Should I Be Concerned About Radon in My Home? The Answer is Yes!

Calgary is one of the most beautiful places to live in the world and we’re surrounded by nature – mountains, rivers, endless blue skies, and fresh air. We're all so lucky to call this place home!

But, as with all things amazing, there’s usually a downside, and Calgary has one.

Radon. That’s a word that takes the fun out of the conversation! But we need to be talking about it because radon poses a serious health threat, and unfortunately, it easily makes its way into our homes without giving us any warning signs.

Keep reading to learn why it’s important to understand what radon is, how it affects our health, and how we can make our homes safe!

What exactly is radon?

To talk about radon, we need to get technical for a minute.

Radon is a radioactive gas that is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. It’s the by-product of uranium decay and occurs wherever you find uranium deposits, which occur naturally in soil and rock formations. The more uranium deposits in an area, the higher the levels of radon.

Every part of Canada has radon to some degree, but Alberta and Saskatchewan have the highest levels in the country.

Why is radon a problem?

If radon is naturally occurring everywhere in the country, why should we be concerned?

Well, radon is a gas, so a million radon atoms can fit into a hole the size of a human hair. This lets it easily seep through the earth and into our basements. And because our homes are built so efficiently, it becomes trapped and stays inside our homes.

By the way, that actually puts newer homes more at risk for high radon levels than older homes.

What makes it more problematic is that radon doesn’t have any red flags. It’s odorless, tasteless, and colorless, and there are no symptoms when it’s ingested, so we have no idea we’re breathing it in.

That’s concerning because prolonged exposure to radon poses a serious health threat. It causes significant health problems, the most serious being lung cancer.

How dangerous is radon?

Most of us are aware of the link between smoking and lung cancer, but very few of us know that radon is almost as deadly. After smoking, radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. For non-smokers, it’s the leading cause.

And here’s a sobering and little-known fact: radon exposure causes 3,200 deaths in Canada each year. That’s more than the number of deaths from car accidents, drownings, house fires, and carbon monoxide combined.

How do you know if radon is in your home?    

It’s possible for any building to have high radon levels. A recent Health Canada study estimated that about 7% of Canadian households have a radon level above recommended guidelines.

That’s more than 600,000 households in Canada.

A building’s radon levels depend on a variety of factors, including its age, type of foundation or heating system, location, air tightness, ventilation rate, and building materials used. So, it’s not easy to predict which homes have high radon levels, even if they appear to be almost identical.

Have you ever noticed how tornados can tear through a neighborhood and flatten one home, but leave the homes on either side of it untouched? Radon can be a little like that. The levels in your neighbor's home might be perfectly acceptable, while the levels in your home are not.

The only way to know for sure is to have your home tested for radon which, fortunately, is fairly simple.

How can you test for radon?

Testing involves having a relatively small kit installed in your basement for at least 90 days, then sending it to a lab for testing.

You can either hire a certified radon measurement professional, or you can use a DIY radon test kit that can be purchased at your local home improvement store or online.

What Can You Do if you Have Radon in Your Home?

You don't need to panic if open your test results and find your house has radon levels above the recommended levels (200Bq/m3 or more). The good news is that radon is a solvable problem, so you can do something about it!

A radon mitigation device can be installed to vent radon gas outside the home.   Depending on the structure of your house, the most common method is drilling a hole in the slab of a basement and installing a pipe with a fan. The fan draws the radon gas from under your house and pushes it outside. This method of mitigation has been shown to reduce radon levels in homes by an average of 91%!

Keep in mind that this is one of those projects best left to the pros! To ensure it’s done properly, it’s a good idea to hire a C-NRPP-certified contractor to install the device. Mitigation costs can vary but usually range between $2,000-$3,000.

Radon Mitigation and the Alberta Building Code

The Alberta Building Code 2014 was updated in 2014 to require all new homes to include several features to minimize radon entry into homes. They also need to include a roughed-in radon mitigation pipe, making it easier to install a radon mitigation system, if necessary. Having a roughed-in pipe reduces the time and effort required to install a mitigation system, making it less expensive.

How does radon affect how you buy and sell a home?

Because radon testing takes at least 90 days, there’s rarely enough time to perform a radon test during the process of buying or selling a house.

But the real estate industry has evolved - RECA, the governing body for the real estate industry in Alberta, recognizes that radon is a concern for home buyers and sellers. They’ve taken steps to ensure your realtor is educated about the risks of radon, so they can help you feel confident you’re buying a home that will be safe for you and your family.

Selling a Home

If you’re selling your home, your realtor is probably going to ask:

  • if you’ve had your home tested for radon
  • if a radon mitigation system has been installed in your home

If test results show your home is below the acceptable radon limits, or you have installed a mitigation system, this can actually be a selling feature.

It’s important to note that if you’ve had a radon test performed that shows results above the acceptable limit and haven’t done anything to mitigate the problem, this is a material latent defect that must be disclosed to potential buyers.

Buying a Home

If you are buying a newly constructed home, or one that was built after 2015, it should have been built according to the updated Alberta Building Code.

You should expect to see a sealed and labeled rough-in radon pipe in the basement. If you’re buying a home early in the construction process, you may want to consider having the home builder actually install a mitigation system. You’ll have one less thing to worry about it when you move in and you’ll feel comfortable knowing your home is safe for you and your family.  

If you find a pre-owned home you’re interested in, have your realtor ask if the home has been tested and, if so, ask for the test results.

If the home hasn't been tested for radon, don't be surprised. It's still not that common. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy the home. You can  start testing as soon as you take possession, and if you need to have radon mitigation added, the cost isn’t so high that it would be a deal-breaker.

The Bottom Line

Radon is a serious concern, but awareness is your greatest defence! Once you learn how to detect radon in your home, you can take steps to stop it from being a risk for you and your family. And if you're currently in the real estate market, whether buying or selling, your realtor can help you make an educated, informed decision. At Alex Cowie Real Estate, we know how to ask the right questions to ask, so you can be certain you're making the best real estate decision. Reach out to talk with us, whether you're actively in the market, or just have a few questions - we're just a call away and we're here to help!

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