By: Serge Guenette

Why you should be aware of radon in your home


Radon is a colourless, odourless gas that can be found in any home. It occurs naturally in the environment and is released into the air during the normal breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. Once released, radon breaks down into radioactive elements that can attach to dust and other substances in the air we breathe.

Why do we need to worry about radon?

Outside, radon dissipates enough that we don’t need to worry about it. But due to Canada’s geology and the amount of time spent indoors in winter, we have a higher risk of radon accumulation in homes.
Generally, it begins to enter through the basement or crawlspace in cracks and holes found in the foundation. Because we can’t see or smell this gas, many homes go untested for radon simply because we aren’t aware of it.
When a radioactive gas, like radon, is inhaled, it naturally breaks down into radioactive particles that can be trapped in your lungs when you breathe in. This may cause damage to lung tissue, which can develop into lung cancer over the course of a lifetime.
Studies by Health Canada have shown that radon concentrations vary a great deal, making it impossible to predict radon levels in any one home or building. The only way to know if you are being exposed to radon gas is to test for it.

How can I test my home for radon?

If you haven’t thought about radon in your home before, or haven’t done a test in a while, it’s a good idea to get your home tested or re-tested to make sure there isn’t too much radon in your home. How?

  1. Pick up a long-term test kit: These test kits measure radon levels in your home for at least 90 days to collect a proper amount of data and give an accurate radon reading within your home. Long-term test kits will differ in price and can be purchased at hardware stores or online at radon specialized organizations such as Canada Radon or AGAT Laboratories. (It’s best to test over winter months when windows are less likely to be open and letting in outside air.)

  2. Hire a professional: Professional services are available to do the measuring for you. These services can help to set up a test kit in your home, making sure it is placed in the proper location, and will give you more information on radon and your next steps on reducing it.

How do I reduce radon levels in my home?

After testing your home for radon, if your levels are high (anything over 200 Becquerels per cubic metre should be dealt with), it’s important to reduce them to a healthier level. Professional radon services are available to begin this process by installing a mitigation system that will help draw the radon away from your home. Ottawa Public Health links to radon testing companies here. Most companies that test for radon will also remediate.

Here are a couple other tips you can try to help reduce radon in your home:

  • Ventilation: Airing out the lowest level of your home, whether it’s the crawlspace or the basement, can help lower radon levels. Try closing off this section of your home and opening the windows to provide a breeze.
  • Seal cracks and holes: With radon rising through the cracks and holes in your foundation, using a sealant on these areas can help reduce the radon level, even if only by a small amount.
  • A word of caution: Just because your neighbour’s house tests free of radon doesn’t mean you can assume yours will, too. Radon levels can vary from house to house on the same street. The best way to be sure is to test your home.

For more information, visit Ottawa Public Health.