Healthy Retrofits

What are my rights as a tenant to have high radon levels corrected?

If you are a tenant, you can ask you landlord if a radon test has been done. If not, ask him/her to pay for a test kit. If they refuse, you will have to purchase one on your own. Be sure that you or the landlord purchases a kit that is approved by the Canadian National Radon Proficiency (CNRP) Program. Also, test results must be sent to a certified lab.  The price of most test kits includes the cost to analyze the results. Details on the label of the test kit should provide information about the CNRP-program and whether results go to a CNRP-certified lab. For example, the test kit information on the Take Action on Radon website will be reliable. 

Keep copies of test results as well as copies of receipts for test kits or test results. Keep written records of conversations with your landlord and ask your landlord for a copy of the test result. In Ontario, as a tenant you have the legal right to a dwelling that is in good repair. If your radon test shows a level above Health Canada’s guideline, ask your landlord to correct the problem by following Health Canada’s recommendations. Details are available in the publication entitled Reducing Radon Levels in Existing Homes: A Canadian Guide for Professional Contractors, available through Health Canada’s website.

If your radon test shows a level above 200 becquerels per cubic metre of air and your landlord refuses to correct the problem, we suggest you contact your local public health department to see if they can assist. Ask for an inspector to investigate the situation. If the matter remains unresolved, seek legal advice. In Ontario, you can contact a local legal aid clinic or the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario or at 1-866-245-4182. The Residential Tenancies Act does not address radon directly. However, it does require that landlords keep residential units safe and in good repair.

Last updated June 2017

My radon test shows a high level. What should I do?

Corrective steps are often simple and include increasing ventilation and sealing up the building foundation where there are cracks or openings for pipes or windows. More extensive work can include active sub-slab depressurization, typically performed by a certified radon mitigator.

Helpful video’s on the Health Canada website provide more information: Presence of Radon Gas in Your Home and Simple Steps for Reducing Your Exposure to Radon

Last updated June 2012

What is a safe level of radon exposure in the home?

Radon gas is naturally occurring and invisible. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and rock and it can get indoors through cracks and other openings in foundation walls. It is the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Health Canada has set a guideline for exposure to radon from indoor air. The limit is 200 becquerels per cubic metre of air.

Health Canada recommends that corrective action be taken when this limit is exceeded. The higher the radon level is above this limit, the sooner action should be taken. Health Canada recommends that for levels over 600, the work should be done in less than a year. For levels between 200 and 600, the work should be completed in less than two years.

Testing is simple and relatively inexpensive and should be done using a long-term (three months) test kit during winter months when doors and windows are closed. Radon levels should be tested in areas where people spend more than four hours of the day. Such areas include basement apartments, basement recreation rooms, but would not include basement areas used infrequently such as crawl spaces or laundry rooms. For more information, see Protect Yourself and Your Family, on the Health Canada website.  and our related FAQ: Should I be testing for radon levels in my home?

Last updated June 2012

What information is available for tenants facing renovations or energy retrofits?

As a tenant in Ontario, you have the legal right to a home that is in good repair. If your landlord is planning renovations or energy retrofits, that can be very welcome news! Your home can be made more comfortable and you will likely save on energy costs. But, not all landlords or contractors are aware of simple steps that should be taken to protect your family’s health.

If your building manager or landlord is planning energy efficiency upgrades or other renovations to your home, become involved. A good starting point is to give them a copy of the brochure Renovate Right: How to make sure your home repair or energy upgrade is child-healthy. The brochure is available on this website in English and six additional languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Punjabi, SpanishTagalog).

Some things to keep in mind/questions to ask:

Do you live in an older home?

  • If your home was built before 1990, and especially before 1978, the paint on walls, windows, door frames and other surfaces will contain lead, which is toxic to the brain of a developing fetus or child. If you are not sure about the age of the building, ask the landlord, neighbours, or the City Clerk’s Office of your municipality.

Is there any mould in the house/apartment?

