Exposure to radon gas is a real health risk. James Kane of Airtech Solutions explains how landlords and housing providers can protect residents.
Since the introduction of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, landlords are more aware of the importance of ventilation to keep condensation and mould at bay and improve indoor air quality to protect residents’ health.
However, perhaps less discussed is radon, which is listed as a hazard under the Act too and also affects indoor air quality – causing more deaths a year than carbon monoxide.
Under the Homes Act 2018, properties are assessed on a range of criteria, and they will be deemed unfit for habitation if there are serious defects in one or more of them. Radon falls under the category ‘Hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System,’ and so it’s essential that Local Authorities and private landlords alike ensure residents are protected from this potentially hazardous gas.
So, what is radon? It’s a naturally occurring colourless, odourless radioactive gas that occurs through the presence of uranium in most rocks, soils, bricks and concrete. Usually, radon is naturally dispersed into the atmosphere, however, warm air in houses draws the gas in through floors and cracks and, in this confined space, the gas can build up to unacceptable levels and become potentially harmful. Once inhaled, these products can attach themselves to lungs and airways, particularly affecting asthma sufferers and smokers, and increases the risk of lung cancer. It’s estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 deaths each year are caused by exposure to the gas.
The amount of radon gas released varies greatly depending on region, and is more likely to be found in areas where the geology features concentrations of granite and limestone. Interactive maps, such as the one published by Public Health England, show where radon levels are higher, with Wales and the South-West of England particularly affected. Buildings in these areas need to be tested for radon and, if discovered, high levels can be reduced with simple measures. And, since landlords have a responsibility to their residents under the Homes Act to provide a safe home, radon is a major consideration for social housing providers.
So, what can landlords do to meet their duty of care? Put simply, they need to check, measure and take action.
Check for radon
Housing providers should test housing stock for radon through an efficiently organised programme which ensures all required properties are tested within an appropriate time scale. To ensure accurate testing, test pods should be left in properties for a three-month period so a representative sample of radon readings can be collected, as the level of radon in a property varies over time – by day and month.
It is recommended that testing is conducted using two small unobtrusive radon detector pods placed in the most widely used rooms, usually the bedroom and lounge. To achieve the best outcome, it is worth using a radon expert to place and collect the pods since this results in a very high return rate, helping to ensure robust data.
Measure radon levels
Once the pods are collected, they are then analysed to determine the radon level in the property, expressed in Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3).
The average level in the UK is around 20 Bq/m3, and if a home is above 200Bq/m3 then remediation measures should be taken.
When it comes to tackling radon the type of remediation measures will vary by location and level detected.
For low levels of radon, it can be as simple as improving ventilation in the home coupled with sealing cracks in walls and floors.
Where higher levels are detected, Positive Input Ventilation (PIV) systems are a proven and effective way of significantly reducing radon gas levels. PIV forces contaminated air out of a home by introducing fresh air into the property. Located in the loft, PIV systems draw fresh air into the loft cavity where it is filtered via high grade ISO 45 per cent Coarse (G4 grade) or ISO ePM2.5 70 per cent (F7 grade) filters and warmed before being slowly added into the habitable areas of the house.
In properties with very high levels of radon an active radon sump may be necessary, fitted with a fan. Sumps work effectively under solid floors, and under suspended floors if the ground is covered with concrete or a membrane, drawing the gas out of the building and venting it to the atmosphere through pipes.
Once installed, it’s important the equipment is serviced to ensure they remain in good working order to maintain maximum efficiency and keep radon at safe levels. This will also help stop the build-up of grease and dirt damaging the systems and avoid future breakdowns.
Social housing providers in radon risk areas can gain peace of mind that they are meeting their duty of care to residents by working with experienced companies that can offer a complete solution to radon reduction. From testing, through to installing solutions and on-going maintenance, radon can be effectively tackled to keep residents safe.
James Kane is sales director at Airtech Solutions