Property Clinic: Should I be worried about radon gas?

Your property queries answered

A three-month test should be undertaken where the possibility of radon gas exposure is present

A three-month test should be undertaken where the possibility of radon gas exposure is present

 

Q. I am just about to buy a house in Galway. It was built in the 1990s and is in good condition. A friend who lives nearby warned me about the possibility of radon, which now worries me.

The sellers are anxious to close and are not concerned. Is there a quick way to ensure that I am not exposed to radon, and if it turns out to be a problem, is it likely to be costly to fix?

A. A quick glance at the Environmental Protection Agency radon map (epa.ie) will show you that parts of Galway are prone to high levels of radon gas.

Radon is an odourless, colourless, radioactive gas which occurs naturally by the breakdown of uranium and radium. Gas is released continuously from the ground where these two elements are found. It is generally understood that ground containing granite will be most affected, however, all types of ground can be susceptible.

Regrettably, radon exposure is one of the main contributing factors in the development of lung cancer in Ireland. Radon can be attached to dust and acts in a similar way to asbestos fibres when they enter the lungs. It is therefore vitally important to have your home tested, with mitigating measures implemented should high levels of radon be found.

Although some instant tests are available, I would not recommend them as their results are unreliable and unsuitable in a case such as this. Your friend appears to be aware of the potential for high radon in this area. A proper test, carried out in accordance with EPA protocol is what is required as part of your due diligence before buying the property.

Testing will involve the placement of sensors in the house for a minimum of three months. After three months, the sensors are tested and you will be advised if radon gas is present above an acceptable level. You mentioned that the house was built in the 1990s. Although Building Regulations were introduced in 1992, it was only later, in 1997, that the requirement to have a radon barrier installed was introduced.

If radon levels are found to be excessive, there are many potential solutions which can be introduced. These can include ventilating below the floor screed or sealing cracks in the floors. These works could be expensive, depending on the extent of cracking which may exist, the layout of partitions and the extent of built-in furniture which may need to be removed.

A local Chartered Building Surveyor should be able to advise you, based on the type of construction used, should the need for remedial works arise. Although the vendors are anxious to close and are not concerned, I would not proceed without the three month test.

Noel Larkin is a Chartered Building Surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

Send your queries to propertyquestions@irishtimes.com or to Property Clinic, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2. This column is a readers’ service. Advice given is general and individual advice should always be sought.