Before you seal your home this winter, maybe test for radon gas | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Before you seal your home this winter, maybe test for radon gas

Venting radon from new homes is required in the Thompson and Okanagan but retrofitting older homes to prevent the buildup of the cancer causing gas costs an average of $2,500 to $3,000.
Image Credit: Submitted/Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists
November 19, 2019 - 6:00 AM

As people seal up their houses against the winter cold, they may be unwittingly be exposing themselves to a hidden danger, specific to the B.C. Interior.

Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that is released from the natural breakdown of uranium. It can seep in from the ground through cracks the foundation and without a way to escape, it can build up inside a home. 

According to HealthLinkBC, it's the leading cause of lung cancer cases in non-smokers.

That’s why a group in Summerland jumped at the chance to participate in a Take Action on Radon campaign that will see 100 free test kits handed to residents tomorrow night and why a more coordinated Central Okanagan effort is expected next year.

“The interior of British Columbia has more elevated radon levels than the two highest provinces in Canada: New Brunswick and Manitoba,” Laura McCarron, a member of the Summerland Healthy Community Initiative, said in a news release. That’s the group that invited the 100 Test Kit Challenge to Summerland.

Concern about radon dates back at least to the 1990s, Pam Warkentin, project manager for Take Action on Radon, told

Extensive testing was done in areas where there were uranium deposits, initially out of fear for the safety of mine workers.

There are uranium deposits in the Beaverdell area west of Kelowna but the province banned mining in 2008.

That's the same year Health Canada launched the current radon awareness campaign that is going to Summerland tomorrow.

Radon considered harmless if released in the air because it is diluted. But it can build up inside houses and create the cancer risk. It usually enters buildings through foundation cracks, construction joints, gaps around service pipes, floor drains and window casements.

In the summer, windows tend to be open more so the air flow can reduce risk but as homes are sealed up during the winter, the gas can build up, Warkentin said.

And, as new building code standards make new homes more airtight, the risk of trapping radon increases, she added.

While the free test kits may be helpful for Summerland residents, others can buy their own for $30 to $50. They’re not all that easy to find in retail outlets but can be ordered on-line through the Take Acton on Radon website, here.

The testers should be in place for at least 90-100 days, preferably in the winter months, then are mailed to a lab for testing.

High levels means remedial actions should be taken.

“A radon mitigation system removes the gas from beneath the house and vents it outside.” Warkentin said. “We add a fan to the piping system and it reverses the pressure so, instead, it comes in and goes out through that piping system.”

That’s not cheap. It may mean putting a pipe into the “sub-slab” of a home, usually drilling through the concrete foundation. Average costs are about $2,500 to $3,000.

In B.C., the building code requires most cities – including those in the Thompson and Okanagan - to install radon venting pipes (without fans) in new homes.

The Summerland event is Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Summerland Arena Banquet Room. Pre-register here or phone Laura McCarron at 250-404-4031.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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