Manoeuvring through the unknown territory of radon gas and radon testing can be daunting and it’s sometimes difficult to know the facts from the opinions and the risks from the scaremongering.
We’ve put together a list of answers to some of the questions we are frequently asked about radon. If you have another question or can’t find the information you need, please contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss your query.
What Is Radon Gas?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas caused by the natural decay of minute amounts of uranium that is present in all rocks and soils underneath us. In the UK, it is measured in becquerels per cubic metre of air (Bq/m3) and the levels are present to varying degrees throughout the whole of the UK.
Radon is undetectable without special testing: it is colourless, odourless and tasteless so the only way to be sure of radon levels within a property is through monitoring using a radon detector.
How Do Radon Levels Vary?
Radon levels vary both over time and geographically.
Over Time: Radon levels vary from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season. The variation is caused by a wide number of factors, including changes in temperature, soil gas pressure, and ventilation, for example, opening windows and doors.
Radon levels increase when the air pressure within the property is lower than the pressure within the soil as this causes a ‘suction’ effect that draws more gas from the soil into the building.
Geographically: The HPA (now part of Public Health England) and BGS came together to create the radon map of Britain using geological information and data from radon tests previously carried out.
This map acts as an indicator of the areas of the country where dangerous radon levels are most likely to be found but it is only a prediction and the only way to be sure your home is safe is to test.
Does the Radon Map tell me how much Radon is in my House?
Maps are available showing which areas of the country are predicted to have more properties affected by elevated levels of radon. The maps are based on historic test result data held by Public Health England and geological information from the British Geological Survey.
You can look up the affected area status for any postcode by visiting www.ukradon.org. The darker the colour, the greater the estimated probability of the property containing over 200 Bq/m3 of radon. The colours do not relate to the expected concentration of radon (e.g. dark brown does not mean you will have 1000 Bq/m3), rather the percentage likelihood (1-3% risk, 5% risk, 30%+ risk etc).
Radon can affect any building anywhere in the country and the map is only a guide; we have tested properties in white areas of the map (less than 1% risk) and found high levels.
What Health Risks Are Associated With Radon?
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the UK after smoking. It is linked with over 2000 lung cancer deaths in the UK every single year. If you smoke and are frequently exposed to high levels of radon your risk of contracting the disease is especially high.
There is no short term ill effects associated with living in a radon affected property and the beginning of exposure and the onset of disease can take years. As there are no warning signs, testing for radon is the only way to get conclusive proof of levels and ensure that you are not exposed to dangerous radon levels before it is too late.
I get headaches – could it be because of radon?
No. Radon exposure has only been linked to lung cancer. Radon affects the lungs as it is radioactive and can be inhaled – it does not enter the body in other ways.
The conditions that are conducive to a build up of radon gas can also mean the property suffers from poor indoor air quality and high relative humidity.
Poor indoor air quality can exacerbate health complaints such as headaches and asthma, therefore it is worth considering whether improvements can be made to your overall quality of air.
What Is The Radon Action Level?
If the level of radon is 200 Bq/m3 or higher the government recommends reduction methods be implemented. The action level refers to the annual average concentration of radon in the home; usually radon tests are carried out using two detectors, one on the ground floor and one on the first, which are left in place for 3 months so information on fluctuating levels can be gathered.
Short term screening tests lasting from 10 days upwards can give an indication of radon levels and are useful during property transactions.
What Is The Radon Target Level?
Whilst the government recommend that radon remediation work is undertaken in all properties where the level of radon is 200 Bq/m3 or higher, the Health Protection Agency also recommends that homeowners with radon levels of 100 Bq/m3 or more “strongly consider taking action”. This is known as the Target Level and is also the level below which any remedial work should aim to reduce radon concentrations too.
Here at PropertECO, we supply both short and long term radon testing kits so you can be certain of your property’s radon levels. We also provide solutions for bringing radon levels down if your property is affected.
Can I test a building site / plot of land / partially built property?
No. There will always be some radon in the ground so sampling of the ground is not appropriate; what matters is how much ends up in the finished building and that is influenced by all the pressure dynamics happening in the building and the soil and will not be known until the building is complete.
There is no point testing a partially built house (or one being refurbished with no doors/windows/roof on) as any radon entering will rapidly dissipate into the open air and the result will be meaningless.
Can new buildings be protected from radon?
New buildings in designated affected areas should incorporate radon protection under the Building Regulations. This will be a radon-proof barrier across the footprint of the site, and in some instances also a sump system.
We do not normally carry out this work. In order to work, the barrier has to be installed perfectly and have no defects; unfortunately the standard of materials used and installation means this is not always the case, so new buildings that have supposedly been protected from radon entry can still be affected by high levels.
There is currently no requirement to test a new building on completion, but this is always the best thing to do rather than just rely on the fact it should be protected.
Where does radon come from?
Radon has been present on earth for millions of years. This odourless, colourless radioactive gas is naturally occurring and occurs as a result of the breakdown of radioactive elements (for example uranium and thorium) that can be found in both soil and rocks.
Radon is not specific to any one geographical area and as such radon can be found in all parts,of the UK in various concentrations – no where can be classed as totally radon free. Radon makes its way to the surface and can enter buildings through minor cracks and other small faults in the foundation.
Is radon really dangerous?
There is no escaping the fact that exposure to radon gas can be dangerous. In small doses the effects of radon on the body are negligible and generally it is not a health issue. However, if exposed to persistently high levels of radon for longer periods of time it can cause damage to the lungs which in turn can increase the chances of lung cancer. Indeed, after smoking it is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the UK.
Is radon dangerous for my pets?
The short answer to that question is yes. Any pets living in a property where there is a high concentration of radon gas are at as much risk as humans of developing cancerous cells through breathing in radon.
Various testing has been carried out in the USA and France has been conducted for over 50 years examining the relationship between animals and the effect pollutants, such as radon, can have on their respiratory systems.
Do I need to move out of my house while remedial work is carried out?
Ordinarily the fitting of radon mitigation equipment within a property can be carried out whilst the house is occupied. Following guidance on working in properties following the out break of Corona Virus, we do ask that customers always remain over two metres away from us and where possible leave us to carry out our work on our own.
We do ask that customers do not come into the work area to minimise the risk. Our teams are supplied with appropriate sanitization products and are instructed to use these before, during and after entering any customer premises. Where appropriate, gloves, masks, overalls and respirators are also worn to protect both you and us.
Can I do an instant test for radon?
Although some organisations do offer “instant testing” these should be avoided in favour of testing over a longer period of time. There are various types of testing available from passive radon detectors through to digital radon monitors.
Passive radon detectors are left in a property for 3 months prior to analysis and give an accurate reading of radon levels over a prolonged period of time. Passive detectors can also be used for a 10 day period to give an indication of the radon levels in a property – this is useful if radon testing is needed as part of the home buying process.
Digital radon monitors do not require sending away for testing and display the readings on a screen. Once again it is recommended these are left in place for a minimum of 7 days.
Why does radon testing take so long?
Radon levels fluctuate as a result of changes in weather and temperature so testing over a longer period of time gives a far more accurate reading of radon levels in a property as opposed to just a quick snap shot. Passive detectors can also be used over a period of 10 days to provide an indication of radon levels in a property – this may be useful as part of the home buying process where a 3 month test kit is perhaps not a viable option.
For more information on radon gas and radon testing kits contact us today on 0800 046 6193 or get in touch online and a member of our team will be happy to help.