You can’t see, smell or taste it, but it’s all around us and can be found lurking in every home across the nation. It’s RADON.
According to The Lung Association, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in Canada for non-smokers. Radon exposure is estimated to be the cause of 16 per cent of lung cancers. Radon decays quickly, giving off tiny radioactive particles. When inhaled, these radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lung. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer1.
Radon is without doubt a potential risk to quality of life that needs to be taken seriously. Radon is a colourless, odorless radioactive gas that occurs naturally from the decay of uranium. Radon will enter a home through openings where the house is in contact with the soil, such as foundation walls or cracks in a basement floor. Concentrations are generally highest in closed areas where radon enters the home, such as the basement or crawl space, but can easily spread to all areas in the home. In many cases, the level is low or may be controlled by good ventilation inside the home. In other cases, the level may be high enough to pose a serious health risk and will need to be remediated using other means.
Testing for Radon
Health Canada2 recommends that all Canadians test their homes for radon.
The only way to know how much radon is present is to test for it. Radon is measured in Becquerel’s (Bq) and the concentration in the air is measured as Bq/m3 . Testing for radon can be done by a professional or by using a home test kit. A long-term test (3 months) is recommended. Tests can be purchased online. Here’s what you need to know:
- It’s best to test for radon over the fall and winter months, when windows and doors are most commonly closed.
- Health Canada’s radon guideline is 200 Bq/m3 . If a home’s radon level is below the guideline, no action is required.
- If a home’s radon level is between 200 and 600 Bq/m3 , Health Canada recommends that you take action within two years and budget to remediate accordingly.
- If a home’s radon level is over 600 Bq/m3 , take action as soon as possible.
It’s important to point out that even low levels of radon can be harmful. While the health risk from radon exposure below Health Canada’s guideline is considered to be relatively low, there is no level that is considered risk free. In fact, the World Health Organization has proposed a reference level of 100 Bq/m3.
The good news is that radon levels can be easily reduced. Fixing the problem typically involves a system that captures the radon gas and vents it outside the home where it is dispersed into the air and diluted.
Radon mitigation can cost as little as $500 for minor sealing and ventilation improvements, but will generally average between $2,500 to $3,000 for full mitigation. This could be a significant unforeseen expense for many buyers and sellers.
Health Canada recommends that the decision to mitigate be based on a long-term radon test result and that short-term test results should not be used as a basis to mitigate. This is because levels can vary greatly and a long-term average gives a better indication of overall exposure. This is a challenge for buyers that want to know a home’s radon level as a condition of purchase. Conditional periods on a typical Agreement of Purchase and Sale run 7-10 business days, which is not enough time for a long-term test. Even if long-term testing were possible, the test environment could be easily compromised by the seller (e.g. windows opened, increased ventilation, etc.).
In new homes, as per the Ontario Building Code, 9.13.4. Soil Gas Control, builders must ensure that construction complies with the requirements for soil gas control established by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in 20113 . Radon remediation is covered under the Tarion Home Warranty for the full seven years, up to $15,000, based on the results of a long-term radon test. The builder is responsible for the first two years and Tarion covers the remaining years. Long-term testing must be conducted by a C-NRPP certified radon professional before Tarion will authorize a radon mitigation 4,5 . Budget $350-$450 for professional testing.
Just do it. Be proactive. Test your home. You can also check out CREA’s A Homeowner’s Guide to Radon.
Excerpts from: Stephanie Ballantyne, B.A., Broker at Royal LePage Team Realty Ltd. and Member of OREB’s Government and Community Relations Committee.
1 The Lung Association – http://www.lung.ca/lung-health/air-quality/indoor-air-quality/radon
2 Health Canada Radon Reduction Guide for Canadians – http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/radiation/radon_canadians-canadiens/index-eng.php
3 Mr. Radon – Tarion Warranty Coverage, http://www.mr-radon.ca/areas-services/tarion-warranty-coverage-radon-gas/
4 Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing – Soil Gas Control, http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=8787