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Radon - the basics

Radon is a natural gas found in soil and rocks. It has no colour, taste or smell. Levels vary from country to country, region to region and even from house to house in the same street. In open spaces, when radon mixes with air, it is quickly diluted into the atmosphere. But when air containing radon rises from the soil and rocks beneath your home it may find its way in – mainly through cracks in floors, walls and gaps around service pipes.

The health risks from radon

Health studies around the world have linked radon with lung cancer. Radon is the second largest cause of lung cancer – the first is smoking. People who are exposed to high levels of radon are more likely to get lung cancer, and the risk to smokers will be much higher than the risk to non-smokers. Households at risk from radon can easily take the simple and effective steps below, to make their home safe.

Reducing radon levels in buildings

In most cases the most effective way of reducing radon is to install an extract system known as a ‘radon sump’. The Building Research Establishment website shows some good examples of how radon can be reduced. Costs of installation vary but an average cost would be in the region of £500 to £800.

Radon protection in new dwellings

Since 1991 certain precautions have been required against radon for new buildings and extensions. The level of protection required is detailed in the Building Research Establishment Report BR211, the latest edition of which was published in February 2000.

Maps in BR211 are used to determine whether or not protection is required and if so, what level of protection is needed.

Two levels of protection are specified. Basic protection consists of a radon-proof barrier which has to be incorporated across the footprint of the building. Full protection requires a radon sump in addition to the radon barrier.

Your local council building control officer will be able to advise you about the level of protection required in your area.

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