Radon in Homes: What It Is & Why You Need to Know About It
by Kent Braaten
on Tuesday, January 21st, 2020 at 1:00pm.
Recently, you may have been about radon in homes on the news or you may have even received a pamphlet dropped in your mailbox. And while you may have some prior knowledge about what radon is, many Canadians are still in the dark about this potentially threatening gas! As a homeowner or someone considering buying a home, here’s what you need to know:
What is Radon?
When uranium—commonly found in soil and rock—breaks down, it releases a radioactive gas called “radon”. This gas will then come up through the ground and make its way into the air outside, where it can be easily diluted into the atmosphere. However, if it finds a way to come up through the ground and into your home, the enclosed space will trap the gas. This allows it to accumulate, sometimes even to levels that can cause serious health risks.
Radon is entirely invisible and cannot be smelled or tasted, so there is no way to tell with the human senses whether or not you are being exposed in the moment. However, it is vitally important to know whether or not you are. Long-term radon gas exposure is the #2 leading cause of lung cancer in Canada.
How Does Radon Get in Homes
As I mentioned before, radon gas will typically be released into the outdoor air when it makes its way to the soil surface. However, if your house happens to be on top of where the gas is trying to come up, it will use any opening into the air that it can find, even if that is the air in your home. This could be a crack in the foundation floor or walls, construction joints, gaps left around pipes, floor drains, or any other entryway the radon can find.
Radon Levels in Saskatoon
Now, you may have heard that Saskatchewan is a “radon hot spot”, which sounds quite threatening, and causes quite a bit of concern, especially with home buyers. But, while I still recommend taking it very seriously, let me give you a little more background and insight as to where that label came from, which may help to dissuade some of your anxieties.
Uranium is a common element found in the earth’s crust and breaks down all the time across the country, not just in Saskatchewan. This means that radon can be found in almost every home in Canada in some quantity! However, the concentrations found throughout the country can vary quite a bit, depending on the different levels of uranium in any given area.
In 2012, Health Canada set out to find more detailed information about the radon concentrations in homes across the country and they found that, on average, about 7% of all Canadian homes measured above the safe concentration guidelines. In Saskatchewan specifically, about 16% of homes measured above the guideline, leading to the designation of being a “hot spot” of sorts. Directly within Saskatoon, though, the levels were much more average, around 8%.
Testing for Radon Gas & Mitigating Exposure
While radon gas is quite common across Canada, any level above 200 Bq/m³ can pose a much higher threat to your health. And since there is no way to know with the human senses what the levels in your home are, it is very important to use a test kit to make sure that they are within safe levels.
It’s very important that, when purchasing a radon test kit, you are getting one that is properly approved by the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program. This is a dedicated radon certification program overseen by Health Canada and operated by the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists & Technologists, so you know you are getting the most scientifically accurate reading possible. These approved kits can be either ordered online or picked up at the Lung Association here in Saskatoon.
Once you have a radon testing kit, the actual testing is extremely easy to do! All you’ll need to do is set up your test kit in your basement and leave it for 91 days or more for the most accurate reading. After that time, just send it in to the lab and they will send you back a report. If the levels come back as above 200 Bq/m³, you should get started right away to lower those levels.
There are several different ways to lower the radon levels in your home, most of which are quite simple! The most effective way is to have a certified professional install a radon mitigation system in your home, which uses a pipe and a fan to move the gas outside before it can make it into your home. You can also lower radon levels by increasing the ventilation in your home and sealing any noticeable cracks or possibly entry points.
Radon in homes can cause serious health concerns and should definitely be taken very seriously. But with proper testing and mitigation, it can be one of the easiest things that homeowners have to do to maintain and improve their homes!