Many homes have an invisible and odorless hazard that homeowners need to be aware of but very few people actually test for: radon. This radioactive gas is generated as building materials, rocks, and soil decay. Testing for radon involves the use of an approved radon test kit. A collector is placed in an area of the home that's most likely to contain radon and is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Any positive results can be addressed by the homeowner or through a professional radon gas mitigator. The most affordable test kits take short-term readings.
To learn more, keep reading our buying guide. Our top pick is the AccuStar Charcoal Short-Term 48- to 96-Hour Test for its ease of use and its exceptionally accurate results.
Considerations when choosing radon test kits
Why do I need a radon test kit? The nature of radon makes it impossible for a person to detect until the damage is done. Radon's effects on the human body can be slow and barely perceptible, but over time a heavy concentration can lead to increased risks of lung cancer and other serious health problems. The only way to be absolutely sure your home is free of radon is to purchase a radon test kit.
You may need to do radon testing if you are selling your home — generally when the buyer requests a test. Otherwise, testing your home every couple of years is generally recommended.
Short-term vs. long-term radon test kits
Many homeowners simply need a quick yes-or-no answer when it comes to the presence of radon in their homes. Short-term tests can take from 24 hours to seven days to complete, and the lab results can be obtained within a few weeks. Long-term radon tests can be noticeably more expensive, taking up to several months to complete. A strong positive result from a short-term test may lead a few homeowners to invest in the longer-term test kits, but this is not a requirement.
Lab turnaround times
Most short-term radon test kits only require a few days to complete, and then you can mail the sample directly to a certified lab. When shopping for an ideal kit, consider the average length of time it will take to receive results. Seventy-two hours after mailing is a good estimate of how long it will take the lab to receive your test and get back to you with results.
Ease of use
The best radon test kits we examined were very easy to prepare and place. Because this is a scientific test, users must follow the instructions precisely for the best results. Proper placement, generally in the lowest level of the home, is also critical.
Most short-term radon test kits designed for basic home use should cost between $10 and $25, and this price should include a laboratory processing fee. Longer-term radon test kits, however, can cost upward of $100.
Q. I'm considering buying a new house soon. Should I include radon testing as part of the inspection process?
A. Yes, it's a good idea to perform one or two short-term radon tests in the same location if you plan to purchase or sell a house in the near future. A qualified home inspector could perform the test upon request.
Q. My radon test results showed extremely high levels of radon in the basement. What do I do now?
A. You may want to perform another radon test just to verify the results, but if the radon levels are dangerously high, you should consult with a professional radon mitigation specialist in your area.
Radon test kits we recommend
Best of the best: Radon Gas Test Kit AccuStar Charcoal Short Term 48- to 96-Hour Test
Our take: This comprehensive test kit goes beyond raw data collection and actually helps with future radon mitigation efforts.
What we like: Test kit is very easy to set up. Exceptionally good customer service and accurate results.
What we dislike: Testing conditions, including air temperature, must be ideal for best results. Lab results may be delayed for several weeks.
Best bang for your buck: First Alert Radon Gas Test Kit, RD1
Our take: This affordable radon test from First Alert works well as a "first" test for the presence of radon. A positive result may require further testing, however.
What we like: Lab fees are included in the retail price. Inexpensive, but still suitable for typical home testing.
What we dislike: Return shipping expenses for lab results not included in the original price and must be purchased separately.
Choice 3: AirChek 43237-2 Three- to Seven-Day Charcoal Radon Test Kit
Our take: Some homeowners will appreciate this test kit's longer collection process because the final results are generally more useful for mitigation.
What we like: You can go about your normal routines while this test is being conducted. Test kit can be placed in unobtrusive locations.
What we dislike: High humidity and other damp conditions can negatively affect sample collection and test results.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.