Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and never-smokers, and has been shown to kill over 3200 Canadians every year.
Radon combined with smoking is even worse! Radon gas cannot be detected through human sense as it is odorless, tasteless, and invisible. THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW THE RADON LEVEL IN YOUR HOME IS TO TEST! Fortunately, testing for radon gas is easy and inexpensive.
Every building that is in contact with the ground should be tested for radon. The only homes that need not worry are treehouses and houseboats! Radon is a naturally-occurring soil gas that comes from uranium deposits in the ground slowly decaying. During the decay process, radon gas is released, which can make its way into the building. Radon is an inert gas and can enter through the concrete slab basement floor and into the breathing space. Gaps, cracks, and openings in the basement slab make it easier for radon gas to enter, but it can enter either way. Due to a phenomenon known as “stack effect”, houses are generally a slight vacuum or negative pressure in relation to the area below the basement floor. This stack effect gently “sucks” the toxic gas in to the house.
Radon is heavier than air and therefore collects in the highest concentration in the lowest level of a building. Although it is generally most concentrated in the lowest level, radon will still be present in the floors above, just in a lower concentration due to the stack effect mentioned above. For this reason, it is recommended to at least test the lowest level of every building, with testing floors above being a good idea too. Even if the basement is not used currently, it could be later on. The COVID pandemic lockdowns caused many people to have to make an office in the basement that they previously rarely visited. They went from spending almost no time there to over 40 hours every week, exposing themselves to deadly radon gas. Spare bedrooms in basements can suddenly be occupied by a relative moving in, or children moving back home.
There are two main types of consumer radon testers: alpha-track testers, and digital radon monitors. Alpha-track testers are the industry standard as they are known for their accuracy and low cost. The downside to alpha-track testers is that they are required to be deployed in excess of 90 days and then sent to a lab to be analyzed, and are a one-time use. Digital monitors are becoming very common as they give almost immediate readings, without lab analysis, and often do other air quality measurements as well. The accuracy of most digital monitors is very good. Digital monitors start around $200 and go up from there depending on the features. Another great benefit to digital monitors is that they can be loaned to neighbours, friends, and family.
Some radon testing basics:
- Deploy the radon tester in an area where someone does, or could, spend at least 4 hours per day. Test in a home office, spare bedroom, TV room, or home gym. It isn’t recommended to test mechanical/furnace rooms, storage rooms, laundry rooms or bathrooms.
- Keep the tester in the breathing space of the room. Keep it off the floor and ceiling, and away from exterior walls, open windows, and excessive moisture and/or dust. -Test for a period of time before acting as radon levels fluctuate due to a number of factors. A very short test of a couple days is not an accurate representation of radon gas exposure. Health Canada recommends a test in excess of 90 days.
- Don’t rely on the neighbours. If your neighbour has tested for radon and received a low or high result, that doesn’t mean you will too. Every house is different in proximity to uranium deposits, geological pathways below the house, and the way that the occupants ventilate and heat/cool which can all effect radon levels.
- Test every couple of years, especially if you renovate, upgrade or change your heating/cooling systems, or have a basement excavated nearby.
- Follow the manufacturers’ placement instructions. Many devices have slightly different requirements for placement so follow the directions specific to your device.
Ready to test? There are a number of testing options available in the RADONreduction online store. We have narrowed the field down to what we feel are the best devices for accuracy, affordability, and ease of use. As always, if you have any radon questions at all, please feel free to reach out any time.