Its national radon month here in the great white north. They estimate 21, 100 Canadians will die of lung cancer this year, 3000 of those because of Radon. Have you gone and bought your Radon monitor yet?

You, yes you, need one if you have a basement or ground floor to your house. If you live in the clouds, ignore this PSA 🙂

Yes I know you checked 8 years ago once when you had the home inspection. No that is not relevant, you need to check constantly. Yes I know you borrowed a friends meter last month, no that is not relevant, you need to check constantly, it varies day by day.

Do you really want to be that person coughing up what’s left of their lungs in a few years? No? Get off your but and click the link, go to best buy, whatever.

I recommend the Airthings Wave, but I suppose there are others. I wouldn’t get the charcoal ones (who’s going to send that in the mail? really?).

When I was much younger, a friends dad was the local OPP constable. The area I grew up in houses were many km apart. There’s a photo to the right, somehow through the magic of 110-camera stuck winding, a double exposure showing both out the front and back of our house at the same time! (I don’t have a lot of photos from when I was young, and none of them are particularly ansel adams-quality). As a consequence of distance, everything involved driving.

There came a time when it was high school graduation for my friends older brother, and I was surprised that his dad (the cop) (and a few other parents) were hosting an after party at their farm where they would supply alcohol. The rationale was “Those kids are going to drink anyway, it may as well happen where they won’t drive afterwards and with some outer-boundaries of safety”.

Now, I wonder if this pragmatic approach “bad things will happen, rather than try and prevent them, attract and contain” could apply to network security (oh you thought this would be about Radon again? sorry!)

You see, there are some hugely risky behaviours out there today. One of them is the use of containers and their upstream repo’s without much thought. For example, Docker, its common to use things from the Docker Hub without giving them a thought. But are they up to date? Are they free of purposeful malware? This paper says no. So ultimately you are relying on the (thin) walls of the container to prevent the badness from leaking out. And, in a world of Spectre, this could be not as great as you think.

However, thin walls of a container do nothing for networking, and that container you did a pull on, “docker pull evil”, can wander around your network, east<->west, attacking and surveilling your other virtual machines and containers. And this is because outbound firewalls are rare to configure, and inbound are 1-tuple port-only. Hmm.

So I wonder if we can take a page from a rural cop’s book and find some way to, instead of entreating people to be more careful with these powerful technologies and try to be perfect, simply accept that bad things will happen, and, create a strong sandbox for the slices or zones.

OK, I said I’d stop writing about Radon for a bit, but, well, I can’t help it. A few readers have written in with their screenshots, and I thought I would share them back out.

First, if you read no further, and you live in a house with a ground floor or basement, and you don’t have a Radon meter. Get one. Get this one. Yes its $250. Yes its cheaper than doing the charcoal test monthly (pays back in the year). yes its cheaper than  the funeral cost of you dying from lung cancer.

First, is there such a thing as a Radon season? Yes, there is a bit, since it travels with groundwater. See that guy on the right? He’s out and about in my backyard today (no longer just feral cats!), which means spring is here (despite what he said on February 2nd).

And with spring comes melt, and with melt comes underground water. And with underground water comes Radon.

Lets examine how the ‘invisible gas of death’ gets in your house. Hey, a picture!


OK, as you can see, water is the main way its moving around. Got a sump? Put your Radon detector nearby. Got a part of the basement that’s a bit damp? Put it there!

If you are over 100Bq/m^3, start thinking about what you will do. If you are over 200Bq/m^3, get on it. If you are in Ontario, and your home is new, it may be covered by warranty, so get on that.  This meter is certified. It seems expensive @ $250, but the alternative is monthly tests w/ charcoal packages and it pays back within the year.

Now, lets look at how to read it. First off, the first couple of measurements are not that accurate, so don’t stop/start worrying in your first couple of hours.

Second, yes it goes up and down. The important thing is the average. You want the long term average to be somewhere below 100 (World-Health) or 200 (Canada) recommendation. See mine on the right? Sometimes its ~60, sometimes it’s ~35. Its related to weather, how much I move around in the basement, how often the furnace runs, etc.

Third, yes, put it in the worst spot. There is no sense putting it somewhere and saying “well, that spot has Radon, but this other spot doesn’t so i’ll leave it here”. Find the worst spot, understand the level, and then decide if that is worth worrying about.

Fourth, don’t over-stress. Its not an instant quick killer, it takes time and levels of exposure.

Fifth, Radon is hyper-local. If your neighbour is good, you might not be. And vice versa. It depends on factors that vary metre by metre, and foundation by foundation. So yes, lots of the world is in a high-risk Radon zone, but that doesn’t mean you are/are not.

Here’s another graph of a local reader. See how his is more consistent than mine? But still varying?

Other local readers are seeing 130 (warning), 250 (needs resolving), 1300 (needs quick resolving), 800 (needs quick resolving), etc. And its varying day by day.


