Radon gas is found everywhere, but there are particularly high concentrations in parts of the West Country. Residential property specialist, Victoria Cranwell, explains the nature of the problem, how it’s rectified, and how we deal with Radon gas in the conveyancing process.
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Until it permeates its way into your consciousness during your house purchase, there’s a good chance you will never have heard of Radon gas.
What is radon gas?
Radon is a natural radioactive gas that comes from rocks and soil. It’s odourless, colourless and the only way its presence can be detected is with specialist equipment. It’s found everywhere but in varying levels of concentration around the country.
For most of us, it’s the primary source of our background radiation exposure. Outside, even in areas of higher concentration, Radon gas disperses quickly and levels are very low. But inside buildings, Radon levels can be much higher. According to Cancer Research UK, exposure to indoor Radon gas is linked to 4% of lung cancer cases. Hence the need for awareness and, occasionally, remedial action.
However, even if your chosen property is located in an area of higher levels of Radon gas, in most cases, the levels of indoor radon will be well within acceptable limits. Levels in a particular property are influenced by a number of factors, including the underlying geology, its construction, and even the current occupants’ habits in terms of heating and ventilation. Properties with basements or cellars, or those built into a hillside, are always at a higher risk of Radon as there are extra surfaces in contact with the ground through which the gas can permeate into the building.
The Environmental Search obtained by your conveyancing solicitor will confirm whether the property is in a high, intermediate or low-risk area for Radon gas, and the percentage of properties affected in that area. If the search highlights a risk, it’s advisable to test the level of Radon.
The most reliable tests for Radon are carried out over a period of three months. This allows for seasonal variations in levels and therefore provides a more accurate indication of long term exposure. Detectors are usually placed in the living room and a bedroom, as these are the rooms that occupants most often use. Of course, it’s unlikely that others in the chain, particularly your seller, will be happy at the prospect of a three month delay! It’s possible, though, to carry out a short term screening test. This works in exactly the same way as the three month test, but the detectors are left in place for only around ten days.
If high levels of Radon are detected in the property, remedial action is recommended. These works usually focus on improving ventilation to aid the dispersal of the gas, but sometimes work is necessary to reduce the volume of gas entering the building in the first place.
Radon gas levels by postcode
Public Health England has published an interactive map of the UK showing where higher Radon gas levels are more likely. But it’s important to remember that these are only estimated and, as highlighted above, have no real bearing on the specific property you are looking to purchase.