Learn what radon is, the effect it can have on you, and what can be done to eliminate it.

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Radon 101

radon element
What is it and where does it come from?

Radon is a radioactive noble gas. It is odorless, tasteless and invisible. Radon is measured in Becquerels/meter cubed (Bq/m3). A Bq (Becquerel) is a scientific term describing one radioactive decay per second. 200 Bq/m3 means that there are 200 radioactive radon particles decaying every second in every cubic meter of air.

Radon is a naturally occurring substance found throughout the world. It is created as part of the radioactive decay chain where uranium progressively decays into lead. Uranium can be found almost everywhere in soil, rocks and water. Based on the geology in Alberta we are classified as an area with a potential for high radon levels.
How does radon get into my home?

Radon gas moves through openings in any part of the building that is in contact with the ground. Access points include cracks in your slab and around the perimeter of foundations/interior footings, openings around utility/plumbing penetrations, sump pits and clean outs etc.. If all of these entry points combined total 1 cm2 there is enough space to allow dangerous levels of radon into your home.

Radon gas enters the home because of a negative pressure in the home compared to the outside environment. The pressure difference acts like a very small vacuum cleaner sucking radon gas into your home. This negative pressure is usually due to warmer temperatures in the building compared to the outside and the ventilation systems we use to heat and cool our homes.

Radon gas can also enter your home through water. This is only a potential concern with well water as municipal water treatment plants will have removed the radon before it leaves the facility. Very rarely materials such as the concrete or granite in your home can also emit radon gas into the air.

It does not matter if your house is new or old, or the type of construction used. You cannot tell if you have it based on your neighbour's measurements. The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test for it.
How do I find out if there's radon in my home?

The good news is that radon is easy to test for. There are many different types of tests and Health Canada recommends a long term test (91 days to 1 year) to measure the actual exposure. If you feel that is too long to wait there are also short term tests that can be performed in less than 3 days while the long term test is ongoing.

The other good news is that if you have radon in your home it can be fixed. Mitigation methods today can almost always reduce the levels in your home to between 75 and 200 Bq/m3. Mitigating your home to reduce the levels of radon is generally less expensive that putting a new furnace in your home.

Some people are concerned that finding radon in your home may decrease property values. In fact radon testing and radon mitigation systems can be a value added feature to your home. As more people become aware of the risks, more people will be asking about it during real estate transactions. If your home has already tested at approved levels it is one less thing for the buyer to worry about. In many parts of the U.S.A. radon testing is mandatory as part of real estate transactions.

Ask The Expert

1. I hear we don't have radon in Alberta?

Until we tested our home we had heard the same thing. Now we know better. In fact due to the geology of the area we are in a high potential location for radon. The glaciers that flowed from northern Canada and Alaska down to the mainland States ground up, moved and spread the naturally occurring uranium across our province. These porous glacial tills also allow for pathways so that the gas can make its way up to the surface where our homes are built.

In addition because of our cold climate we are actually at a higher risk of breathing in the radon gas since we spend more time in our homes than people in warmer climates.

In our colder climate we build our homes with tighter envelops and do not leave windows and doors open for much of the year. This also reduces the amount of fresh air that enters our home which would help dilute the radon gas to lower levels.

The third reason we are at a higher risk of breathing in radon in our climate is because for much of the year we heat our homes to a warmer temperature than the outside environment. This draws more of the radon gas out from under our homes inside where we breathe it. This process is known as thermal stack.

Among the homes that we have tested in Calgary and the surrounding area over 42% of the homes measured levels above Health Canada's action level. The highest reading found was 3500Bq/m3.
2. What are the health risks of radon?

At this point in time the only health effects that radon has been proven to cause is lung cancer. There are ongoing studies across the world looking at elevated levels of radon and other cancers and neurological diseases but at this time no links have been confirmed.
3. My neighbour's house didn't have high levels of radon so I won't either, right?