Another reader has purchased the gadget and found an issue. If you still think “this couldn’t happen to me, my dank wet  basement is in a Radon-free zone, well, you are only right in the sense the Radon is free. Free to invade your lungs, cause lung cancer.

If you are still trying to convince your SO that yet another gadget can be in the budget, well… Just click this link and click “buy now with 1-click”. The peace of mind will be good. And then slap the 2 AA batteries in, pair it to your phone (or don’t), put it near your sump-hole in the basement (or the root cellar, or other low air-flow, damp area). Find the worst spot, measure. It only starts to get accurate after a day or so, so don’t fret right away. If your worst spot is good, stop worrying. If your worst spot is a bit bad, consider your mediation options (another inlet on your HRV, sealing paint, sealed cover for sump w/ exhaust fan, slab negative pressure, etc. A professional in your area can help with this).

One of my other friends found he had a problem on Monday, and had the mitigation finished on Tuesday. And it was not that expensive. Its a fan and a pipe, its not rocket surgery!

PS, if you live outside of The Great White North (Canada eh), just google “Airthings Wave”, you’ll find it on your local gadget repository, either online or brick+mortar.

Oh, and since I brought up The Great White North, well, here you go! Some of the greatest rocket surgeon’s ever to grace a TV (and now you can lookup how Canadian TV had less commercial time, so they needed ‘original Canadian content’ to fill it during SCTV simulcast). This might lead you to watch Strange Brew. I am not responsible. But the plot is strong (about possibly poisoning the beer during Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest).

Live somewhere? Does it have a ground floor or basement? Then you are at risk for Radon and thus lung cancer. And I recommend you buy the Airthings Wave to find out.

380 people died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning from 2000 to 2009 in Canada, about 38/year. And 3200 died from Radon last year. It kills 100x people as Carbon Monoxide. And CO metres are mandatory, but no one has heard of Radon. Get the news out, forward this blog link!

So I’ve been on a bit of a mission to educate people on Radon of late. If you are already sold on the risk, and just want to measure it, tl;dr: buy the Airthings Wave. But as part of my mission, I’ve run into a set of ‘myths’ that are just not right. And, as I explain to people and they buy the metre and measure, many are finding that they have this problem. So, here’s my PSA.

What is Radon? It is a radioactive gas that is heavier than air and sticks around in your basement.

Myth #1. I tested my house when I moved in.
Fact. Radon is seasonal, it flows with groundwater. So a melt-day in winter is different than the day before.
Fact. You might have a small crack that has formed in your foundation, in your parge-coat, or even in the rock your house is on, it changes over time.

Myth #2. I don’t live in a high-risk area
Fact. Your neighbour might have very low Radon, and you could be very high, its hyper-local. Also, check your local map, but nearly everywhere is at risk

Myth #3. I don’t smoke, or spend much time in my basement
Fact. Radon is the #2 cause of lung cancer in Ontario in non-smokers, and #1 in smokers. 3200 people in Canada die yearly from Radon. 16% of lung cancer deaths (and more of radical life-changing mediation) are caused by it.

Myth #4. I would need some complex industrial system to measure/mitigate, its too complex for me
Fact. Head to Amazon, buy this Airthings Wave. It integrates with your smartphone and gives you easy readings, but, it also works fully standalone. Its run on AA batteries (which are good for a year plus). If you have a problem, its likely just a bit more air circulation is enough anyway.

Myth #5. I don’t know anyone who has this problem, its just a scare tactic
Fact. I now have several readers of this blog who have purchased this item, and found they are over the recommended limit.

Now, you may have seen a map of your Country/County/City, something like the below. Yes, that is true of the average. But, its hyper-local (see myth #2 above). Just because Ontario is less risky than Manitoba, doesn’t mean Waterloo is, or the street I am on. Ontario is 1.6x larger than Texas, that is a big area to average when you are talking about measuring something that varies metre by metre.

So, why do I recommend the Airthings Wave? Well, its really the only one out there that is available that has some easy means of extracting the measurements over time. And over time matters. Its the average exposure that you care about, not the instantaneous. You don’t want the alternatives, the one w/ the LCD screen you check and write down and graph by hand. And the other alternative, the one with the charcoal kit you send away each month? For sure you won’t do that reliably.

But I also recommend it since I bought it, and it works. And it was dead simple.  Insert battery, done. I paired the app from my phone so I can see the pretty graphs, and every once in a while my phone pulls the last N days of values from it, but that’s about it.

Would it be cool if it were WiFi and I had a web page to share? Yes, but it works just great without it.

So, I promise you, if you figured out the technology to open this web page, you can easily buy and use this Radon metre. At best, it will be a bit of money spent that gets you peace of mind and nothing else. At the other end of the spectrum, it could increase you, your children, your pets life expectancy.

If you life in an apartment, well, spend the money on something else 🙂