Radon testing: What clients should know about the element of surprise
Updated: Jan 12
At first glance, radon can be intimidating. As Element #86 in the periodic table (Rn), it’s actually a radioactive gas that is released by the soil. It’s everywhere; every nook and cranny on earth likely has radon. And yes, that means it’s in your home, too.
Radon seeps in using a number of entry points leading into your home: cracks in the foundation, pipes, vents, even freshly renovated rooms that required opening walls. Homes are so well insulated, which could lead them to trap the radon inside if there is poor air circulation, accumulating it over time.
Unbeknownst to most, radon usually coexists peacefully with us in our home. Nobody lives in a radon-free environment, new or old; it’s naturally occurring after all. What sets a safe presence apart from more dangerous levels can only be determined through testing.
Why are high levels of radon dangerous?
Radon is a sneaky infiltrator, having no smell, no taste, and leaving no visual indicator if it’s there in hazardous quantities. Breathing in toxic air unknowingly is a significant health risk: radon is a carcinogen. It’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer in Canada, and the first among non-smokers. So how could clients ever even determine if they need a radon test if they can never adequately diagnose that there may be a problem in the first place?
To be clear: you could have lived in your home for 10 years without ever seeing the signs of a looming problem. In fact, Bartnicki Inspections recently conducted a Radon test for owners residing in their property for over 15 years. Test measures came back boasting a horrifying 668 Bq/m3 (becquerels per cubic metre) — over three times higher than Health Canada guidelines. Optimally, home environments should read around 200 Bq/m3 or lower.
Radon truly is the element of surprise: sure, things may go smoothly for 15 years. But a routine medical exam may expose latent lung issues, and serious ailments like cancer may be diagnosed. It happens just like that, without any symptoms leading up to this moment.
Home inspectors are driven to build awareness around this crucial issue to avoid long-term serious health problems for inhabitants.
When should you look into radon tests?
A radon test can be done at any stage of the home buying, renting or renovating process. Factors to consider are: exposed rough plumbing for a future basement bathroom, uncovered sump pumps, water or gas lines, drain pipes, and any type of drilling through concrete slabs or foundations.
The good news? A radon problem can generally be easily mitigated, explains Karol Bartnicki, owner and founder of Bartnicki Inspections. “We use Airthings equipment, a Norwegian brand leading in air quality technology, to determine radon levels." Once the problems are regulated, the inspector will generally suggest a follow-up appointment two months after services have been rendered. A second test will be conducted to confirm if radon levels are now controlled or whether further action is necessary. If levels seem optimal, you’re all set for the next five to 10 years!
Haven’t had your home’s radon verified in years, or about to buy a new place? Now’s the time! Add radon testing to your home inspection or recurring home expense requirements. The costs of a radon test are surprisingly affordable: they run anywhere between $150 and $250 depending on the service requirements. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind, considering that it’s a test conducted once a decade or after major work has occurred. The irony remains that radon problems don’t affect the home… They affect the residents.
Do sellers have to fix radon?
It is very likely that your future buyer will make you fix the radon problem before they purchase the home. If the radon level is known before the inspection, it is good to address it during your real estate deal. Sometimes, the seller pays for all the radon to be fixed, sometimes the seller will fund a credit to the buyer, and sometimes the seller and buyer will split the costs.
If your home inspection radon test comes back indicating high levels of radon, there are fortunately mitigation systems that vary depending on the radon source and type of your home.
“Mitigation of radon in the air is accomplished through ventilation, either collected below a concrete floor slab or a membrane on the ground, or by increasing the air changes per hour in the building. Treatment systems using aeration or activated charcoal are available to remove radon from domestic water supplies” (Wikipedia).
How much does it cost to install a radon mitigation system?
The cost for the installation of a radon mitigation system typically ranges between $2,500-4,000. The cost depends on how radon gas enters the home and moves within it, and each home is unique. Costs for mitigation of adjacent homes can vary significantly. Read more about radon testing & mitigation systems by visiting the CREA’s Homeowners Guide to Radon.
Image source: CREA “A Homeowners Guide to Radon”
SSD - Sub-Slab Depressurization
SMD - Sub-Membrane Depressurization
HRV - Heat Recovery Ventilation System