This section will help you to learn:
- When you do and do not need a professional radon test
- Where to find a qualified professional, and how to evaluate qualifications
- How to conduct a proper radon evaluation yourself
- How to evaluate a radon test result.
After reading this section, you may also wish to visit our Radon FAQ page.
Do I Need a Professional Tester
Only if one or more of these conditions applies:
- You are not in control of the house, and need help to be certain that the test conditions were maintained. This is especially important if the person who does control the house has a vested interest in having the radon result look good.
- You need a test with legal standing. That is, you have to prove something to someone other than yourself.
- You need results in a hurry (say less than one week from start to finish).
Notice that all of these conditions probably hold if you are a homebuyer.
Hiring a Professional
In Michigan, the definitive source for names of qualified radon testers has for years been the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Radon Measuring Proficiency list. If you hired someone with an RMP listing, in theory you got:
- A technician trained in conducting and evaluating radon tests, and undergoing continuing education and periodic written tests conducted by the EPA
- Guaranteed adherence to EPA-approved test procedures
- Equipment that met EPA standards for accuracy in regular audits
- A comprehensive Quality Assurance Program in the tester’s company
In Ohio and some other states, the state government issues radon licenses, superseding and preempting the EPA. Some states even have testing protocols that are different from those generally accepted elsewhere; the others just mandate that the standard protocols be followed.
As of October 1, 1999, the EPA ended the RMP list, and sort of (but not really) turned it over to two organizations: the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and National Radon Safety Board (NRSB). EPA considers certifications from either of these organizations to be equivalent to its own listings. Some of Protech’s six certified professionals are in NEHA, some in NRSB, some in both.
In many states (Michigan included) you and I could go into the credential-selling business tomorrow. This has already happened in other fields, such as home inspections and environmental site assessments, where some credential mills grind out fancy-sounding, but meaningless, “certifications.”
So what’s a consumer to do? Here are three ideas for sorting out the radon testers:
- Look for someone who is certified by NEHA or NRSB. Also check that the tester’s company is specifically certified for analyzing data from the specific measurement device used. [Some companies are only listed as “qualified” to set and retrieve a canister to be analyzed by a certified third party lab. Those testers should not be producing test reports; these should come from the accredited laboratory.]
- If the tester is not certified, that does not necessarily mean that he/she is any less competent or reliable. It’s just that you need to do some additional checking yourself. Obviously the tester’s experience and reputation count for a lot. You should also make sure that the specific instrument being used in your test was calibrated within the past 12 months. Ask for a certificate, and compare to the device serial number. [See next point.]
- Because of the conflict of interest, think hard before hiring a firm that also does radon fixing. We include ourselves in that statement!
We know of only two types of test device that are impossible for a tester to rig to give false high radon readings: activated charcoal or scintillation cell monitors, both of which are are analyzed by a third party lab. All other test devices, including other laboratory-type devices, can be forced to produce falsely high radon readings.
Worse yet, the calibration constants for “Electret” devices and even some Continuous Radon Monitors (CRMs) can easily be fudged by a contractor to produce any result he wants. High for the initial test that says there is a problem, then low for the test afterward to say that it has been fixed.
Until recently, it was thought that CRMs manufactured by Honeywell or Sun Nuclear could not be field-rigged. That’s one reason why we use purchased only Honeywell monitors for our own testing. No possibility of any hanky-panky. However, in May 2000, the president of a company that produces very highly-regarded CRMs called to inform us that even the Honeywell/Sun Nuclear models can be rigged by fiddling with the internal DIP switches. He also stated that some contractors had been caught playing this game. We haven’t tried this out, but our curiosity and tinker-glands are certainly aroused!
Conducting a Radon Evaluation Yourself
If you decide to do the test yourself, we suggest avoiding hardware store kits, even if they claim to be EPA approved.” For less money, you can get a higher quality kit from us or from your county health departments. The price of $10 includes all shipping and lab fees; the lab will send you a written report. Click here for a directory of local phone numbers.
Good advice on where, when & how to conduct the test is available from EPA pamphlets. We include a copy if you buy the kits from us; otherwise call the Michigan Radon Hotline or download from the EPA website. See also the Radon FAQ page.
In general, your first test will take anywhere from 2 to 7 days, as specified by the manufacturer. DO NOT use “long term” test kits as your first step; these take anywhere from 3-12 months, too long to wait.
Never take action based on a single measurement. You always want two results, and they should agree with each other. The EPA suggests two screening tests run side-by-side, or two sequentially in the same location. Most people prefer the former method.
Note: EPA makes an exception for measurements done with Continuous Radon Monitors (electronic dataloggers) in a real estate transaction. They advise that one “high” CRM test is enough for action.
If your short term tests agree and their average is at or above 4.0 picoCuries/liter (the EPA Action Level), the EPA says that you should take some action to reduce your radiation exposure.Because screening tests are subject to vagaries of weather, in marginal situations you might wish to conduct a year-long test before committing to a major expenditure. It’s also possible to simulate a year-long test in as little as 90 days; click here for a cool planner that will calculate start and stop dates for you.
Note: the EPA defines a long term test as one that “remains in your home for more than 90 days.” Okay, okay. 90 days plus 1 minute is longer than 90 days. Sheesh.
At the bottom line is the Golden Rule of radiation safety: ALARA, which stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable. Only you can know what is “reasonable” for your situation. Much depends on your family’s medical history (cancers increase the risk) and your home’s function (basement bedrooms or playrooms increase the risk).
Have A Question About Radon Treatment?
Super quick and efficient service of installing a radon mitigation system in the house we were selling. The installers were very knowledgeable and explained the system and the information to pass on to the buyer's. Definitely would recommend.
(a) at least ten feet off the ground,
(b) above the eave (not necessarily the edge) of the roof, and
(c) either ten feet away from, or two feet above, windows.