Does Your Home Have Dangerous Levels of Radon Gas?


radon illustration

We tend to think that naturally occurring substances are either good for us or at least not harmful. Sometimes neither of these viewpoints is correct. Radon gas may be one of the most extreme example of “natural” that’s quite capable of killing you.

What Is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas that forms when the Earth's crust traps gas from the atmosphere. According to government analysis, radon can be found in every home to some extent. What matters is how much radon is there if it’s found in your house. Some geographical regions have radon-laden soil and rocks, and this can lead to high enough indoor concentrations to cause avoidable lung cancers, while other areas don’t have harmful levels at all. Testing is the only way to know for sure if radon levels in your home are high enough to warrant remedial action.  Colorless, odorless, and tasteless, radioactive radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. Anything over 200 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3) is considered dangerous, and levels can be reduced to less than 100 Bq/m3 with the right ventilation equipment. Even if your neighbour’s home has been tested and found safe without having a radon reduction system in place, that doesn’t mean that your home is safe, too. Indoor radon concentrations can be affected by many things and can vary tremendously from one house to the next.

You can have your home professionally tested for radon or you can buy your own radon test equipment and monitor levels yourself. Expect to pay $200 to $300 for decent radon kit, and use it repeatedly over time to get an accurate sense of what’s going on. Long-term testing for radon is more helpful than short-term readings which may not be representative of reality. Google “radon test kit” and you’ll find many options.  Also, since radon comes from naturally occurring soil and rocks, groundwater tests exist to identify harmful levels of radon present in well water.

Getting Rid of Radon

There’s an entire industry devoted to bringing household radon gas concentrations down to safe levels if testing shows a danger, and standard practice involves two main things. First, a powerful fan is installed to draw air from the soil underneath the home (not the basement, but the actual soil underneath the floor slab and from behind behind walls. ) This radon-laden air is safely ejected outside, either a roof level or ground level depending on where you live.

And second, all cracks, gaps and joints in and around the basement or concrete floor slab must be sealed. Without this sealing step, radon is still free to seep into your house because most of the suction of the radon fan is simply wasted drawing basement air outdoors, not sub-surface air from the soil. Not only is this less than ideal from a radon standpoint, but it massively increases heating bills as your radon fan simply shoots heated basement air outdoors. This is why basement crack sealing is vital for radon remediation. The problem is that most basement crack kits don’t work well enough because of one common problem.

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