(Photo and article courtesy bobvila.com)
Instant radon gas testing and ongoing detection keeps you safe and gives you peace of mind.
By Timothy Dale
Radon gas is a naturally occurring byproduct produced by the deterioration of uranium in igneous rock and soil. It enters the home through cracks in the foundation, slowly building up until it becomes hazardous to your health. The harmful gas can cause minor symptoms like ongoing headaches or could even have a lethal effect, due to its cancer-causing properties.
Radon exposure can happen in any home—including yours. A tasteless, odorless, colorless gas, radon cannot be identified with the mouth, nose, or eyes, so one way, without hiring a professional, to know if you’re at risk of radon gas exposure is by using a radon test kit to measure the levels in your home.
The best radon test kits alert you to the presence of this carcinogenic gas by detecting radon levels over a few days, a few months, or through ongoing radon detection in your home. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends a radon removal system if the radon level reading in your home is higher than 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L).
There is no known level of radon exposure that is considered safe, so it’s important to protect yourself and your household by using a reliable, high-quality radon test kit that will give you an accurate picture of the radon levels in your home. The products below are the best radon test kits in their respective categories.
- BEST OVERALL:Corentium Home Radon Detector
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK:First Alert Radon Gas Test Kit
- UPGRADE PICK:Airthings Radon & Air Quality Monitor
- BEST SHORT-TERM:AccuStar Radon Gas Test Kit
- BEST LONG-TERM:Radon Eye Radon Reading Monitor
Types of Radon Test Kits
The EPA suggests a radon removal system be installed for any radon level reading higher than is considered acceptable. Radon test kits use several different methods to test the air in your home for elevated radon levels.
Short-Term Radon Test Kits
Short-term radon tests take between two to 90 days to collect readings from your home, depending on the manufacturer. You must then send these test kits to a laboratory to have the results calculated and returned to you. The lab fees and shipping costs are sometimes included with the product you purchase, so be sure to understand whether you will need to pay the fees.
Because short-term radon test kits are the fastest testing method and the least expensive test kit option, real estate agents often use them to test homes before selling. However, radon levels can fluctuate over a short amount of time, so short-term test kits are not the most accurate testing method. For definitive results, long-term testing is necessary.
Long-Term Radon Test Kits
Long-term radon test kits, as the name suggests, are designed to test the home over a longer period of time. One style is a single-use device collected at the end of the usage period and sent to a laboratory for testing. This type of device is more accurate than the short-term kits because it allows for a larger data set to be collected and reviewed, instead of the results being swayed by radon spikes, unpredictable highs or lows in radon levels that can cause false test results.
Another style of long-term radon test kit is the ongoing test kit or radon detector. Radon detectors typically feature a digital display and will continuously test the air in the home, displaying results regularly, without the need to send the kit to a laboratory. However, these radon detectors are more expensive than the one-time use or short-term test kits, and they may not be necessary if radon levels in the home are significantly lower than 4 pCi/L.
Alpha-Track Radon Test Kits
The alpha-track radon test kit—and long-term testing method—tests levels of radon by means of polycarbonate plastic sheets that the homeowner places the test kit in the lowest livable level of the home. Radon gas emits alpha particles, which create tracks on the sheets. Higher levels of alpha tracks indicate high levels of alpha particles and radon. Once the alpha-track radon test kit has been in place for the manufacturer’s suggested time period, the homeowner removes it and sends it to a lab for testing.
This style of test is more accurate than short-term test kits and is a medium-range option falling between short-term kits and ongoing radon detectors.
Charcoal Radon Test Kits
Charcoal radon test kits are short-term options that work similarly to the alpha-track test kits, though they measure radon over a shorter period of time. The charcoal device absorbs radon gas over two to 90 days and is then sent to a lab for results.
These tests are the cheapest and quickest options for measuring radon levels in your home, but they are also the least accurate because they are susceptible to spikes in radon levels and interference during shipping for lab tests.
Digital Radon Test Kits
Radon detectors, or digital radon test kits, are the most expensive type of radon testers on the list. Their installation can be difficult, as each manufacturer has its own setup specifications.
However, digital radon test kits are relatively permanent as they attach to a wall, like a thermostat, and they use a sensor to detect alpha particles in the air. The digital display provides a continuous pCi/L reading, without needing to involve a laboratory.
What to Look for When Buying a Radon Test Kit
Not all situations require the same solution. Keep the following considerations in mind when selecting the best radon test kit for your specific circumstances.
Accuracy is one of the most important factors to consider when testing radon levels in your home. The longer period of time a radon test kit is able to test the home, the more accurate the results will be, as longer testing allows you to determine the average level of pCi/L in your home without the influence of random positive or negative spikes.
Short-term radon tests are susceptible to spikes in radon levels that can skew the average. Because of this, they are considered the least accurate test option.
Long-term and continuous testing provides a much longer period of time for collecting readings, which allows you to better determine the average radon level in your home. These test devices cost more and take longer, but they are the most accurate radon test kits available.
Radon test kits are designed to be easy to use, both for the benefit of the consumer and to ensure accurate test results. Difficult-to-use kits can produce results impacted by user error, whereas easy-to-use kits will provide more accurate readings.
Passive radon test kits, like charcoal and alpha-track test kits, are easy to set up but require hands-on involvement during testing. You need to place them in a specific location to test the air and then send them to a lab for results.
Active radon test kits, like digital radon detectors, can be very easy to use once installed. A digital display continuously updates radon level readings that you can check at any time. However, newer digital radon detectors can also be complex, depending on the additional features the manufacturer has added to the device. Smart home-compatible detectors will require a level of technical know-how for ongoing use.
Ease of Installation
Passive radon detectors are generally very easy to set up, with most having instructions that specify a temporary location for them to sit during the allotted time period. These test kits are great for set-it-and-forget-it users.
Active radon test kits are more complex and can range from battery-powered units you attach to the wall to smart home-compatible units that require a fully integrated set-up before use.
Consider your own technical installation abilities and your current radon testing needs before deciding on a test kit.