Reno Month: Dealing with Radon in Your Home

You may or may not have it in your home. You may have an acceptable amount of it, or too much. If the latter, you should get rid of it, and there is no better time to do so than when you are renovating your home.

The “it” is radon, an invisible, odourless soil gas that occurs naturally in areas across Canada. Radon is not a health concern outside in the open air because it exists in very low concentrations. But when it finds its way into your home, it can build up to a level where it may have a detrimental effect on your health, if you are exposed for a prolonged period. Radon has been linked to lung cancer, and smokers in particular are vulnerable to its effects.

Essentially, the soil around your home exerts pressure on the foundation and under the slab. Where present in the soil, radon can seep into your home through dirt floors, cracks and fissure in the basement floor and walls, sump pumps, and other openings. While the highest concentrations are usually found on the lowest level, radon can disperse throughout the whole house, including your living and sleeping areas.

You can’t smell or see radon, so the only way to know if you have it is to test for it. Some areas in Canada are more prone to radon than others, but radon can occur anywhere. And just because your neighbour doesn’t have it, or only at a low acceptable level, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to bother about testing. Your home could have an entirely different reading.

Testing is easy. There are a number of do-it-yourself radon test kits on the market, or you can hire someone to do it. Be aware that the best and most reliable tests take time—several months or longer. It is a good idea to start testing well in advance of doing any renovation work so you can incorporate any radon-related work into the project.

Testing need not delay your plans—usually there is a considerable lagtime between when people first start thinking about renovating and when the work gets underway.  And of course, you don’t have to wait until you decide to renovate—it is a good idea to test your home for radon anytime, just to be certain.

In 2007 Health Canada lowered the acceptable level for radon in homes to bring it into line with international guidelines. It also made recommendations for new home construction and measures to deal with radon problems in existing homes.

If your home shows that radon is present above acceptable levels, there is a whole range of things that can be done to bring it down. Possible measures to prevent radon from entering the house include sealing cracks and other openings or depressurizing the basement (essentially sucking the air out from below the slab). Installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) to increase ventilation in the whole house can also reduce the amount of radon in the air. This is where a professional renovator can be very helpful, and can discuss with you how to integrate these measures with the rest of the renovation work, and how they may affect the work and your budget.

There is a wealth of great information and advice available from a number of sources, including Health Canada and the Canadian Lung Association to help you learn more about radon and its effects, myths and facts, how to test for it in your own home and approaches to deal with it, should this prove necessary. Provincial governments may also have helpful information.