Ask an expert about radon

Some basic facts about the dangers of and solutions to radon

We asked radon specialist and remediation expert, Rob Mahoney of Radon Works, Ottawa, to tell us what we need to know about radon. We learned these facts and tips.

  • If your home is exposed to high levels of radon, you really do need to take action right away. The Government of Canada says radon exposure is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
  • Unfortunately, if you do have high levels of radon in your home, you won’t know about it until you test for it. About 10 per cent of Canadian homes have radon levels above the guideline.
  • You can’t see radon, you can’t smell it, you can’t feel it. You might not be affected by it for many years… until you are. The longer you’re exposed to high levels of radon, the greater your risk.
  • You can test for radon yourself with a radon test kit you can buy at hardware stores (they run from about $40 and higher, depending on the test) or you can hire a measurement professional who is certified under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP).
  • Radon is a natural radioactive gas that happens with the breakdown of uranium. It can build up in enclosed spaces through cracks or other small openings in a building.
  • When radon is outdoors, it’s not a risk. It’s when it gets trapped indoors that it can be deadly. Every home has a measurable amount. It’s only a worry when the levels are too high.
  • Not every home needs an active radon extraction system. Sometimes it just needs sealed cracks in the basement or a proper sump cover.
  • Known areas in the Ottawa region for possible radon problems are Chelsea and Wakefield, Que; also Stittsville and Kanata.
  • It’s best to test in winter, starting in November. Summer indoor air quality can be vastly different in a home that has windows open and fresh air coming in.
  • A radon remediation contractor will significantly and safely lower your home’s radon levels so it’s safe. It’s not that different from many other common home repairs such as replacing the furnace.
  • How does radon get inside your house? Anywhere the house contacts the ground. Even new houses and well-built houses can have these small openings. These include cracks in poured concrete, areas with exposed soil, openings for fixtures or even things such as support posts. Some of these openings can be hidden – for example by wood framing, panelling, carpeting, appliances.
  • Radon gas can also come from wells in rural areas. However, according to Health Canada, drinking water that contains radon is far less harmful than breathing the gas.
  • Health Canada points out that materials used to construct a house – stones, bricks, cement, or granite, for example – are not a significant source of radon in Canada and that “Natural materials taken from the ground, like granite, can contain some uranium and may have higher levels of radiation or radon than you would expect, but in the vast majority of cases these levels are not significant.”
  • Radon in your home can depend on a wide variety of situations, including soil composition, the way your home is designed and constructed; and even the weather.
  • Lowering radon levels in a home requires specific technical knowledge and skills to ensure the job is done properly, so it’s important to hire someone who is certified under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP).
  • If sealing all the possible entryways into your home aren’t enough to reduce radon levels, you will need to use a radon remediation contractor. Your contractor will likely use one of the most reliable methods of radon reduction, sub-slab depressurization. It’s the standard for a guaranteed reduction in radon and any other soil gas contamination or infiltration into a building. With this method, your contractor installs a pipe through the foundation floor slab and attaches a fan that runs continuously to draw the radon gas from below the home and release it into the outdoors.
  • If you live in a sub-zero climate, the heart of your system (the fan) will be located in the basement or heated part of the lowest floor. Your installer should use nothing but schedule 40 PVC pipe with chemically welded joints on the entire discharge pipe. All standard code compliant homes, with a 100% poured concrete floor should also receive the same baseball-bat-proof pipe.
  • There are other methods of removing radon from your home, including sump-hole depressurization, drainage system depressurization and active sub-membrane depressurization in homes with a crawl space. Your radon specialist will recommend the best method for you. If your home has elevated radon levels, it’s well worth your while to have an assessment done as soon as possible.

Rob Mahoney is the owner of Radon Works Mitigation Systems in Ottawa and a member of the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and
Technologists (CARST).

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