I’m house hunting and heard that it’s important to check the radon levels in a home. How do I do that and what should I be looking out for?

I often discuss the importance of understanding your needs and wants when you buy a home. And I write about having a qualified inspector or contractor examine the home’s condition and its major systems before signing on the dotted line. I’m glad you’ve brought up radon, as it’s an important topic that hasn’t been covered in this column in the past. Plus, it’s something that isn’t included in a typical home inspection.

According to Health Canada, radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when the uranium in soil and rock breaks down. Like carbon monoxide, radon is odourless, tasteless and colourless. When radon is released from the ground into the air outdoors, it is diluted to the point of being harmless. However, in enclosed spaces, like homes, it can sometimes accumulate to high levels, which can become a health risk. Health Canada says radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada.

Radon can enter your home anywhere there’s an opening where the house contacts the soil, including cracks in foundation walls, gaps around service pipes, support posts, floor drains, and so forth. Basements and crawl spaces tend to have the highest levels of radon since they’re closest to the ground and typically have less ventilation.

Some amount of radon may be found in almost every home, but concentration levels will vary from one home to another, even if they are next to each other.

While Health Canada says radon may be more prevalent in some areas of the province than others, it expects only a small percentage of homes will have radon levels above the guidelines, and the only way to know the radon level in your home is to have it tested.

There are two options for testing a house for radon: hiring a radon measurement professional or purchasing a do-it-yourself radon test kit from a home improvement store.

If testing shows that the radon level in the home you’re interested in buying is above the Canadian guidelines, there are a few steps that can potentially reduce it:

    • Increase mechanical ventilation to allow for more frequent air exchange
    • Seal cracks and openings in foundation walls and floors, and around pipes and drains
    • Ventilate the basement by installing a small pump to draw the radon from below the concrete slab to the outside before it can enter your home

When house hunting, make your concerns known to your real estate professional.

For more information on radon and testing your home, visit the Health Canada website or email radon@hc-sc.gc.ca.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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