Unfortunately this is not true. The only way to know if you have high levels of radon is to test. The minerals decaying that cause radon only affect areas 10 meters within the source point. You may have a "hot rock" under your home and your neighbour may not. This is especially true since the nature of the geology in Alberta where rock has been moved around by the glaciers.Also your house may have easier access points for the radon to enter or different ventilation flows which will change the levels of radon found in your home compared to your neighbours.
4. Can drinking water with radon in it be dangerous?

Cell linings in the stomach help protect us from the radon so ingesting radon through the water you drink is a low health risk. However as water is used in your home it may release the radon in the water into the air that you breathe. The general rule is a 10 to 1 ratio of water to air. This means that radon levels in water of 10 Bq/m3 would increase your air radon levels in your home by 1 Bq/m3. This is normally only an issue with well water as water treatment plants agitate the water in the facility where is dissipates before being moved to your home.
5. Radon will decrease my property value so I don't want to know about it.

As awareness grows and radon becomes as well understood in Alberta as it is in other provinces and the States radon testing will become the norm in real estate transactions. If you do find high levels of radon in your home it is simple and economical to fix in most cases. Once the radon has been mitigated it can actually be a selling feature for your home.
6. New houses don't have radon in them, do they? My house is old and drafty so I shouldn't have a problem right?

All houses need to be tested regardless of construction type. For example new houses have tighter envelopes that can trap the radon inside but older houses can have poor quality foundations that allow more gas to come into the home. You just never know without testing.
7. How do you test for radon?

Testing for radon is a simple and inexpensive thing to do. Kits can be purchased online or in your local hardware store. Certified professionals can also be hired to perform the tests for you. Different types of tests measure the radon in different ways. Health Canada recommends three different types of test – The E- PERM, alpha track or a commercial grade continuous monitor. There are long term and short term tests. Health Canada recommends the long term tests which take from 91 days up to 1 year and show your actual exposure. For more accurate results the best time to test is during the heating season. Short term tests can also be performed to show the potential for radon in a home. These tests usually take 2 days to 1 week but can be as long as 90 days. Short term tests require that your home stay "closed" 12 hours prior and during the entire test. This means windows and doors are closed, fans and some other types of air exchangers must be off.
8. Can I test myself?

Absolutely. You can do testing yourself or you can hire a certified professional to perform the test for you. However there are some benefits from purchasing tests through certified radon specialists such as the quality control requirements that ensure the tests have been stored properly and have not been contaminated with background radiation. If you do buy the test at your local hardware store ensure the expiry date has not passed. Check to see what the shipping costs and lab fees are.

Or you can buy a test from us right here.
9. I hear that granite countertops emit radon. Should I have mine removed?

It is very rare that items in your home are emitting enough radon to be the cause of the high levels. Though granite is a natural mineral and some types of granite do contain uranium, in 2010 Health Canada preformed radon tests on a number of different types of granite and none were shown to have levels that were of concern. The majority of radon in your home comes from the soil gas under the building. The first thing you need to do is to test your home for radon. If the levels are high, standard mitigation methods to decrease the pressure under the slab will more than likely reduce the radon to acceptable levels.
10. If I have radon in my house how do I get rid of it?

The good news is that there are proven techniques to reduce radon levels in your home. The most common and effective method is sub slab depressurization. The goal is reverse the flow of gas into your home by changing the negative pressure to a positive pressure in relation to the area below your home. The cost of these mitigations is usually less that installing a new furnace.
11. I have an eco-efficient house so I won't have radon, right?

The type of construction used and the age of the home have no direct link to whether or not there is radon in your home. Even if a home has been constructed using the most up to date radon resistant technologies radon testing is recommended every two years.
12. I have had an air quality test in my home so I don't need to test for radon, right?

Maybe. Your tests results would need to indicate that radon testing had been performed. Radon testing requires specific tests and many air quality tests do not include radon specific testing so make sure you check.
13. Are there any safe levels of radon?

Unfortunately this is not true. The only way to know if you have high levels of radon is to test. The minerals decaying that cause radon only affect areas 10 meters within the source point. You may have a "hot rock" under your home and your neighbour may not. This is especially true since the nature of the geology in Alberta where rock has been moved around by the glaciers.Also your house may have easier access points for the radon to enter or different ventilation flows which will change the levels of radon found in your home compared to your neighbours.
14. How often should I test?

