Petroleum hydrocarbon vapours pose a reduced risk to indoor air due to biodegradation processes where oxygen is available in the subsurface or below built structures. However, no previous assessment has been available to show the effects of a building footprint (slab size) on oxygen-limited hydrocarbon vapour biodegradation and the potential for oxygen to be present beneath the entire sub-slab region of a building. Here we provide a new, conservative and conceptually simple vapour screening model which links oxygen and hydrocarbon vapour transport and biodegradation in the vicinity and beneath an impervious slab. This defines when vapour risk is insignificant, or conversely when there is potential for vapour to contact the sub-slab of a building. The solution involves complex mathematics to determine the position of an unknown boundary interface between oxygen diffusing in from the ground surface and vapours diffusing upwards from a subsurface vapour source, but the mathematics reduces to a simple relationship between the vapour source concentration and the ratio of the half slab width and depth to the vapour source. Data from known field investigations are shown to be consistent with the model predictions. Examples of 'acceptable' slab sizes for vapour source depths and strengths are given. The predictions are conservative as an estimator of when petroleum hydrocarbon vapours might come in contact with a slab-on-ground building since additional sources of oxygen due to advective flow or diffusion through the slab are ignored. As such the model can be used for screening sites for further investigation. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.