BY PAUL SCISSONS
About five years ago my wife and I moved into a brand-new bungalow in the middle of a beautiful maple forest. There’s a gorgeous ridge of Canadian shield running through our backyard. Over this ridge wanders a small creek that ebbs and flows with seasonal rainfall. We walk our 2.5 acres regularly, enjoying our private piece of paradise.
As the publisher of Ottawa Renovates magazine, I have had the opportunity to meet, interview and see some of the most interesting people in the renovation industry.
A few years back we introduced a green renovation column providing interesting information on a variety of environmental topics. One of those topics was radon.
And then, in a recent issue of the magazine, we ran a story about a young family who suffered a tragedy that seemed to point directly at this deadly radioactive gas. It was heartbreaking, and it made me sit up and take notice.
To go back a couple of years: I already had radon in the back of my mind because of an article we ran by Roy Nandram, owner of RND Construction. But at that point my concern about radon was just that, simmering on the back burner. Like so many people, I thought maybe I should look into it some day.
So I added it to my long list of “things-to-do” and there it sat for another year.
I spent time over the first couple of years in our new place finishing up our new house, adding shelves, painting, decorating and repairing a few popped drywall screws.
One day, during a regular trip to the hardware store, I came across a Rapid Radon Test Kit. I was curious, so I brought it home, did the test, and sent it to the lab.
To my surprise our home tested at levels of around 400 Bqm3. The guidelines provided with the kit recommend levels under 200 Bqm3.
Now what? I thought. It wasn’t critical, but I thought it probably needed to be addressed in the near future.
Then I began to research how to test for radon. I researched test kits, looked up certified radon test companies, and studied testing instruments.
I found a radon tester at Air Things for around $200. I decided I would buy one and do my own study. To my surprise, my wife, who is a regular at our public library, informed me that the exact unit I was going to buy was available to sign out from the library for three weeks at a time. I was surprised but pleased. I signed it out.
Like a mad scientist with a new toy, I proceeded to test three locations in our home: a storage space in the basement; a finished rec room in the basement; and our bedroom.
I did the first test in February for one week in each location with the furnace running. I was getting readings ranging from 500 Bqm3 to 700 Bqm3.
Yikes, I thought.
Then I turned on the air exchange unit and did the experiment again. Much to my surprise, having the air exchange unit running reduced the readings by about 60 per cent – still above the recommended level, but better.
I wondered what I should do. Should I contact someone for remediation? And then I started thinking: why was radon not discussed when we built this house five years earlier? Why wasn’t radon mentioned by the builder? So many questions. And no answers anywhere that I could see.
Another year went by. One day I was talking with one of my long-term clients, Emily Singh from Singhko Design Build Remodel. And that’s when I learned about her family’s terrible experience with radon. Her story not only broke my heart but moved me to publish “An Invisible Killer” by Francie Healy in the Fall 2022 edition of Ottawa Renovates.
During our conversation, Emily suggested I talk to Rob Mahoney, owner of Radon Works. I really wanted some answers.
Rob met me for coffee and was a vast source of information and advice. As a result we included him as a contributor to an article in the same issue of Ottawa Renovates (Fall 2022) – “What do we need to know about Radon?”
I told Rob about my own experiment, and asked what he thought I should do. He outlined the steps I should consider. He told me what to look for, where to look, and how to re-test.
Armed with new information and the realization that radon is a serious problem, I began the next chapter of my adventure.
I started again in January this year. Using Rob’s advice, I located and tested various locations in our basement where the slab had sump holes, sewage pumps, water lines and drains. Armed with my borrowed tester, I continued my investigation.
It was exactly what Rob had predicted. I found a high reading in every location.
A couple of tubes of caulking, sore knees and an hour later, I sealed every crack and crevice I could find. I retested the areas and found a huge drop in the readings in each location.
I decided to rerun my experiment from the previous year. Interestingly, the results were better with a drop of around 100 Bqms – but still not under the recommended level.
So where do I go from here? Stay tuned…
I need to perform a long-term test with lab-certified results using a CARST (Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists) service.
I have learned that because of the age of our home (five years) I might have an avenue through Tarion and/or my builder for a possible refund for my remediation.
There’s only one thing I know for sure at this point.
It’s time to talk to the experts. I’ll be putting in a call to Rob Mahoney at Radon Works.
Actually, two things.
The other is that radon is real.