A Supplement to Recent Findings on Radon
By Corey McCloskey, Customer Response Team
If you were anywhere near local television, print, or online news media over the last month, you may have come across to a story on a published University of Calgary study on the prevalence of radon gas in Calgary and area homes, which produced some alarming results. If this was your first exposure to the world of radon gas (no pun intended), you might have fallen off your chair and immediately headed out to your nearest hardware store to pick up a test kit!
If you weren’t watching the news at dinner and you’ve never heard about radon gas, I’ve probably elicited some concern, and rightfully so. For the uninitiated, radon gas is a radioactive by-product of the natural decay of uranium, which is naturally contained within the rock and soil. This isn’t isolated to Calgary, or Alberta, or even Canada; it’s a function of the earth which portions of our civilization built on. Radon gas is carcinogenic, and is considered by Health Canada as the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country, behind only smoking. It is estimated that 16% of annual lung cancer deaths in Canada are attributable to radon exposure.
Make no mistake, this is a significant issue which affects many Canadians, and should not be taken lightly. I have no quarrel with the findings, and I have no interest in minimizing the importance of this topic; depending where you get your news, however, a couple of articles include quotes from the researchers, which specifically identifies new homes as an additional risk factor. Again, I have no issue with the rationale cited, but the way the articles were written paints an incomplete picture of how your Cedarglen home is affected, and I take exception to a couple of points.
While the researchers generalize about the size and configuration of new homes, compared to back in the day, it’s true that larger foundation footprints are exposed to a greater area of sub-soil off gassing, and taller homes increase the stack effect occurring within your home. The articles I’m referring to include footnotes which also reference tighter construction; my first beef is with this point: this isn’t a footnote, this is a major contributing factor to the accumulation of radon gas within your home.
I can’t and won’t speak on behalf of the new home construction industry on the whole, but Cedarglen has been acutely aware of the importance of managing interior air quality for a long time. The hyperlink above takes you to a previous blog, which is a Coles Notes version of the evolution of the building envelope, and the importance an HRV plays in managing air quality and air balance in your home. Radon is the flavour of the week, but indoor air quality is also affected by:
- Humidity. When not managed correctly, can result in condensation-related water damage to your home, and encourage mold growth.
- Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Both naturally occurring and artificial VOCs can have detrimental effects on respiratory health, depending on the type and concentration present.
- Odors. Be it cooking, cleaning, or a smelly teenage boy, poorly managed ventilation in a tightly constructed home will result in lingering smells. Usually not harmful, unless it’s an open hockey bag after a practice, which may result in singed nose hairs and watering eyes!
Warning: my caps lock is about to stick. AN HRV IS NOT AN APPROVED RADON CONTROL DEVICE. I bring this up as complementary information to accompany the quotes included in these articles, which emphasize the importance of interior air balancing, and the HRV is an effective tool in the management of your interior climate and air quality. Cedarglen has been installing HRVs in our homes for the better part of a decade.
My primary issue with this story, however, is a completely omitted tidbit of information, which is materially critical when referencing new homes in relation to radon gas: it is, and has been since November of 2015, a code requirement to include a rough-in for the exclusive purpose of venting radon gas to the exterior of your home. By neglecting to mention this important detail, a disservice has been done to those, both within the industry as well as various government agencies, who have been working on this issue for years.
This inclusion in the 2014 edition of the ABC requires builders to provide a vapour barrier between the soil under your home and the concrete slab, and sealing both the perimeter and any penetrations, such as access covers poured in-slab or sump pits, in the continuity of the vapour barrier. The biggest change, however, is the inclusion of a radon vent pipe, which is installed below the slab, and is terminated and labelled in your mechanical room. When completed with an appropriate radon fan kit, these gases are mechanically assisted to the exterior, where the gas is diluted in open air, and no longer poses a threat to your health.
This is an important topic for Calgarians, and should absolutely be taken seriously by each and every one of us; if the study findings or my blog has caught you off-guard, the lack of exposure this topic has received will be very evident. My objective isn’t to rip anyone doing their job as a journalist, but if a quote is included in an article which specifically mentions new homes as an added risk to your long-term well-being, you and your family deserve to know the whole story.
Have a great weekend,