Check the kitchen and bathrooms, basements, closets, or other areas where there may be moisture. Since energy efficiency measures seal up drafts, this work can make mould problems worse. Ask your landlord to address mould and ventilation issues as part of any renovation work. Mould problems must be addressed before energy efficiency work is are done to tighten up air flow and cut drafts.

Do you suspect any dangerous work practices?

  • If you suspect dangerous work practices, such as illegal asbestos removal, immediately call your local public health department. It might be too late if you wait until the work has been completed.

Tenants and landlords need to work together when renovations or energy retrofits are done. As a tenant you can take part in decisions to ensure your rental unit is renovated right to avoid health hazards. It’s your home. Be part of the process of getting the work done right.

Take part inthe work and the decision making:

  • Prepare your family, your living space, and your belongings for dust and dust control.
  • Follow the steps recommended in the Renovate Right brochure. Discuss these steps with your landlord to be sure they are done by any contractors working in your home.
  • Ask about ventilation. After a unit is tightened up for energy efficiency, it is important to get rid of excess moisture and bring in fresh air.
  • Ask about about renovations products to be used.

Protect your rights:

  • Keep written notes of any conversations you have with your landlord about the work.

For more information about your legal rights as a tenant, see the “Housing Law” resources at www.yourlegalrights.on.ca  or call the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario at 1-866-245-4182. ACTO also provides useful FAQs for tenants on-line at: http://www.acto.ca/en/faqs.html

Energy Upgrade Programs for Low-Income Ontario Residents

Programs are available for tenants to obtain energy efficiency upgrades. Information about qualifying for these programs is available from the Ontario Energy Board. This OEB guidance on eligibility is the same as what the OEB uses for deciding on eligibility for the Low-Income Emergency Financial Assistance (LEAP) program.

A province-wide effort is rolling out during 2012 to provide energy efficiency upgrades for low-income people in Ontario, including tenants. But, delivery is occurring by LDC’s or Local Delivery Companies. Your LDC could be your gas utility or your local electrical utility.

The following list is not comprehensive but should be a good starting point to find out about local programs:

  • For electricity savings, check out the SaveOnEnergy Home Assistance Program. As of June 2012, this program is building but is not yet available across the province. Visit: https://saveonenergy.ca/homeassistance or call the Ontario Power Authority for information about local availability. 1-877-797-7534. See also, this useful FAQs page
  • Eligible upgrades are dependent on the type of home, hot water and heating system, as well as the inefficiency of existing appliances and lights. HAP upgrades are provided and installed at no cost to participants.
  • Typical upgrades include energy-saving light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, weather stripping doors and windows, ENERGY STAR appliances (i.e. air conditioner, freezer, dehumidifier, or refrigerator), as well as wall, attic, or basement insulation. GreenSaver has been contracted by many utilities across the province to administer the HAP program.
  • This $84 million program expires on December 31st, 2014 or until funds are depleted. To find out more, you can contact a GreenSaver HAP customer service representative at 1-855-591-0877,or HAP@greensaver.org or visit http://www.greensaver.org/programs/current-programs/home-assistance-program/
  • For Enbridge Gas customers, programs are being delivered by various local champions. For more information, learn about who can apply, and to obtain an application form, for the following regions visit:
  • GTA, York, Peel and Durham Regions – Green$aver website at www.greensaver.org  and select Special Programs tab or call 416-203-3106 (1-888-855-3106 toll-free)
  • Ottawa Area – EnviroCentre at www.envirocentre.ca or call 613-580-2582, ext. 4
  • Niagara Region – Green Venture at www.greenventure.ca or call 1-866-540-8866
  • Peterborough Area – Peterborough Green Up at www.greenup.on.ca  or call 1-705-745-3238, ext. 202
  • Simcoe County – Environment Network at www.environmentnetwork.org or call 1-866-377-0551
  • Social housing providers should contact GLOBE (Green Light on a Better Environment), a subsidiary of the Housing Services Corporation (HSC), at www.globeservices.ca  or call 1-877-733-7472
  • For Union Gas customers, check out their Free Energy Efficiency Upgrade Program

For more information on the above programs and other programs, visit the Energy Assistance page provided by the Low-Income Energy Network

Last updated June 2012

I need information about energy efficiency programs available to low income residents in Ontario

This answer is excerpted from our longer FAQ about information for tenants facing renovations or energy efficiency upgrades.

