The property market is rife with complications and can at times be overwhelming, but it’s important not to overlook the details when purchasing a house. Checking details about the area a property is located in should always be a top priority as buying your dream house in a nightmare location is never recommended.
Buying a house is a very exciting process, especially for first time buyers, but it can also be quite a stressful and complicated process. Most people often don’t hear about the term radon until it comes to buying or selling a house. 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 ?
You can’t see, smell or taste it but radon is a radioactive gas and special equipment is required to detect it. It’s a gas which can be found everywhere but some parts of the country in particular are more likely to have higher exposure levels than other areas. Radon gas forms naturally from the rocks and soil found everywhere in the UK. The levels are very low in the air outside but can be higher inside buildings.
So what should you do if during your solicitor’s enquiries you find your potential new home is in a radon affected area?
1.Buying In A High-Risk Area ? Don’t Panic!
A large part of Great Britain is considered to be a ‘radon affected area’ but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be buying your house there. The radon map that is used to estimate which parts of the country are most likely to be affected by radon is only estimated and has no real bearing on the specific property you are looking to buy, so don’t panic and don’t pull out of the transaction.
Just like you would be cautious if a structural report came back with some warning signs, if a radon 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. High levels of radon gas are influenced by the underlying geology in the property area, as well as other factors including the way in which a building has been constructed and the habits of the occupants – heating and ventilation for example.
Is Radon Gas In My Area ?
The map in the image below is a useful guide which highlights areas where there is a higher probability of finding elevated radon levels in a building, The below map is only a reference point though, as high radon levels can be found in properties anywhere in the country.
2. What Is Radon Gas Testing ?
Radon testing is usually carried out over a period of three months to allow for seasonal variations in levels and is designed to determine your long term exposure. Tests are usually located in the living room area and bedroom, as these are the rooms which are often used the most by occupants.
It is possible that the current home owners and their solicitor are aware of the radon risk in the area and have already carried out tests to check the property’s radon levels.
If no previous testing has been carried out, it is possible to carry out a short term screening test, which works exactly the same as the three month test but the detectors are only left in place for 10 days before being returned to a laboratory for analysis. The results from this test will give you a ‘snapshot’ of the current radon level and provide a good indication as to whether any further work will be necessary.
Alternatively, you may prefer to carry out a full three month test yourself.
The Radon Bond
In order that radon testing doesn’t hold up property transactions the solicitors on both sides can agree a ‘radon bond’ wherein a sum of money from the purchase price, agreed upon by both parties, is retained by the solicitor for a set period of time whilst testing is carried out. An official radon bond occurs when both parties sign a contract that outlines how the bond will work.
In order for the radon bond to work, it must support and be fair for both parties and therefore reflect reasonable costs which will be enough to cover the costs of any remediation work required. In line with the advice from the UK Radon Association, we recommend that a sum of £2500 is appropriate in most instances, and that the time limit for using this is six months from completion. This allows plenty time for a three month test to be completed, results processed and if necessary quotations for work obtained.Where testing levels come back low and no further action is required, the bond money is released to the seller. If high levels of gas is detected and radon remediation work is required as a result, it is paid for from this sum with any leftover balance being released to the vendor once the works are complete
What is a safe radon level ?
Exposure to radiation, including radon, affects people differently, so there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ radon level, however the lower your exposure the lower the risk of developing lung cancer.
The average UK home has radon levels of 20 Bq/m3 (Becquerels per cubic metre of air) whereas the average background level outside is 4 Bq/m3
If the radon levels are below 100 Bq/m3 (target level) there is no cause for concern as this is below the level at which action is recommended to reduce radon concentrations. If, however, the radon test report shows radon levels in excess of 100 Bq/m3 work should be done to the property to bring the radon concentration down to below the ‘target level’.
Radon remediation work is carried out to reduce radon gas levels as low as possible, and there are a few different methods which can be used to reduce high levels. The two main remediation techniques available for lowering your radon levels are installing a radon sump or introducing a positive pressure system. Neither of these are disruptive (both can normally be completed within a day)but they can be very effective. The most appropriate method depends not only on the radon concentration but also on the design, layout, size and construction of the property. More information on radon remediation can be found here.
Remember! If an area is designated as a radon hot spot it doesn’t automatically mean that the living conditions are unsafe; a radon check is the only way to be sure of the accurate radon levels within a property so you can then take any necessary further steps.