Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MIKE HOLMES: Is your house making you sick?

High amounts of radon, other toxins in homes can be health risks

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Having a professional test the air in your home can detect the presence of harmful gasses and mould spores.

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Having a professional test the air in your home can detect the presence of harmful gasses and mould spores.

The air inside your home plays a huge role in the way you and the rest of your family feel on a day-to-day basis.

Most of us worry about the air quality outside. There are smog advisories, air-quality alerts, and it seems like every day I see something in the news about pollution or gas emissions.

But the air inside your home can be two to five times more polluted than the air outside. In some cases, it's 100 times worse!

We are constantly exposed to pollution, toxins, pesticides, gases -- even radon. Most of the time, these things get diluted into the air. But they can also find their way into our homes through tiny cracks in foundation walls and floors, through unfinished floors, windows, sumps, vents or gaps around pipes and drains.

The problem is that when these pollutants get into our homes and can't escape, they start to accumulate. In high concentrations, radon and other toxins can be big health risks.

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from uranium in the ground. Uranium is everywhere, and when uranium starts to break down it creates a gas. This gas is radon. The more uranium there is, the more radon there is. So chances are there are higher radon levels in areas where uranium is mined.

Health Canada says radon is linked to about 16 per cent of all lung-cancer deaths in Canada. That makes radon the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

But even minor symptoms such as headaches, feeling unusually tired, itching or burning eyes, irritated skin, nasal congestion, a dry throat or nausea could be due to your home's indoor air quality.

If you or anyone else in your home deals with these kinds of symptoms on a regular basis, the air inside your home might be making them sick.

Even the materials we use to build a house can lead to poor indoor air quality, such asVOCs (volatile organic compounds) in paint and kitchen cabinets, or the adhesives and glues in carpeting and flooring. Some granite countertops have been known to emit radon. It makes sense since granite comes from the ground, where there's also uranium.

The good news is that more home-inspection providers are starting to offer IAQ (indoor air quality (IAQ) and radon inspections.

They'll go through your entire house and ask you questions about your habits and lifestyle, just to get an idea of what's normal and what's not. They can also take an air sample, have it analyzed -- even get a mould-spore count -- and send you a report.

You can add a radon or IAQ inspection to a full home inspection, or you can get it as a separate service.

These types of inspections are becoming more important when it comes to making sure a home is safe and healthy.

Radon remediation can cost anywhere between $500 and $3,000. Sometimes installing a cap on sump pumps, boosting up the ventilation in your home with something like a heat-recovery ventilator (HRV), or sealing foundation cracks and around pipes and drains is enough. But other times, it's not.

The most effective way to get rid of radon is a process called sub slab depressurization. That's when a hole is drilled through the basement floor (concrete slab) and then a pipe is installed with a fan. This draws radon gas from the ground and expel it through a vent, usually in the roof.

If you need radon remediation, make sure you hire a contractor who has a lot of experience dealing with it -- someone certified by the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP).

When I uncover the mess I find behind walls, below floors and above ceilings I can see the problems. But what you don't see can put you and your family at risk. And when it comes to poor indoor air and radon, they only way to know for sure is to test for it.

Winter is the best time for testing because we keep our windows and doors shut, for the most part. This lets any toxins build up, which gives us a good reading on indoor-air quality and radon levels.

Now that the cold weather is approaching, make sure you can breathe easy in your home.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Catch Mike Holmes in an all-new season of Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca. For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2013 F3

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