Energy Upgrade Programs for Low-Income Ontario Residents

Programs are available for tenants to obtain energy efficiency upgrades. Information about qualifying for these programs is available from the Ontario Energy Board. This OEB guidance on eligibility is the same as what the OEB uses for deciding on eligibility for the Low-Income Emergency Financial Assistance (LEAP) program.

A province-wide effort is rolling out during 2012 to provide energy efficiency upgrades for low-income people in Ontario, including tenants. But, delivery is occurring by LDC’s or Local Delivery Companies. Your LDC could be your gas utility or your local electrical utility.

The following list is not comprehensive but should be a good starting point to find out about local programs:

  • For electricity savings, check out the SaveOnEnergy Home Assistance Program. As of June 2012, this program is building but is not yet available across the province. Visit: https://saveonenergy.ca/homeassistance or call the Ontario Power Authority for information about local availability. 1-877-797-7534. See also, this useful FAQs page
  • Eligible upgrades are dependent on the type of home, hot water and heating system, as well as the inefficiency of existing appliances and lights. HAP upgrades are provided and installed at no cost to participants.
  • Typical upgrades include energy-saving light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, weather stripping doors and windows, ENERGY STAR appliances (i.e. air conditioner, freezer, dehumidifier, or refrigerator), as well as wall, attic, or basement insulation. GreenSaver has been contracted by many utilities across the province to administer the HAP program.
  • This $84 million program expires on December 31st, 2014 or until funds are depleted. To find out more, you can contact a GreenSaver HAP customer service representative at 1-855-591-0877,or HAP@greensaver.org or visit http://www.greensaver.org/programs/current-programs/home-assistance-program/
  • For Enbridge Gas customers, programs are being delivered by various local champions. For more information, learn about who can apply, and to obtain an application form, for the following regions visit:
  • GTA, York, Peel and Durham Regions – Green$aver website at www.greensaver.org and select Special Programs tab or call 416-203-3106 (1-888-855-3106 toll-free)
  • Ottawa Area – EnviroCentre at www.envirocentre.ca or call 613-580-2582, ext. 4
  • Niagara Region – Green Venture at www.greenventure.ca or call 1-866-540-8866
  • Peterborough Area – Peterborough Green Up at www.greenup.on.ca or call 1-705-745-3238, ext. 202
  • Simcoe County – Environment Network at www.environmentnetwork.org or call 1-866-377-0551
  • Social housing providers should contact GLOBE (Green Light on a Better Environment), a subsidiary of the Housing Services Corporation (HSC), at www.globeservices.ca or call 1-877-733-7472
  • For Union Gas customers, check out their Free Energy Efficiency Upgrade Program

For more information on the above programs and other programs, visit the Energy Assistance page provided by the Low-Income Energy Network

Watch Helpful Video from Enbridge


Last updated March 2014

What do you mean by "healthy retrofits"?

We mean making sure that home renovations or energy retrofits or upgrades don’t put your health and especially children’s health at risk. While home repairs or energy upgrades can make homes more comfortable, reduce energy bills, and help protect the environment, they can also be a source of toxic substances.

CELA is the lead partner in a project with the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment that has researched this issue (see our Healthy Retrofits report) and developed educational materials for families, tenants, contractors and do-it-yourselfers. Simple steps can be taken to make sure home upgrade projects are child healthy.

For lots more information, see the www.renovate-right.ca page on the CPCHE website.

Last updated June 2012

I know so much more about toxic substances and health risks now than I did when I was pregnant. My child may have been exposed to some contaminants when we did some home repairs. What can I do?

Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns. If your child is not meeting the expected milestones in development for motor skills, speech, or social behaviour, or has low energy, then your doctor can discuss options with you. For example, tests can show lead levels and then detoxification treatments can be helpful, if needed. Some examples of developmental milestones include the following. By 18 months of age, your child should be able to:

  • Point to several body parts when asked.
  • Point to a picture using one finger.
  • Use at least 20 words consistently.
  • Demonstrate some pretend play with toys.
  • Enjoy being read to and sharing simple books with you.
  • Respond with words or gestures to simple questions.
  • Show affection for people, pets, or toys.
  • Walk on their own.

