When all the news reports came out a few weeks ago about the dangers of radon-emitting granite countertops, we got worried. The previous owners installed $4,000 worth of granite in the kitchen and we had no idea if we were poisoning ourselves or worrying needlessly.
Performing Your Own Radon Test
Now I will state up-front that I am absolutely no expert on radon gas emission or testing, although my wife says I’m a pro at general gas emissions, but I will relay our own experience with running a home radon test and getting the results.
First, I did my research through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Website to learn more about radon and self-testing. I learned that radon can cause lung cancer and radon itself causes about 20,000 deaths per year from lung cancer. That makes radon the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, just after smoking/secondhand smoke.
Where to Get Your Radon Test Kit
I’m sure there are a dozen ways to get a test kit, but I’ll mention two here:
- The EPA refers you to the National Safety Council, who provides a coupon to order a short term or long term radon test kit. The cost is $9.95 for the short term test and $20 for the long term test. They recommend you just do a short test at first to see if you have cause for concern, then do a long one if you do have radon problems to be certain of the findings. They will mail it to you, you run the test and then mail it back (probably at your own cost).
- While at Lowes, we picked up the Kidde Radon Gas Detection Kit for about $17, but it’s at Amazon for $15. It’s a short term test only, and probably works exactly the same as the NSC one. You run the test and mail it in using their envelope and your own postage (about 4 stamps).
We went with the Kidde kit simply because we were there at the store and didn’t feel like waiting for a month to run the test. We could be dead by then!
How to Run the Test
Again, I’ll only state our experience and what our test kit required. For the Kidde kit, you had to take it out of the plastic, place it in a non-windy, non-heated/cooled, dry location. Also you can’t have the windows open for 12 hours prior to starting the test.
Basically, the test kit is a bunch of charcoal grains that absorb the radon gas. If there is too much ventilation, then the gas will exit the home and you’ll get a false reading. And you don’t want air blowing on or past the kit for the same reason.
You want to run the test for at least 48 hours, and you need to be exact in the date/time you started/stopped the test on the return card so the lab analysts can measure the readings properly.
As for returning the test, it cost under $1.50 to mail it, but I put on 4 stamps anyway. I also paid to track the envelope with a delivery confirmation because it needs to arrive within 10 days to be testable. It’s worthless if the Post Office loses delivers late, so be sure to mail at least first class.
Our Test Results
Surprisingly, it took 5 days after mailing to get our results. And in our case, we opted to receive the results via email. Attached to the email is a PDF document that explains your results across 4 pages.
The first page repeats the test information you entered on the information card, along with the actual reading from your test. According to Kidde, a level of 4pCi/L or higher is cause for concern and requires additional, immediate testing to confirm and act upon. A level between 2 and 4pCi/L also requires more testing, but isn’t as worrisome. And anything under 2pCi/L means you don’t need to worry.
The average home reading is 1.3pCi/L. Our reading came back at 0.5pCi/L. That means we’re surprisingly under the national average.
But what does this mean? Do we need to stop worrying? Well based on the reviews of the kit (and probably for any comparable home kit), the results may not be very reliable. Personally, I think a short term test isn’t enough to be certain as conditions around the kit can affect the results. You really need to be sure you place the kit in a prime location to collect the radon gas and not disturb it during the test period.
If you’re truly worried about your safety, I would find a certified radon tester in your area to check your home and advise accordingly.
Photo by otisarchives3