If you plan on buying or building a new home, an essential task on your to-do list is to test it for radon.
Radon is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that can build up in homes, especially in rooms below grade, such as basements. It causes roughly 21,000 deaths from lung cancer in the U.S. annually. That’s more deaths than those caused by drunk driving, which claims more than 17,000 lives per year. Smoking is the only other leading cause of death due to lung cancer.
However, fatalities from radon-induced lung cancer are preventable because radon is easy to detect and easy to fix.
Radon occurs naturally, through the breakdown of the uranium that’s present in soil. From the soil, the gas can seep into homes through cracks and gaps around service pipes, walls, floors and construction joints. It can also contaminate the water supply.
In fact, high levels of radon affect nearly 7% of existing homes. Since people spend a lot of time in their homes and since you cannot see or smell radon, it is easy for the gas to build up to dangerous concentrations.
Safe levels of radon
Radon is measured by looking at the amount of picocuries in each litre of air (pCi/L). The average level of indoor radon is 1.3 pCi/L. The outside level is 0.4 pCi/L. In the long term, indoor levels should be no more than outdoor levels. However, there are no currently available means to reduce home levels to 0.4 pCi/L. Levels can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or less, however, which is considered safe.
It is recommended that homeowners take short-term pCi/L measurements from two to 90 first. If your levels are high, contact a reduction specialist. If they are acceptable, take a long-term (over 90-day) test to be sure. Reducing radon to acceptable levels costs between one and two thousand dollars, but each case is different so it’s a good idea to contact your local radon mitigation specialist for a detailed estimate.
Homeowners: Detecting radon in a home
If you are looking to do it yourself, a reliable kit to test the level of radon in your home can be bought at a hardware or home repair store. If you want professional help, some home inspection specialists provide professional radon tests that give you a bit more information than the DIY versions.
New home building: Radon-resistant new construction
For the past several decades, radon-resistant new construction (RRNC) has been part of green building practices. These include sealing, caulking and installing vent pipes so radon cannot enter the home. Ask your builder or the current homeowner for documentation about whether or not these practices were followed in the construction of your home.
Radon in water
Radon in water presents a much lower health risk than radon in the air. It is generally only a risk if the home’s water comes from groundwater or a well.
Whether you are a current homeowner or buying a new home, you should check your water for presence of radon.
If a home’s water supplier uses groundwater, contact them to find out the level of radon. If you have a well (or are thinking about buying a home with a well), seek a professional radon test from a reputable company in your area.
Radon prevention checklist
Both homeowners and potential homeowners should:
- Test the levels of radon in their homes (especially in the basement)
- Get documentation from previous radon tests, if you’re thinking of buying a home
- Test both short-term (from 2 to 90 days) and long-term (over 90 days) radon levels
- Ask the current homeowner or builder whether RRNC regulations were followed
- Check radon levels in water
- Consult a radon removal and mitigation specialist if the levels are unacceptably high, and have them fixed
Radon can be dangerous your health. However, it’s easy to detect via testing and easy to fix. By following the steps listed above, you can ensure that you have safe radon levels in your home.