If you do not have a family doctor, or even if you do, your local public health department may have services available for you. For example, in Toronto if you have concerns about your child's speech and language development at any age from 0-4 years, call Toronto Preschool Speech and Language Services: 416-338-8255 (www.tpsls.on.ca) or if you have questions about your child's overall development, call Toronto Health Connection: 416-338-7600 (services are free and assistance is available in different languages).

Have a look around your home to see if there might be any contaminants remaining from the renovation work. For example, if you still have carpeting that was in place when renovations were done, consider replacing it with hard flooring. See related FAQ about product choices.

If recent renovations did not control for dust, do a thorough cleaning now following our dustbusting recommendations. Simple steps make a big difference: make sure your child washes his or her hands often, especially before eating.

For more information visit the www.renovate-right.ca and www.bustthatdust.ca pages on the CPCHE website.

Last updated June 2012

I want to put new insulation in my attic. I think there might be asbestos in the old insulation that is there. What should I do?

If you think there might be asbestos in your home, do not try to remove it yourself. You need professional help from people trained to handle this product safely. Look up “Asbestos Abatement and Removal” on-line or in the phone book.

Asbestos is a fibrous, durable, and heat-resistant mineral that was widely used in building products until the early 1980s. It was also a contaminant in vermiculite insulation until the early 1990s.

As a result, asbestos-containing products may be in Canadian homes built or renovated between the 1930s and the early 1980s. These products included ceiling tiles, vinyl flooring, textured paints, exterior fireproof shingles and siding, and wrapping or taping on stoves, furnaces, heating ducts and pipes. Asbestos fibres are also found in vermiculite insulation manufactured until 1990.

Asbestos is a carcinogen linked to lung cancer and other diseases. No safe level of asbestos has been established.

For more information see our series of FAQs on asbestos for a more detailed perspective from CELA on this issue.

Last updated June 2012

What are the safest products to use when I am repairing or renovating my home?

There is a growing demand for lower-risk or no-risk building materials as well as those that are “green” and “energy efficient.” However, many factors come into play in making such choices such as the source materials, energy inputs during manufacture, the potential for release of toxic substances during and after installation, among many others.

Guides and rating systems are being developed and can be found on-line. One example is The Pharos Project (www.pharosproject.net) that screens and ranks materials according to their impacts. It excludes building products from its approved list if they contain certain toxic substances.

During routine renovation and retrofit projects there can sometimes be no alternative to using products that contain toxic substances such as solvents or caulking that have strong odours. For containers with hazard symbols and warnings be sure to read the labels and carefully follow use and disposal instructions.

Some general guidelines when you are thinking about products to use in your home renovations and repairs: 

  • Choose hard flooring instead of carpeting. Hard flooring, such as wood, linoleum, vinyl, laminate, or tile, is easier to clean and to keep dust-free. 
  • Choose factory-finished wood instead of wood that has to be finished after it is installed in your home to reduce the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
  • Choose low VOC or VOC-free paints.
  • Compare products and seek those with the least hazard symbols or no hazard symbols at all. Products marked with the symbol for “corrosive” and the symbol for “poison” are the most likely to release toxic fumes when used.

Whatever products you choose to use, always seal containers well and keep them in a locked cupboard out of the reach of children. And read the label instructions every time you use or re-use the product.

Last updated June 2012

We are planning some renovations in our home. How can I find a contractor who will take seriously the need to prevent renovation dust from getting into my home?

You are right to be thinking about this. Ask potential contractors how they plan to manage the dust and fumes created during the work. You can include in the contract the measures that the contractor plans to use so that everyone is clear on your expectations.

You may also want to ask them to consult the www.renovate-right.ca website to get more information. For starters, they can obtain CPCHE's Renovate Right brochure (available in six languages).

Last updated June 2012

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