Health Canada recommends testing every 2 years, after the completion of any renovations or anytime you make changes to your heating or cooling systems. There are many different reasons that radon levels in your home could change over time. For example as the ground freezes and thaws foundations can move and cracks can develop creating new paths for radon gas to enter your home. A total combined open area of 1 cm2 is all that you need to have high radon levels in your home.

Our Process

1. Free Home Assessment

One of our experienced building scientists will evaluate the basement foundation, potential radon entry points, the sub-slab granular material and how the basement spaces are used to come up with a potential mitigation design that maximises efficiency and minimizes cost. From there we provide you with an estimate and a preferred system design.
2. Mitigation Diagnostics

This is where the science happens and this is what sets us apart. Using specialized tools and detailed pressure measurements we follow a specific Health Canada process to demonstrate that our design is engineered to protect the entire foundation.
3. Mitigation Installation

This is where we install the mitigation system in your home. We'll vent the system outside of your home, and complete the piping, bracing, fan installation, sealing, system monitor and labelling. Once everything is installed we will perform another pressure test to make sure the entire system is effectively treating the entire foundation.

Training & Certification

As provinces adopt the 2010 Canadian National Building Code which includes specific requirements for radon rough-in for new construction, there is a need for certified radon professionals. Set yourself apart and become a certified radon professional for measurement, mitigation and new construction installations.

Radon West offers Canadian-specific courses through our Canadian National Radon Training Centre. Our Measurement, Mitigation and Installer courses are approved under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP), the only radon certification recognized in Canada.

Our flexible and convenient distance learning courses allow you to get certified when you want, where you want, and at your own pace. You can plan your courses around your job and continue to make an income while you train. Learn more about getting certified and our course offerings on our Canadian National Radon Training Centre website.

Self Testing

When it comes to radon testing, the test duration and season and device technology are all important. Radon entry into a building is impacted by many different building science factors which means the radon levels will naturally fluctuate, so the longer the test duration, the more the peaks and valleys become averaged out. This is a graph from one of our commercial devices – you can see how the levels change from hour to hour. This is why Health Canada recommends a minimum 3-month test in the heating season prior to making a mitigation decision.

Below is some information that explains some of the different ways to test for radon.

Single use testers:

This is a minimum 3 month alpha track test kit. The test itself looks like a little ant trap and is very simple. You choose an appropriate location, based on a checklist included with the tester, open the package and place the device. It remains there for a minimum of 91 days to a 1 year maximum then you mail the test kit to the independent radon lab. You will receive your results directly from the lab within 4 to 6 weeks. These devices are not reusable and it is recommended to test during the heating season. (started after October and ended before May)

These tests should be fresh from the lab, have been through the Health Canada’s quality control protocols and have been stored correctly so that they have not been exposed to significant background radiation. All three of these measures ensure you are getting accurate results. This test kit is $55 + GST and includes shipping to your home and the lab fees which the test kits in the hardware stores don’t include (total cost $57.75).

We also sell a pre-paid, addressed envelope for $10 + GST to make things even simpler to send to the lab (total cost of test and pre-paid envelope is $68.25). The return shipping to the lab must be within Alberta.

The cost through Radon West is less than the Home Depot after lab fees and shipping as those costs come after your purchase at the hardware stores. If you do purchase through a local home improvement store I suggest you inquire about the expiry date as the device should not be past it’s expiry date.

Re-useable electronic testers:

Another popular class of testing devices are the electronic testers. We carry several different models and all of them display the results in the measurement units used in Canada (Becquerels/meter cubed). Electronic test devices can be re-used over and over again.

Again these are very simple tests and there are quite a few benefits to these types of devices. As Health Canada always recommends testing in the heating season you can test in the summer and then again in the winter when radon levels in the home are usually higher. This test would be good for someone who is interested in testing more than one location in their home (bedroom, basement, family room), or to pass around to family and friends.

