Countless homeowners may be completely unaware that their area is affected by Radon gas. The first time that many people hear about Radon is if they are planning to buy or sell a home and it is located in a designated radon affected area.
This guide is intended to help you understand Radon gas and the potential risks it might have if you end up living in a designated radon affected area, sometimes known as a Radon gas postcode.
What is Radon Gas?
Radon gas is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which is colourless and odourless, therefore it cannot be detected without specialist Radon testing equipment. Radon gas is formed by the radioactive decay of the small amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils. As this element decays, Radon gas is formed, which then rises to the surface. It is always at safe levels outdoors, however, it can be at dangerously high levels in buildings, depending on the part of the country, and the type of ground the building is on. For instance, levels may be higher in parts of the country rich in granite, such as Dartmoor in Devon and Cornwall. Many parts of Sussex, such as Shoreham-by-Sea, Hove and Brighton, also have higher levels of Radon gas as properties are built into hillsides. These properties are automatically at higher risk of radon as there are extra surfaces in contact with the ground through which the gas can permeate into the building.
How can Radon gas affect your health?
If high levels of Radon gas are breathed in over a long period of time, this exposure can lead to damage to the sensitive cells of our lungs which increases the risk of lung cancer. Radon causes about 1,000 lung cancer deaths in the UK every year.
Property Searches Flagging Radon Gas
Property searches are one of the key parts of the conveyancing process. When buying a property, your solicitor will carry out property searches to find out more information about the property and, crucially, what the area around it also looks like. The main searches when purchasing a property are:
- Local authority search (LAS): This search is requested by your mortgage lender and applied for by a solicitor once you have made an offer on a property. It consists of several smaller search and requests information on any nearby contaminations, road schemes or planning works along with a number of other searches.
- Drainage and water search: This search will reveal exactly where all drainage systems are around a property and show if these are at risk of affecting the property in the future. The search will reveal if any planning restrictions are in place relating to drains.
- Environmental search: This search will cover you for any environmental issues within 500 metres of the property. An environmental search looks at everything from flood risk, Radon gas, to subsidence and is carried out by a company that maintains detailed information about previous land uses within the vicinity of a property.
Buying a House in a High-Risk Radon Area?
If the property search reports show that the property you looking to purchase is in a radon affected area, don’t panic! A large part of Great Britain is considered to be in a Radon gas-affected area but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be buying your house there. Just like you would be cautious if a structural report came back with some warning signs, if a Radon gas risk report comes back high it simply means that you have been made aware of any potential risks and which you should try to resolve before continuing any further.
It is recommended that you ask the vendor whether any Radon testing has been carried out within the property and if so, request to see a copy of the results report. If testing has not been carried out, it would be a sensible precaution to arrange for the property to be tested. Testing for radon is simple and inexpensive. It involves placing small Radon testing devices in the home for at least ten days. This will ensure that an accurate reading is gathered. Radon is measured in units called becquerels, and these are calculated per cubic metre. A level below 100 Bq/m³ is considered low risk, and the UK average is far below this at 20 Bq/m³.
If the results show that there are dangerous levels of radon in the property, there are actions you can take to lower them to within the safe limits. High levels of radon can be reduced by carrying out remedial works to the property. The two most common methods are either the installation of a positive pressure fan inside the property or the excavation of a small hole beneath the property (called a radon sump) that is connected to an exhaust pipe and fan on the outside of the building. Every property is individual and so the remediation system needs to be designed for that particular property and then cost by a specialist.