Mediaplanet Is there a way to measure radon levels in an existing home? 

Mike Holmes Absolutely. There’s short-term testing, typically between three to seven days. Then there’s long-term testing. That’s a minimum of three months. And there are a few ways to measure radon, for both short and long-term testing.

MP How about for someone that is interested in buying a home?

MH Even short-term testing takes a few days,  so it’s not likely that a buyer could test a home. Not to mention that all the windows and doors must be kept shut during the entire testing period. That makes it less likely that the seller will agree to radon testing. You could make radon testing a condition to buy a house — it’s just not likely that a seller will agree to it. You might have a better chance if  the house is unoccupied. The good news is that if you bought a new house in Ontario and it has a radon problem, the New Home Warranty program covers the cost of remediation — and that’s for the full seven years of coverage.  So if you bought a new house, or will soon, get it tested!

"In fact, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers."

MP What is the most common way that radon seeps into a home? 

MH Radon comes from the ground — it’s in the soil. It actually comes from uranium,  and uranium is everywhere. When uranium starts to break down it creates a radioactive gas. That gas is radon.  So because it’s a gas it’s easy for radon to get into a house through cracks in the floor slab, the foundation, through the sump pump and drainage. Plus,  a house creates a natural air vacuum called a stack effect. That’s when the pressure inside is less than the pressure outside.  Add the fact that heat rises and this whole effect literally draws radon out of the ground and into your home.  Knowing exactly where it’s coming in is hard to say.  For example,  if a home gets its water from a well, that well water could contain radon. So that’s another way it could enter a home. 

IS YOUR HOME SAFE?: Known as Canada’s most trusted contractor, Holmes urges families be cautious and measure their radon levels. “Every house has some radon,” he states. “The question is how much.”

MP What kind of maintenance can help keep radon out? 

MH Every house has some radon — the question is how much. A radon problem usually has very little to do with maintenance. It could be due to construction. For example, new homes are typically more tightly sealed and can trap radon inside. Or maybe the soil used as back fill in the construction of the house contains radon. The fact is radon occurs naturally in the soil. It’s everywhere and levels are random throughout the country — even from house to house. Radon levels in one house could be off the charts, then you go next door and they’re really low. There’s no way to predict the levels in your house. The only way to know is by testing. That’s why it’s so important to get your home tested. Fortunately, remediation is a fairly simple process. It’s not that expensive either.  

MP In terms of measuring radon, how can you gauge a contractor’s credibility?

MH Only hire a radon measurement provider who’s been certified under the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP). In most cases, these pros are also home inspectors. You can find them on the C-NRPP website. Typically they will recommend long-term testing, which is a minimum of three months.

MP Are there any warning signs or symptoms that might indicate a high radon level? 

MH No. The symptom is lung cancer. In fact, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. And if you smoke and your house has high radon levels, your chances of developing lung cancer are 1 in 3. Radon is colourless, odourless, and tasteless, so there’s no way of knowing you have high levels other than testing for it. That’s why testing is so important. Get your home tested! 

MP Is radon more prevalent in basements than other parts of the home? 

MH That depends. Radon comes from the ground, so you’d expect levels to be higher in the lowest part of the home (i.e. the basement). But that’s not always the case. For example, if the water has radon, then after someone showers the bathroom will have the highest levels. And at certain times in the year, you have more stack effect. That can draw high levels of radon into other areas, besides the basement. Bottom line: a radon problem in a home affects the entire house and everyone in it. Test your home and make sure it’s safe!