Digital devices are simple to use and great for non-commercial testing applications. The devices use similar technology to measure radon levels as commercial grade devices. The difference between these devices and the commercial grade electronic testers that we use is the annual calibration that commercial devices must maintain. When testing homes for legal reasons such as real estate transactions or commercial projects the protocols are a little different and we require tamper resistant features such as movement and barometric indicators as well as more detailed hourly data for analysis.

The 4 models we sell are the Radon Eye RD200, Radon Eye Plus, Corentium Home and Air Things Wave. All are known to have good results and we see the accuracy when we run tests simultaneously with our commercial devices. These devices are similar in size to a carbon monoxide detector. They have a digital display that you read yourself without having to send the device back to a lab.

People love these devices because they can see their readings and monitor how the radon level changes over time and as they move it around the house.

There are a few differences between the 4 devices.

Feature

Radon Eye RD200

Radon Eye Plus

Corentium Home

Wave

First reading displayed

< 1 hour

< 1 hour

~ 6 – 24 hours

~24 hours

Accuracy

< +/- 10%

< +/- 10%

+/- 5%

< 20% 7 days, < 10% 1 month

Long Term Results

Average & 1 hour step since last reset up to 1 year

Average & 1 hour step since last reset up to 1 year

Average since last reset up to 1 year

Average since last reset up to 1 year

Short Term Results

10 minute update 1 hour moving average

10 minute update 1 hour moving average

Average 1 day & last 7 days

Average last 48 hrs, week, month and year

Results viewable on device

Yes & with more detail on phone.

Yes & with more detail on phone and internet

Yes

No. Colour coded ranges only. Actual levels can be viewed through your phone. 

Alarm

Yes. Adjustable levels 37 – 3700 Bq/m³ & intervals 10 min, 1 hr or 6 hr

No

No

Yes. Coming soon in new app release.

Power Source

120 V ac

120 V ac

3 AAA batteries (3 year battery life-time)

2 AA batteries (1.5 year battery life-time)

Measurement unit

Bq/m³ or pCi/L

Bq/m³ or pCi/L

Bq/m³

Bq/m³ or pCi/L

Data communication/logging

Bluetooth IPhone and Android

WiFi

No

*Bluetooth IPhone and Android

Range

0 - 3700 Bq/m³

0 – 9435 Bq/m³

0 - 9999.0 Bq/m³

0 - 50000 Bq/m³

Updates

10 minute update 1 hour moving average

10 minute update 1 hour moving average

Hourly

Hourly

Operating temperature

10°C to 40°C

10°C to 40°C

0°C to 40°C

4°C to 40°C

Humidity

Relative humidity <100%

(not for use under water or for radon in water testing)

Relative humidity <100%

(not for use under water or for radon in water testing)

Relative humidity <95%

* (not for use under water or for radon in water testing)

Relative humidity <85%

* (not for use under water or for radon in water testing)

Price ($CDN)

$299.00 + GST = $313.95

$399.00 +GST = $418.95

$249.95 + GST = $262.45

$249.95 + GST = $262.45

The one thing to remember when using a digital monitor is that radon levels fluctuate. Some people get worried that the device isn’t working properly when they see the numbers moving around – we’d be worried if they weren’t. We have seen a house where in the winter the radon levels are around 780 Bq/m³ but drop to 40 to 50 in the summer. A wind storm can easily change the numbers from 140 to 320 Bq/m³. To get your seasonal averages it is also important to keep the device in for a minimum of 10 – 14 days – the first readings are just a snap shot of what was happening at that time and you really want an average of more readings. Don’t forget to reset the device and get a 3-month winter reading as well.

On-site Radon Professional Radon Screening:

The last option, if you would prefer to have someone complete the test for you, is to have one of our C-NRPP certified technicians come to your home and perform a short term test with our commercial grade device. We also include an alpha track test kit (option 1) with the package so that you can test in the heating season with a long term test. This is the same test that we would perform for a real estate transaction. If you are interested in this option please give us a call and we will book your appointment.