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The next thing a perspective tenant should be aware of is the effect radon can have on their health. It is mainly our lungs that are exposed to and can be damaged by radon. Radon produces a radioactive dust which is left in the air and then inhaled. This dust can become caught in airways and release radiation that damages the lungs which in turn increases the risk of lung cancer. Radon causes approximately 1,100 deaths from lung cancer per year throughout the UK. The higher the radon levels in a property and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk (www.ukradon.org).
Before a perspective tenant agrees to sign for a property they should enquire if a 3 month radon test has been carried out. To get an accurate radon measurement two detectors should be placed in a property, one in the living room and one in an occupied bedroom, these rooms are recommended as they are the rooms of the property that are used the most and will therefore give an indication of the levels of radon an individual in the property would be exposed to. After 3 months detectors should be analysed by the appropriate organisation, for example UK Radon, and results then given to the homeowner/ landlord. Radon detectors are safe and easy to use. A clear piece of plastic inside the detectors shell monitors the damage caused by radon. The radon levels within a house can vary over time and from room to room. This is why the test is carried out over a 3 month period, to allow for variation levels (www.ukradon.org). As radon levels are measurable they are not considered to be a defect when selling or letting a property (Bokalders & Block, 2010). Upon testing a property if the result comes back well below the Government recommended action level of 200 Bq/m3 then no further action needs to be taken. However if the test shows a result close to this level then further action needs to be considered (www.bre.co.uk).
Ground radon is the most common form of radon gas in homes (Bokalders & Block, 2010). Therefore the aim of any remedial work is to reduce the radon levels entering the building. It is important to reassure any perspective tenants that radon levels within buildings can be reduced. Melville & Gordon 1997 state that there are 2 main ways in which radon can be prevented from entering a building. Firstly is by using passive methods which consist of creating airtight, substantially radon proof barriers across the whole of the building. The passive method is preferred for new construction. In existing buildings where it is hard to achieve the passive system other methods may need to be used. These are referred to as active systems, in using an active method a radon extraction system becomes an integral part of the services within the house. These services will add to the running costs and maintenance of the property for the properties life span.
One way to do this is to fit a radon sump. A radon sumps job is to reverse the difference in the air pressure between habitable rooms and the ground below the floor in order to prevent air containing radon from entering the property (Melville & Gordon, 1997). Sumps can be active or passive. An active sump is the most efficient. They are powered by an electric fan and can reduce high quantities of radon. Passive sumps are less effective and do not have a fan. This method can be effective if radon concentration levels are around 100 Bq/m3 (www.ukradon.org).
Sumps consist of a hole in the ground below the flooring slab connected by pipe work to the outside of the property. If it is active sump suction will then be applied through a fan in the pipe work to draw out radon. As fans cause noise and vibration where they are located is of great importance. Ideally fans should be mounted on a part of the building that will be unresponsive to vibrations and placed in an area in which the noise will not be a nuisance. Whether a sump is standard or mini-sized or externally excavated wind currents over pipe outlets can run a sump. The pipe work used to construct a sump should be self draining in order to avoid fans becoming damaged by condensation. When installing a radon sump it is imperative that it is not located below a room containing an open flued appliance or a open fire as this could potentially create a situation in which the sump draws flue gases back into the property (Melville & Gordon, 1997).
Another method that can be used to reduce radon levels within a building is sealing. Sealing any large holes, cracks or gaps within a property can reduce radon levels, but the reduction in the radon levels within the building is not always as large as hoped for. This is due to the complex way in which gaps and cracks appear and exist within houses. However this method is still an appealing option for radon levels up to 400-500 Bq/m3 and is relatively cheap (Melville & Gordon, 1997).
An alternative technique that can be used to deal with radon gas is positive ventilation. Carefully and effectively the ventilation in a house radon levels are in turn reduced as they become diluted it is also important to reduce the stack effect. The stack effect occurs when warm air rising through a building draws radon with it from the ground and into the dwelling. It should be noted that ventilation is the least effective method when trying to reduce radon levels and should only be used if the radon level is 200-300Bq/m3 or if ventilation is being combined with another method (www.bre.co.uk). To get the best results homes must also be well-insulated and draft free. The DOE (2002) highlight the fact that highlight the fact that ventilation and adjustments to the air pressure can reduce the driving force that assists the entry of radon via soil gas.
Positive pressurisation can also be used and is effective in dwellings with radon levels up to 700 Bq/m3. To create positive pressurisation a fan unit is installed, usually in the attic and is used to blow filtered fresh air into the house (www.bre.co.uk). This fan will then blow filtered fresh air into the house thus increasing the air pressure and ventilation levels which will in turn reduce and exclude radon from the property (Melville and Gordon, 1997). A standard positive pressurisation system consists of a fan and optional heater attached to a ceiling diffuser by flexible ducting. Fans usually come attached to anti-vibration mounts to reduce noise levels. A filter is also fitted to the fan to ensure clean air is blown into the house. For this method to work efficiently and correctly air being blown down into the house must be replaced by air from outside the house. In relation to this method there have been complaints that it creates draughts and cold areas in houses that do not have full central heating systems (www.bew.co.uk).
Under floor ventilation is another method that can be employed when dealing with radon. Under floor ventilation can be active or natural. Many properties have suspended ground floors with space below them by having a good ventilation system in place in this space, indoor radon levels can be reduced. This is referred to as natural under floor ventilation. When dealing with this it is important to know that there are two types of suspended floors. Firstly is timber, a floor that consists of floorboards or supported chipboards on supported joists. The second is concrete, a floor made up of supported concrete beams. This type of flooring is more prevalent in modern homes. In some homes under floor vents will have already been built into the property at ground level and over time will have become blocked and are no longer providing any ventilation to the under floor space. It is important to make sure that vents are kept clear from any obstruction. Another solution may be to replace older style air bricks as they have smaller openings and replace them with modern plastic vents that have bigger openings. It is important that vents in cavity walls are sleeved through the cavity to the under floor space (www.ukradon.org). Ideally vents should be situated on 2 opposite walls and be large enough to give and opening of 150mm for each metre run of wall (Melville & Gordon, 1997). This method should be used is the radon level is between 200-300 Bq/m3. When considering using this method it is also important to check if any service pipes are under floor and if they are being put at risk of freezing. If this is the case any pipes need to be insulated first (www.bre.co.uk).
Active under floor ventilation is utilized when natural under floor ventilation is ineffective. A fan is installed and used to blow or into or extract air from the under floor space (www.ukradon.org). For average sized dwellings a single fan should be adequate. The fan should have a flow rate that enables it to exchange air in the under floor space up to 10 times per hour. Fans can be installed both internally and externally. External fans should suitably protected to level IP54 as set out in BS 5490. To avoid noise nuisance it is important that the fan is installed away from noise sensitive areas (www.bew.co.uk).
As a landlord there is a duty to have in place a system that is best suited to deal with the level of radon within a property. It is important to look at all alternatives ways if reducing radon levels and select the best solution to remedy the problem. A system that may impact and change the lifestyle of the dwellings occupants is undesirable and unlikely to succeed in the long run. To determine what the best solution would be a landlord should work with contractors and the tenant to discuss what solution is best to deal with the radon and so all parties involved are aware of both the long and short term consequences of the method being used. Any perspective or new tenants should be made aware by their landlord that there is no guarantee that the solution adopted will reduce radon levels within the home and that the problem may need to be tackled in stages (www.bre.co.uk).