Do-It-Yourself Radon Testing

Radioactive gas may make your home dangerous to live in. Includes the types of in-home radon tests available and a mail-order radon testing kit chart with EPA approved radon testing companies.
September/October 1987
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Largely because of the vagaries of exposure — controlled by amateurs, such as us — you should think of do-it-yourself testing only as a way to determine whether or not you have a radon problem.

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Radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. A do-it-yourself test is available to complete radon testing that will let you know if you have radioactive gas entering your home. 

Do-It-Yourself Radon Testing

There are two radon testing techniques suitable for homeowners to administer: charcoal adsorption and photo-etch. In addition, there is one consumer-priced continuous analyzer that provides three-stage alert of radon concentration. None of these methods should be assumed to offer the sort of accuracy possible with professionally operated, multi-thousand-dollar continuous analyzers. Largely because of the vagaries of exposure — controlled by amateurs, such as us — you should think of do-it-yourself testing only as a way to determine whether or not you have a radon problem.

Charcoal adsorption, in which radon attaches to charcoal in a canister or bag, is the most popular self-administered radon testing method. The detectors are exposed for two to four days and mailed to the testing lab, where radioactive disintegrations are counted by sophisticated detectors. Track-etch type detectors record alpha particle movements on film. The detectors are exposed for 14 days to one year and mailed to the testing lab, where the impressions are observed through microscopes.

Charcoal has the advantages of being quick and inexpensive. Multiple testers can be used to sample different parts of the house. Alpha-track detectors give integrated readings of concentrations over time, potentially a more representative indicator of your average exposure. Though radon concentrations usually vary from both day to night and season to season, it's still possible that a short-term measurement could miss a temporarily high reading.

The EPA qualifies laboratories to do radon testing. You can safely assume that all labs that have passed EPA quality assurance offer about the same accuracy. Therefore, your decision should be based on service and price. At this point, over 200 firms have been qualified by the EPA to do radon testing. There's simply no way we can list them all, so we've selected the following firms that are well established in the mail-order radon testing business (see the radon services chart in the image gallery). With the exception of Sun Nuclear, all prices include shipping, analysis and results.

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