What Is a Radon Test?

When you’re buying a home, you usually look at the structural elements of the house. You might run the built-in microwave to see if it works. It’s not unusual to tap on the walls, run all the sinks, and flush all the toilets to make sure everything’s sound and working properly. But you might not think to check for unseen issues, such as radon.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. Without a specialized test, you won’t even know it’s there. The inspector doesn’t typically check for radon during the routine home inspection. But before you move in, it’s a good idea to give the new place a radon test. 

Even if you’re not in the process of buying a house, if you haven’t had your home tested for radon, consider getting a radon test for your home.

What is Radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring element in the form of a colorless, odorless gas. Its symbol on the periodic table of elements is (Rn). When certain radioactive elements — such as uranium or radium — decay, they release radon into the air. These elements also naturally exist in soil and aren’t a problem in places like open fields. They’re so lightly concentrated that their radiation levels are next to nothing. As they deteriorate, the radon they release harmlessly disperses into the atmosphere.

When these same radioactive elements break down in the soil around a home, radon can enter a structure through cracks. With more and more homes being tightly sealed and well insulated, it prevents radon from dissipating and traps it inside. As more radon seeps into a building, high concentrations build up, and the gas cannot vent into the outdoors quickly enough — this is when it becomes a problem. 

Extended exposure to radon can lead to health issues and is one of the leading causes of lung cancer in the United States. Only smoking tobacco is a bigger contributor to lung cancer. Radon exposure most often happens in schools and homes, as it collects in basements and lower floors.

When you’re thinking of purchasing a home, ask the realtor for a radon test report. If the home wasn’t tested and there’s no report, you’re well within your rights to request that the seller performs a radon test before finalizing the home purchase. You can also ask for a test as part of the home inspection. 

Radon testing isn’t required as part of most home inspections to get a home loan. Many inspectors make radon testing a regular part of their inspection. Others might ask you if you’d like them to do a radon test. Some might not bring up radon testing at all. When it comes time to inspect the property, ask the inspector about radon testing. 

Why Is Radon Testing Important?

Radon is deemed a health hazard by the EPA and the CDC. With the potential health issues that radon can cause, it’s good to know whether or not you have anything to be concerned about. The sooner you realize you have a radon build-up in your home, the more quickly you can get it taken care of. And if there’s no radon problem, you can rest easy all the sooner.

How Much Does Radon Testing Cost?

Radon inspections range from $145 to around $700, depending on where you’re located and which service you use. DIY radon test kits run much less — from $10 to $30 — but having a professional test and inspect your home will give you much more accurate results. 

How Does a Radon Test Kit Work?

There are two types of radon tests available only to certified professionals — the active test kit and the passive test kit. All tests are run on the lowest living area of the house because we want to know the level of exposure we receive day-to-day. Testing a crawlspace or an infrequently visited basement won’t accurately measure how much radon you’ll typically encounter.

The active test kit involves running an electric monitoring device for a certain time. As it draws in air, the device can record the concentration of radon in the air. The passive test involves laying out Teflon discs for 48-96 hours. As radon particles hit the Teflon, they cause a reaction. Once the test duration is over, the inspector sends the discs to a lab for analysis. The lab reports the final determination of the radon concentrations.

Free Radon Test Kits

Many local and county health departments provide free radon test kits. You may also be able to acquire one if you live in a place that has a state radon program. Contact your state, city, or county health offices to find out if free radon test kits are available near you.

How Do You Find a Radon Testing Professional?

When it comes time to get a home inspection, ask your inspector if they can perform a radon test. Not all home inspectors are licensed to perform radon tests. However, most can put you in contact with a service that’s able to complete one. Many will contact the service and schedule a test for you. 

The EPA highly recommends getting your home tested for radon before selling or purchasing. If you’re selling your home, it shows good faith to the buyer that you took care of a potential threat ahead of time. If you’re purchasing a new home, eliminating radon as a possible problem will help you sleep easier at night once you move in.

If you’ve never had your home tested or suspect that you may have a radon issue, many home improvement stores have DIY radon testing kits available. The kits come in one of two types: charcoal or alpha track. 

  • Charcoal test kits work by absorbing radon in the air. You leave the kit out for the time specified in the instructions. Once the test duration is complete, you send the test kit into a lab for analysis. The lab can count the radon particles to determine the concentration and send back their report and recommendations once their research is complete.
  • Alpha track kits use a plastic film that you leave out for the specified time frame — usually 48-96 hours. Radon particles will etch tracks into the film. Once the time has lapsed — as with the charcoal kit — you send the alpha track kit to the lab. The lab counts the tracks and can get an estimated radon level. 

DIY kits are good for determining if you might have a radon problem. Still, professional inspectors can get a more accurate reading on your actual particle count if your home kit indicates radon in your home. 

If it turns out that you do have radon levels worth being concerned about, contact a professional to reduce the radon. The cost for radon mitigation runs about $1000 on average, but it’s a small price to pay for a healthy home. 

Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that radon is a serious health risk, and it’s best to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Professional testing and radon management are the best tools for keeping radon out of your home and out of your life.

If you’re not too worried, but would like to know, hit up your local hardware or home improvement store and get a home kit just for your peace of mind. They’re cheap enough and able to give you at least an idea if getting a professional test is worth the time and cost. 

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