What Is a Radon Test?

When most of us think of a home inspection, we think about the biggest parts of the home like the roof and appliances. You might run the built-in microwave to see if it works, tap on the walls, and inspect attics and basements.

But you might not check things that are invisible, like radon, which can pose a serious risk to your health. When you breathe in radon, it gets into the lining of your lungs and gives off radiation. Over time, it can lead to lung cancer. 

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, radon testing is an important health and safety measure to take.

What is radon?

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas. Its symbol on the periodic table of elements is (Rn). When radioactive elements such as uranium decay, they release radon into the air. 

These elements naturally exist in soil and aren’t a problem in places like open fields. They’re so unconcentrated that their radiation levels are next to nothing. As they deteriorate, the radon they release disperses into the atmosphere without harm.

Radon can enter a house when these same radioactive elements break down in the soil. With more and more homes being tightly sealed and well insulated, radon can get trapped inside. When it builds up, it starts to pose a serious health hazard for everyone in your house including your pets.

Why is radon dangerous? 

Extended exposure to radon can lead to health issues and is a major cause of lung cancer in the United States. Only smoking tobacco is a more significant contributor to lung cancer. 

Radon exposure often happens in schools and homes as it collects in basements and lower floors. Since you can’t smell, see or taste radon, you won’t know if it’s present in your home without a specialized test. You won’t know if radon is negatively impacting your health for years. 

When you’re thinking of purchasing a home, ask the realtor for a radon test report. If the house wasn’t tested and there’s no report, you can request that the seller performs a radon test before finalizing the home purchase. Also check your local radon map to see if your intended purchase is in a high-radon area. 

Is radon testing included in the home inspection?

The inspector doesn’t typically check for radon during the routine home inspection, but some offer it as an ancillary service. Still, giving the new place a radon test before you move in is a great idea to protect you and your family’s health.

Why is radon testing so important?

Radon is deemed a health hazard by the EPA and the CDC. With the potential health issues that radon can cause, you should know if it’s present in your home or not. The sooner you realize you have a radon build-up in your home, the more quickly you can mitigate the problem. 

How much does radon testing cost?

The radon inspections range from $145 to around $700, depending on your location and service. DIY radon test kits run much less — from $10 to $30 — but having a professional radon test will give you much more accurate results. 

How does a radon test kit work?

Two types of radon tests are 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 exposure level we receive daily. Testing a crawlspace or unused basement won’t accurately measure how much radon you’ll typically encounter.

The active test kit involves running an electric monitoring device for a specific time. As it draws in, 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.

Where can I get 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. You can also visit the EPA radon resource guide to find local support and information.

How do I find a radon test 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. If they don’t, most can put you in contact with a service that can complete one. Many will even schedule the test for you. 

You can also use your state radon programs that can connect you with radon inspectors in your area. Some states can also provide you with radon resources in your area. 

Another option is to contact the National Radon Proficiency Program or National Radon Safety Board, which offer radon testing certifications.

Why do a radon test before selling your home?

The EPA 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 health hazard ahead of time. If you’re purchasing a new home, eliminating radon as a possible problem will give you peace of mind. 

Can you do a radon test yourself?

DIY radon test kits are perfect tools for checking if you have a radon test in your home. However, hiring a radon test specialist is a better idea as they can give you a more accurate picture of the particle count of your home inspection kit. 

If you DIY a radon test and find high radon levels, you should contact a professional who can help you to address it. Radon mitigation costs between $800 – $2000; however, it’s well worth the price.

Frequently asked questions about radon testing

What causes radon in homes?

According to the EPA, radon comes from the natural decay of uranium found in almost all soil types. Radon typically moves through the ground and gets into homes through cracks and crevices of the foundation. Since your home is a closed space, it traps radon inside, so it can build up if left unchecked. 

Any home may have a radon problem, whether old or new, which is another reason to check a property for radon before buying or selling it. 

What are the signs of radon in your home?

Radon is a tasteless and odorless gas, and there’s no way to tell if it’s present in your home without a test. If you experience any health symptoms that could be caused by radon, it means that the problem requires immediate attention.

What level of radon is acceptable? 

No level of radon is acceptable. According to EPA, homeowners should install a mitigation system if the radon level is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or more. The EPA also recommends considering mitigation your home is just below that level, anywhere between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.

How often should I test my house for radon?

According to the EPA, you should check your home for radon every two years. That said, you should always do a radon test if you are getting ready to sell your home or if you recently completed renovations.

What homes are more prone to radon issues?

While radon has been found in all types of homes in 50 states, certain conditions can increase your home’s radon levels. 

  • Location – certain parts of the country have higher radon levels. This includes the Upper Midwest including Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. Check the EPA map for more details. 
  • Cracks in the foundation – if your home’s foundation has cracks, it’s much easier for radon to get through since nothing is blocking it. 
  • Dirt floors – older homes with dirt floors in the basement are more prone to high radon levels since there’s nothing to stop radon from getting into a house. 
  • Wells – groundwater can also contain radon, so you should check your water well regularly to see if there are any radon and other contaminants. 

Final thoughts on radon testing

Radon poses 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.

If you want to do a radon test, visit your local hardware or home improvement store and get a DIY radon test kit for your peace of mind. They’re cheap enough and able to give you an idea of whether or not getting a professional test is worth the time and cost.