Is it safe to breathe in your home?

Due to the current COVID pandemic, most people are spending more time indoors in their own homes.  Because of this, there has been an increase in interest of how healthy our homes really are.  Air quality has now become a trending topic, as the coronavirus is transmitted via airborne particles.  With all of this focus on filtration and sanitization, one should also be keen to one other potential hazard, radiation.  A little known fact is that Radon exposure is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, and the leading cause of lung cancer of those who have never smoked.

Across Canada, Radon exists as an element in the soil that continually emits as an odourless gas.  Since this element exists everywhere in the earth’s crust, all buildings are exposed to it.  What is interesting, however, is how uneven concentration levels are.  Just because one building has low levels of Radon, does not mean the adjacent buildings also have the same levels.  

Radon enters buildings anywhere there is an opening in areas exposed to the ground.  Common points are small cracks in foundation walls and basement concrete floors.  Other areas are joints between the floor and the foundation wall, sump pits, and open areas underneath tubs and showers around the drain pipes.

The good news is that it is very easy to find out what level of Radon exists in a building.  There are test kits available at most home improvement retailers (which require mail-in after a specified time of exposure).  These kits are usually under $25 and will give an indication of whether or not there is a potential issue.  Also, there are various types of Radon detectors, some that just monitor Radon levels and others that monitor a variety of air quality items (e.g. Radon, humidity, VOC’s, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide).  When Radon is present in a building continuous monitoring is recommended.

Radon Detectors
From left to right:
Radon Eye – Radon only detector, Bluetooth enabled
Air Things – Measures multiple indoor air quality items, Bluetooth enabled
Radon Victoria alarm – Sounds alarm when radon level exceeds 150 Bq/m3.

How much Radon is dangerous?  Radon is measured in Becquerels per metre cubed (Bq/m3).  Health Canada’ guidelines are as follows: 

  • Under 200 (Bq/m3) – no action required.
  • 200 (Bq/m3) to 600 (Bq/m3) – action recommended within two years.
  • Over 600 (Bq/m3) – immediate action recommended.

So, how do we get rid of Radon if it exists in high levels?  When levels are marginally above healthy guidelines, a balanced ventilation system often will bring concentration to acceptable levels.  Effect Home Builders installs Heat Recovery Ventilators in all of our homes.  These units exhaust indoor air while simultaneously drawing outside air in a very energy efficient manner.  The exchange is done via a heat transfer mechanism, which ensures that the heat of the exhausting air is transferred to the incoming air.  It is important to note that this air exchange does not affect air pressure in the home.  In homes with just a bathroom fan, trying to lower Radon concentration by running this fan can actually make the problem worse, as it depressures the home, causing more Radon to enter. 

Heat Recovery Ventilator System
Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) preheats incoming fresh air with heat from exhausting air

In homes where there is no HRV, a Radon mitigation fan must be installed.  This involves inserting a sealed pipe into the home’s sump pit or another basement floor opening, connecting this to a Radon ventilation fan, which connects to a pipe that exhausts the air to the exterior.  In all new homes, the Building Code requires a pipe to be installed when the home is being built.  In older homes, the pipe installation becomes a bit trickier, but can be done.  

Installed radon mitigation fan at an Effect Home Builders project.

Healthy homes are now more important than ever. Whether it is your existing home or a new home, simple steps can be taken to reduce health risks and improve quality of life for homeowners and guests.

Radon pipes can be vented through the floor system or through the roof.

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