My name is Dave Craven and welcome to Radon Vision Inc. The roads leading to the creation of this company were both unexpected and eye-opening.
I first heard about radon shortly after my wife and I moved into our new home in 2014. As new homeowners, we received an information brochure on radon from Health Canada but didn't take it too seriously at the time. We believed if there were dangerously high levels of radon in our neighbourhood, we would have heard about it from a neighbour or some community source. Fast forward four years later, having a 1.5-year-old daughter and another baby due in 6 months, I came across a story posted online about the affects of radon and decided to test our house. My wife and I still remember reading the result and feeling sick. We had exposed ourselves for four years, and our baby girl for the first 1.5 years of her life, to an average level of 1350 Bq/M3, which is almost seven times Health Canada's "Take action guidelines" of 200 Bq/M3. Thus, my journey into the field of radon was born.
Building on my skills as a 16-year journeyman electrician, I obtained C-NRPP certification (Canadian - National Radon Proficiency Program) and have begun an exciting and meaningful career in radon measurement and mitigation. Please continue below to learn more about the critically important role radon awareness plays while managing the complexities of your home.
What is radon?
Radon is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, radioactive gas found naturally in the environment. Radon is released into the air during the natural breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil.
How does radon affect people?
Indoor radon levels are capable of reaching high concentrations, and long-term exposure dramatically increases an individual's lifetime risk of developing lung cancer.
An individual's risk depends on the radon level and duration of exposure. Lung cancer can develop after many years of radon exposure. Health Canada estimates ~16% of lung cancer deaths are related to radon exposure. In fact, radon exposure is the LEADING CAUSE of lung cancer in non-smokers resulting in over 3,200 radon-related lung cancer deaths in Canada each year.
As a radioactive gas, radon decays. During the decaying process, radon produces byproducts known as "radon daughters" or "radon progeny." When radon gas is released into the air, it is inhaled into the lungs during the normal breathing process. Further break-down occurs, thereby emitting "alpha particles" into the lungs.
Alpha particles release small bursts of energy, which are then absorbed by nearby lung tissue. This results in lung cell death or damage. When lung cells are damaged, they have the potential to result in cancer when they reproduce (mutation).
How does radon enter a home?
For most of the year, the air pressure inside your home is lower than the pressure in the soil surrounding your foundation. This difference in pressure can draw soil gases, including radon, into the house. Gas containing radon can enter your home at any opening where the house contacts the soil. These openings can be present even in well-built and new houses. Potential entry routes for radon in homes include small cracks in the foundation or air openings around joints, fittings and pipes.
Why do I test in the lowest level of my home? Is radon just a basement problem?
Radon enters buildings from the ground, and it is a health risk when people are exposed to it for a duration of time. Therefore, radon test placement recommendations are based around these factors. Our recommendation is to test in the lowest level of your home (basement or main floor) that you spend at least 4 hours per day or more.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t radon in the other areas of your home; it just provides consistent guidance for most types of dwellings across Canada. Air (and radon gas) can move easily throughout the entire space of a dwelling, and therefore elevated radon levels can be found in the 1st and 2nd floors of the home. Typically, the levels are highest at the lowest levels.
What factors influence high radon levels in a home?
Due to many factors, it is not possible to predict the radon level in a home; testing is the only avenue by which to measure the radon level. All homes contain some level of radon. The levels can vary dramatically even between similar homes located next to each other.
The amount of radon in a home will depend on many factors including:
Soil characteristics: Radon concentrations can vary enormously depending on the uranium content of the soil. The greater the source, the greater the potential that radon could enter a building. In addition, radon flows more easily through some soils than others; for example through sand versus clay.
Construction type: The type of home and its design affect the amount of contact with the soil and the number and size of entry points for radon.
Foundation condition: Foundations with numerous cracks and openings have more potential entry points for radon.
Occupant lifestyle: The use of exhaust fans, windows and fireplaces, for example, influences the pressure differential between the house and the soil. This pressure differential may draw radon indoors and influences the rate of exchange of outdoor and indoor air.
Weather: Variations in weather (e.g., temperature, wind, barometric pressure, precipitation, etc.) may also affect the amount of radon that enters a home.
How is radon detected?
Long-term radon detectors are typically electret ion or alpha track devices.
Electret ion detectors measure radon through its loss of electrons in its decay process. The electret ion detector has an electret in the bottom, which is positively electrically charged. It reduces in charge as the ions are released from the decay of radon. Touching this electret will not harm you, but it will reduce the charge on the electret rendering the device no longer able to measure radon accurately.
Alpha track detectors contain a small piece of plastic that gets "etched" or marked by the energy that is released from the radon decay process. The manner in which the plastic is "marked" is the same process by which your lung tissue may become damaged. Further laboratory testing results in the measurement of the marks found on the plastic.
When should radon be mitigated?
Health Canada Guidelines recommend mitigation as follows:
200-600Bq/M3 - within two years
over 600Bq/M3 - within one year
It is important to note that there is no safe level of radon, and many families choose to mitigate even when below these guidelines.
How is radon mitigated?
If your home is found to have high radon levels, your first step should be to consult a local Radon Mitigation Professional who has been certified by the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP). Mitigation can involve either limiting entry of radon into the home or expelling radon to the outdoors before it reaches lived-in spaces. The first approach uses passive measures, such as sealing cracks or
laying a gravel base and a polyethylene barrier under the foundation. The second, more effective approach uses active measures, such as sub-slab depressurization, which employs a fan to draw radon-containing air outdoors from under the home and provide a pathway out of the house. A C-NRPP Radon Mitigation Professional will guide you toward the most effective mitigation approach for your home.
Can my HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation System) lower radon levels?
If an HRV is already installed in a house and you test for radon and have high levels, you may be able to make an impact by cleaning or having some maintenance done on the HRV to improve its effectiveness. Unfortunately, it is not the most effective or energy-efficient method of mitigation. An HRV may dilute the radon by bringing in fresh air, but radon is still able to enter the home. Research has shown that the reduction provided by an HRV is not enough to reduce high levels.
New Homes in our community already have a radon pipe in the basement. Do they still need to be tested for radon?
They still need to be tested for radon. New homes could have either a radon rough-in stub pipe or a radon rough-in extended pipe. Both of these pipes are intended to facilitate radon mitigation if radon reduction is
I live in a rented building, should I still test for radon?
All Canadians should test their residential space to determine the exact level of exposure. Of primary importance are dwellings with ground contact. In larger buildings, the risk diminishes the higher you travel, but the only way to determine the exact radon level in your living space is by testing. If you are living in a rented dwelling, it is best for the occupant to be involved in the testing of the living space, If mitigation is recommended, you will likely need permission from the owner or manager. This also applies to condominium complexes and strata units. It may be a good idea to start these discussions as part of your testing plan.
Is radon a concern outdoors?
Radon is found naturally in the environment when uranium in soil and rock decays. When released from the ground into the outdoor air, radon is diluted and does not pose a significant health risk. However, in enclosed spaces such as homes, radon can sometimes accumulate to high levels and become a health concern.