Why It's Important to Test Your Home for Radon
In late January, the BC Lung Association released results of Canada’s largest-ever community-wide home radon testing project, conducted in Castlegar and Prince George, two of B.C.’s radon hot spots. In more than half the Castlegar homes tested, and one-third in Prince George, radon concentrations exceeded Health Canada’s exposure guideline.
Radon is a radioactive gas formed by the natural decay of uranium in soil and rock. It can seep into buildings through foundation cracks and other openings. Without proper ventilation, radon concentrations in indoor air can reach dangerous levels.
You can’t see, smell or taste it, so it’s easy to ignore. But radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, responsible for 16 percent of lung cancer deaths in Canada. According to the BC Lung Association, a person exposed to high levels of radon has a one in 20 lifetime chance of developing lung cancer. Smokers face increased risks, with a one in three lifetime chance of developing lung cancer if they’re also exposed to high radon levels.
The good news is that in most cases it’s fairly easy to lower indoor radon concentrations. Certified professionals can help identify how radon is entering the building, seal cracks and install specialized venting. This typically costs between $500 and $3,000. (A number of organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, have recommended a tax credit to make radon mitigation more affordable).
As BC Lung Association CEO Scott McDonald said recently, “The problem is too few British Columbians know what radon is, where it comes from and how to fix a problem in your home if you have one.”
I’m one of the many British Columbians—and Canadians—who hadn’t thought about testing radon levels in my house. But it’s never too late and I’m starting a test now! I’ll keep you posted.
There are two ways to test indoor radon concentrations. You can buy a one-time test kit for $25 to $30 from many hardware stores or businesses specializing in radon detection and mitigation, or online from the BC Lung Association. It comes with instructions on how to send the detector to a laboratory for analysis. The lab will calculate your average radon concentration. Some certified radon professionals also sell electronic continuous radon monitors, which show weekly and monthly average concentrations on a digital display.
Indoor radon levels can vary wildly from day to day or even hour to hour, as well as seasonally. Concentrations are generally higher in winter and at night, when windows and doors are closed. Health Canada recommends running a radon test over a minimum of three months, during fall or winter. The average concentration detected over a three-month test can be used to determine if a home’s radon concentration exceeds the Canadian guideline level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre. (A becquerel, or Bq, is a standard measure of radioactivity named after French physicist Henri Becquerel).
While some areas, like Castlegar and Prince George, are prone to high concentrations of indoor radon, Health Canada emphasizes that no areas of the country are radon-free. A 2012 Health Canada study indicates that 6.9 percent of Canadians live in homes with radon levels above the guideline but, “The only way to know if a home has an elevated level of radon is to test, regardless of location.” Carcinogen research project Carex Canada has an online map illustrating the percentage of home radon measurements across Canada above the Health Canada guideline.
Even if your home tests below Health Canada’s guideline level, you might want to explore mitigation options. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a lower guideline of 148 Bq/m3 and the World Health Organization recommends 100 Bq/m3. There is no safe level of radon exposure, and the risk of lung cancer increases by 16 per ent for every 100 Bq/m3 increase in lifetime average radon concentration.
If you’re like me and have put off taking action on radon, start with a test. If the test shows you need to mitigate, find a certified radon professional near you.
Governments should also test radon levels in public buildings, like schools and hospitals, as recommended in the David Suzuki Foundation’s 2007 report, Radon: The Unfamiliar Killer.
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By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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