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Radon Gas in the Home

Radon is a radioactive gas that naturally occurs in the environment. It is produced by the decay of radioactive elements found in soil, rock or water. Radon is invisible, odourless and tasteless and emits ionizing radiation.  When confined inside a residence, it can accumulate to levels that are considered hazardous to your health

So how do you know if you have radon gas? What levels are considered acceptable? What do you do if you have higher levels than what you’re comfortable with?…There are a lot of questions regarding radon gas and in all honesty not all the answers are undisputed facts.  What we at Capstone try to do, is present a balanced view of the issue and give you a starting point to base your future decisions on.

So what’s high, and what’s low?  This is an area of some contention but generally

4 pCi/L (that’s picocuries per litre of air) is considered the “must act” theshold in the US and elsewhere.  Canada uses the “bequerels per cubic meter” measurement and considers 200 Bq/m3 to be the “must act” threshold.  This equates to about 5.4 pCi/L.  As you can see this is a higher number but there is some debate right now as to which one should be considered the standard.  As a reference, the naturally occurring outside levels are about .6 - .75 pCi/L.  If asked, I would say that if you are higher than 4pCi/L you should do something about it as lower levels are better.  If you choose to adopt the higher Canadian theshold, that is of course your decision.

The first step in evaluating radon is measurement.  Even houses side by side can have widely varying levels of Radon so the only way to really know the level in your home is to measure.  There are short term tests and long term tests and depending on your situation there are many approaches.  

While long term tests are typically more representative of the “true” radon level, sometimes its not possible to undertake a year long program of measuring.  In this case, you would use a short term test to give you a sample to see how your levels are at that point in time–think of it like taking a picture versus shooting a video.

If your levels are found to be high, you would then start a long term study to confirm that it wasn’t a momentary blip.  If the numbers still come back high you would then look at mitigation solutions to get those levels down.  If you have low levels you could either say “good enough” or take future short term samples at different times of the year.  Since there are so many factors that can influence radon levels it is hard to predict what level the radon concentrations would fluctuate to.

As far as measuring there are again, a number of ways to do it.  Generally, they are more or less considered equivalent in accuracy but vary in convenience.  Without getting into it too deeply, there are electronic methods and non-electronic methods.  The one benefit of the electronic is you can see the results as they are occurring.  Some machines can record the fluctuations and display these results graphically.  The down side is the machines are expensive and need constant power, which can make locating the test challenging.

The non-electronic methods involve placing charcoal or other type disks at various locations and at the end of the study, mail them off to a laboratory to be read.  As you can see the results aren’t as immediate and depend on getting to the lab in a timely fashion.  The most common complaint with tests purchased at the big box stores is that by the time they get your sample it has expired and you just wasted your time and money.

We elected to offer an electronic test so that homeowner can see the results as they develop.  Unfortunately Capstone Property Consultants Inc. is not in a position to offer long term testing, but we will certainly help you find such a study should your levels be found to be high.

Please be aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to radon gas and I encourage you to educate yourself as much as possible on the subject before committing any money to a radon monitoring or mitigation effort.

All articles are copyright of Capstone Property Consultants Inc.  and may not be distributed without crediting the source as courtesy of www.capstoneproperty.ca