Is your home sitting on a radon hotspot?
Thousands of people wondered the same last month, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned that up to 170,000 homes throughout the country were at risk from the gas, which is blamed for 350 cases of lung cancer every year. That was more than previously thought.
The interactive radon map that had been newly launched for the occasion quickly crashed under the weight of demand as thousands of people tried to log on to check whether their home was affected.
The map was taken offline but is now live again.
The map colour codes the country according to the radon risk: homes in yellow areas have a one in 20 chance of having high levels of radon; orange areas are one in 10; red areas are one in five. You can check by address or Eircode, quickly finding your home or workplace and assessing the level of risk.
The radioactive gas is odourless and colourless – you can’t see it, taste it or smell it – so without monitoring equipment you won’t know for certain if radon is seeping into your home. The situation may be more urgent for those in the red areas of the country, but even if you are in one of the so-called low-risk areas, it doesn’t mean that you are safe from radon, just that it is less likely that your home will be affected.
Buildings in a high radon area constructed since 1998 must have a radon barrier in place; however, that leaves a lot of houses and workplaces around the country that have no protection from the gas.
The good news? Checking for radon is relatively cheap. And although technology may have failed spectacularly when the EPA initially launched the map, there are ways that it can help you figure out if your home is at risk.
If you see your home in a red area, you’ll likely want to test. However, the EPA recommends that everyone test their home from radon as homes with high radon levels (above the national reference level of 200 Bq/m3) can be found anywhere throughout the country.
That means monitoring for the gas using specialised sensors. The EPA has a list of registered radon testing services who will supply you with sensors that you place in the most used rooms of your house – the bedroom and the living room – and then leave them for three months.
This costs about €50, which includes two radon detectors posted to your home. Once the detectors are sent back to be analysed, you will receive a test report with your results along advice on how to reduce your radon levels if they are high.
If the levels aren’t high, you won’t need to retest unless you carry our major refurbishment works, or install insulation that could help prevent radon from escaping your home.
If you are willing to put your hand in your pocket for a smarter solution that you can use to monitor on an ongoing basis, Norwegian air quality monitoring company Airthings has a series of home monitors that will keep an eye on the air quality in your home. Not only will they watch for mould, allergens and general pollution, but certain monitors in the range – the Airthings Wave Plus, or the View series of sensors, for example – will monitor for the gas.
The View Radon (€199) is the simplest of the lot. It has a customisable display that shows the current level of radon in your room and is activated by waving your hand in front of the screen.
The Wave Plus (€229) looks similar to a smoke or carbon monoxide detector, but hiding underneath the surface is some powerful technology that will sniff out the radon that could be hiding in your home. Like the View, you wave your hand in front of it to get a reading on air quality, but it uses colour-coded lights instead: green for good air quality, red for poor and orange for something in between. It links in with the Airthings app to analyse air quality and generate alerts if something is going in the wrong direction.
Like the EPA monitors, the longer you leave the monitor there, the better. The advantage of the Airthings monitors is you don’t have to hand them back, they can be moved from room to room if necessary and you can get an ongoing look at what the air quality is like in your home, whether you are at risk of radon or not.
There are measures that can be taken to deal with radon gas – for example, improving ventilation in the home, and the installation of an active or passive sump to remove radon from the air entering your home – and help to remove it from your home.
But how will it affect plans to sell your home? The Government is currently considering a report that recommends homeowners are obliged to test for radon prior to selling their homes.
Sherry FitzGerald managing director Marian Finnegan hasn’t had a flood of enquiries about radon in homes, and she doesn’t expect too much of an impact on property values. The key factor here is the remediation works that can be done to deal with the radon. Finnegan likens it to energy ratings for houses, rather than something that is integral to the house.
“It’s something people need to be conscious of and take the correct steps,” she said. “A poor BER has impact on value, but won’t stop the house from being sold.”