home. Only after you have had a 90 day test and if it’s over the limit, then call in a professional company to do a proper test using air quality testing equipment designed for
radon testing.  If someone calls you soliciting for Radon Testing the first question you should ask is
“.are you a C-NRPP certified testing organization or individual?” If not, say thanks and hang up the phone, then find a certified professional. The Canadian-National Radon Proficiency Program is a program training and certifying Radon Technicians. Go to www.c-nrpp.ca for more information.  There is no simple answer as to who has what level of radon in a home. Just because your neighbour may have had a test over 200Bq does not mean your house has similar air quality issues. It is also known that high radon levels are not widespread in Canadian Homes. Because radon is in the soil it generally shows up first in your basement. Your concrete floor will slow the entry, but cracks in the floor, open sump pump holes and
concrete block walls will allow this odourless colourless gas to enter your home. The largest reason we are seeing increased concentrations in homes today is the fact that we are going to great lengths to make our homes air tight and reduce the air exchange in the home.


The most obvious question is “How do I reduce the possibility of radon in my home?” The first step is to seal any cracks in your concrete floor. This includes the joint at the pad and the foundation. If you have exposed basement walls, it is known that epoxy paints are the most effective in sealing the pores in concrete blocks. If you have a sub floor is should be allowed to ventilate, this is where the raised sub floors like Dri-Core are among the best answer. Properly sealed covers for sump pumps and caulking any
openings like plumbing drains or the joint around your metal support posts if they are set into the concrete pad. One test stated that dirt floors in crawl spaces and basements were shown to be amongst the highest in any radon testing done. Increased ventilation is also one method of reducing radon in a home and here a well balanced; properly installed HRV can make a considerable difference. I have been touting the benefits of HRV’s for a number of years and here is yet another reason to correctly ventilate your home.


Any home that has been recently upgraded and sealed or a new home is a candidate for radon testing. It’s a personal choice; it’s not required by law, as yet. November is radon month in Canada, if you are concerned, get a head start on a home testing soon.

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November 1, 2023
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