Radon Testing Kits vs. Professional Assessment

If you are a regular reader to this website, I think you understand the importance of radon testing.  It is a serious health issue and the second leading cause of lung cancer. “Should you have radon testing done?” is not the question per se; that is obvious.  But for many, the next logical question becomes “How should we perform radon testing?”.    Let’s compare radon testing with a professional assessment.

If you venture to any hardware store, you may find a DIY radon test kit that you can purchase rather inexpensively.  Is this the route to go? Do you really need to hire a professional radon tester? 

Call me biased, but for most scenarios, I would recommend a professional radon expert with the appropriate credentials.  If I were asked “why you should hire an expert?”, I would answer in three words – “peace of mind”. Let me explain.

The difference between DIY and Professional radon testing?  

Professionals will typically use “time-integrated” sampling with electrets or continuous radon monitors (CRMs).  These types of testing are performed over a certain time period which can be anywhere from 2 days (minimum) to more than a year.  These results provide a measurement of the average level of radon during that time period. Do-it-yourself kits are not time-integrated and may not be as accurate.

Can a DIY test kit work just as well?  Sometimes, it depends on the reason for the test.  If you are curious about the level of radon in your basement, a radon kit might be a good first step in figuring out if there is a potential problem.  But beware! There are potential downfalls.  

What could go wrong?

Often times the accuracy of the DIY test can be uncertain because, let’s face it, it is being performed by amateurs.  The instructions for the test kit need to be followed very closely. Doors and windows need to be closed at a minimum of 12 hours prior to the test and during the entire testing period.  You should not attempt the testing during wind or rainstorms which could possibly give an unusually high radon reading. The “do it yourself” kits are often times charcoal tests and can be very sensitive to humidity.  

The location of the test is also key.  The test should be conducted at the lowest living level, but not in crawl spaces.  Testing should not occur by sump pumps, kitchens or bathrooms. Placing a tester in the wrong location can give you a false positive and needlessly give you a false alarm.  

After the test is performed, you need to send it to a lab where you would wait for weeks to get the results.  That is unacceptable for almost any real estate transaction.

Benefits of having a professional test!

The professional has the certification and training to ensure that radon testing is done correctly.  When testing with electrets, a technician can test in multiple areas of a home. This can be a great aid in helping a mitigation company install a radon system.  An expert can also use a CRM test to determine if weather systems or humidity influenced the radon levels in the home. Both of these devices are only used by someone who is licensed and uses quality assurance plans on all of their equipment.  

Radon professionals are required by the state to regularly calibrate their equipment and work to ensure accuracy and precision in the testing process.   Also, if time is of the essence (and in real transactions, it usually is!) you don’t need to ship the kit off to a lab. You can get the results within a day by using a local professional.

Conclusion 

When contemplating how to perform a radon test, there is nothing technically wrong with using a test kit to see if there is a problem.  But again, beware! There are many ways that the testing process and results can easily throw the measurements off in the home kit. A licensed expert can greatly enhance the accuracy of measuring the levels and provide those three key words “Peace of mind!”.

For further information, we recommend checking out the EPA’s website regarding both of these options1.

  1. https://www.epa.gov/radon/find-radon-test-kit-or-measurement-and-mitigation-professional#who
Scott Wieringa

Scott Wieringa

Scott Wieringa is a Senior Project Manager that performs indoor air quality assessments with a specialty in radon and odors. Mr. Wieringa holds a Bachelors of Arts degree from Calvin College. He is an ACAC Council-Certified Indoor Environmentalist (CIE) and Illinois Licensed Radon Professional with residential and commercial building endorsements. Prior to working at Indoor Science, Scott was a residential real estate appraiser with over 23 years of experience inspecting properties in varying capacities. In his words… “I have a special interest in helping clients track down how their homes or businesses might be making them sick. In my spare time, I’m involved in song writing, sketching and spending time with my family.”

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