An assessment of the effectiveness of UK building regulations for new homes in Radon Affected Areas

Antony R. Denman, R.G.M. Crockett, Christopher J. Groves-Kirkby

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas generated underground by radioactive decay of nuclides contained in certain types of rocks, can concentrate inside buildings, where it poses the second-largest risk factor for lung cancer, after smoking. The highest concentrations of domestic radon in the UK occur in the south-western counties of Devon and Cornwall, but certain areas in Northamptonshire and surrounding counties in the English Midlands also have high levels. It has been shown that it is possible both to reduce the radon concentrations in existing houses and to build new homes with appropriate protection. Since 1999, the UK's Building Regulations have specified that all new homes should be built with a combined radon-proof/damp-proof membrane plus, in Radon Affected Areas, a sump under the building. However, the building regulations do not require that the radon level is measured once the house is built and so there is little information on the effectiveness of these measures. Builders generally do not mention radon, and when asked, just confirm that their houses are built to current standards.

To better understand the efficacy or otherwise of the currently mandated radon-protection measures, a cross-sectional investigation was carried out in 26 new housing developments in high-radon areas in Northamptonshire. In a targeted mail-shot, 1056 householders were invited to apply for a free radon test; 124 replied (11.7%). In total, 94 pairs of detectors were returned (70.1% of responders), of which two were spoiled, giving a total of 92 results.

Following processing and seasonal correction, the arithmetic mean radon concentration in the target houses was 45% of the arithmetic mean radon concentration in existing houses in the postcode sectors where the houses were built and were approximately log-normally distributed. No results exceeded the UK Action Level of 200 Bq. m−3 but three were above the Target Level of 100 Bq. m−3.

The results suggest that the radon-proof membranes in general ensure that radon concentrations in new homes constructed in accordance with the Building Regulations in Radon Affected Areas (RAAs) are satisfactorily low. However, there is a very small statistical probability that levels in a small number of homes will be close to or above the Action Level, particularly in areas of high radon potential. As a result, the Public Health England (PHE) recommendation for testing in the first year of occupation should be adopted as a legal requirement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-171
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Radioactivity
Early online date25 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Building Regulation


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