Home Inspection Articles

Radon - What Is It and How Do I Test For It?

Posted by Olivia Hunt on Nov 22, 2012 3:10:00 PM


The presence of radon in Canadian homes has become a popular topic in the news lately. Health Canada has recently completed a two-year study that discovered roughly 7% of Canadians, or 1 in 14 people, are living in homes with radon levels above the national guideline.* While this statistic is significant, the good news is that homes can be easily tested and high radon levels can be addressed relatively inexpensively.

What Is Radon?

Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. It is created by the decay of uranium. Areas subject to above acceptable levels of radon gas exhibit high concentrations of uranium in the earth and have cracks or porous soils through which the gas can migrate up to the surface.

Why Is It Dangerous?

The radon gas itself is not necessarily an issue - its decay products are. These products are radioactive particles that can attach themselves to lung tissue when radon gas is inhaled, which may in turn cause lung cancer. Health Canada estimates that 16% of all lung cancer deaths in Canada are related to radon exposure.* Just like cigarette smoke, the risk is higher with greater exposure and the effects are long term rather than immediate.

How Does Radon Get Into Your Home?

Radon makes its way into buildings through cracks in basement floors and walls, openings around pipes and electrical services, through water supplies, and basement floor drains, for example.

In buildings, radon gas can get trapped, contributing to potential hazards for occupants. However, when radon escapes directly into the outdoor air it doesn’t pose the same threat as it dilutes quickly.

How To Test For Radon

The identification of radon gas in a home is not part of a standard Home Inspection. However, there are several types of detectors available for testing radon levels. They include:

1)    A charcoal canister that can be used to absorb radon from the air.

2)    Etch detectors that use a sensitive plastic surface. The radon will leave tracks or etchings on the plastic which then can be measured.

3)    Filtering systems where air is pumped through a filter.

4)    Grab sample testers that allow for short term testing by simply taking a sample of air. These tests may require additional laboratory analysis.

How to Lower Radon in Houses

 There are several techniques used to lower radon levels in buildings that include:

  • Sealing cracks, gaps and holes in the basement floor
  • Adding a mechanical ventilation system that draws air and radon from beneath the basement, discharging the air directly to the exterior of the home

Carson Dunlop supports radon testing in homes due to the potential health concerns. We also believe that home buyers should not walk away from a real estate transaction due to a radon issue since this issue can be easily remedied. Radon mitigation systems have been in place for a long time in the United States and their performance is well documented. In many areas, the average installation price is $2500.

If you’re interested in testing your home for radon, visit our page on Specialty Services. For more information on radon, Health Canada is an excellent source as well as the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada


*SOURCE: Health Canada, Cross-Canada Survey of Radon Concentrations in Homes Report

Topics: Home Reference Book, Homeowner Tips