What is a Radon Detector, Do I Need a Radon Detector, and What is the Best Radon Sensor on the Market Today?

What are radon detectors and what do they do

What is a Radon Detector?

The best radon detectors are devices that are able to detect, display, and monitor the levels of radon gas in your home over an extended period of time. There are also radon detection tests that you use once, send them in to a lab, and then get the results. Radon detectors are small computers that are able to check your home’s air, radon test kits, on the other hand, are usually just trays of activated carbon that will pull radon out of your home’s air and hold it until it gets to the lab where it’s tested.

Some digital radon detectors can be touchy and some need to be serviced regularly to have the most accurate readings.

The radon test kits are usually one-time tests that won’t give you any data to go off of until you send it in to the lab. Once that test is done, it’s done forever and you won’t be able to test again with that test. If you want to test again, you’ll have to buy another test kit altogether.

But there is one company that makes radon detectors that are super capable and don’t need to be maintained constantly. We will be talking about that radon detector, which is made by AirThings, and also about the one-off radon test kits. We will not be talking any more about the touchier radon detection devices, as those are not really the best units out there.

What Do Radon Detectors Do?

Radon detectors, like those made by AirThings, utilize a whole array of cutting-edge technologies to scan the air constantly for radon. Some of these sensors will check for VOCs, mold, humidity, and more. They are able to constantly check for these things because of their various sensors.

Air quality sensors like those made by radon will then save all the data they save and allow you to look at the long-term trends of what the various levels are.

The AirThings radon detectors can do a lot more than check for radon, as I’ve said before. These things that they check for include things that can adversely affect your health and they keep track of the data for that too. It’s all very neat.

What Do Radon Test Kits Do?

Radon test kits, like radon detectors, will check your home’s radon levels. The key difference, however, is that these radon tests don’t show you how much radon is in your home’s air until you send it to a lab to have it tested. Once it’s tested, then you’ll be able to know how much radon was in your house during the testing period.

I personally don’t prefer this style of radon testing because I’m a fan of immediate results and being able to see tons of data, especially trends over long periods of time. More data means more information to base my decisions off of, and that’s something I’m into.

All that being said, the radon test kits do still serve their purpose. They let you know if you have a severe radon issue. That can be an invaluable thing that could just save your life since radon is the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

Do I Need a Radon Detector in My Home?

Yes! It would be wise for everyone to get a radon detector in their home or, at the very least, to do a one-off test with a radon test kit. The EPA found that about one in every 15 homes have a radon issue, which is a lot more than you might think. Where I’m writing from in Oregon, the radon problem is one in four!

One in four homes have a radon problem here!

Okay, so what is it? One in fifteen, or one in four?

One in four is the average for the Portland, Oregon area, where I live. One in fifteen is the national average. The reason why these numbers are so different is because some parts of the nation have no issue with radon at all, others, like Portland, have it really bad. In time, I’ll be making a map of all the radon hotspots, so sit tight!

But, if your impatient, the EPA actually has a radon zone map, which is super neat. You can check it out to see if your home is in a particular hotspot.

Odds are that you can look up the average of how many homes have radon problems for your area and that can give you a rough idea of how severe of an issue you might be looking at. I’m a fan of wanting to be safe rather than sorry though, so I’d run the test no matter what, and it’s recommended that you test your home’s air no matter where you live.

Radon is an issue in parts of every one of the US, but it’s especially an issue in northern states (including Oregon, hence why we’ve got an issue in 25% of the homes where I live), states in the southwest, and midwestern states too. Yes, that covers a good amount of the nation, hence why I recommend testing for radon.

What Does Radon Do? Why Should I Be Worried About Radon Gas?

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US.

Radon is a radioactive gas that is known to cause cancer. Over 20,000 lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon every single year in the US alone, according to the EPA. That’s over five times higher than how many people die in fires, which was only 3655 as of 2018, according to FEMA.

But, for one reason or another, radon isn’t an issue that’s talked about very often. To give you an idea of how bad radon is, here’s a quick table of a small selection of causes of death in the USA.

Causes of DeathDeaths
Per Year
(US Only)
SourceYear of
Lung Cancer Caused By Radon21,000EPA2020
Homicide (Gun Violence)13,958UC Davis2018
Bear Attacks2Wikipedia2020
A short list of some of the things that kill people in the US every year.

Now, this list is anything but complete, it’s just a very small sampling of what has killed people in the US to show you that radon is a very serious issue. And yes, I threw in bear attacks just because I wanted to look it up really quick and I was curious.

No, radon is not the leading cause of death in the US, it isn’t by a long shot, but it is a big issue that ought to be addressed more thoroughly. As you can see from the graph that I provided, it really should be something that you think about. Or, it’s something that you should at least think about 10,500 times more than you should think about being attacked by a bear.

But, while I’m talking about that, answer this quick question for me: If you were going somewhere that bear attacks were known to happen, wouldn’t you bring something to protect yourself with?

Odds are you would. Most people do. Some people lug around big guns, others bear spray, others do a ton of stuff to make themselves less appealing targets for bears. I’m sure there are other things to do too, but that’s not the point of this article.

Now tell me, if people do that much to protect themselves from something that killed just 2 people in 2020, then why don’t more people do something to protect themselves from something that kills 21,000 people a year?

I won’t go into how radon causes lung cancer, since I’m no lung doctor, so I’ll let you research the technical stuff, should you so please.

Are Radon Detectors Hard to Use?

Alright, I’m willing to bet that I’ve at least made you think a little bit more about radon by now. Either that, or you’re thinking about bears and you’re checking to see if my numbers are right. (I mean, who cites Wikipedia anyways?) But, I digress…

Ease of Use for Digital Radon Detectors

Radon detectors are a lot easier to use than you might think! In fact, some radon detectors are easy to use. The radon detectors that AirThings makes are very straightforward, and they’re, again, some of the best radon detectors out there.

AirThings even has some newer radon detectors that you can get readings from on your phone, which just goes to show you how nice these units can be to use. But, if using your phone isn’t something you’re interested in, AirThings has another radon detector that is just one you power up and then get constant readings from on just the device.

If you’d like to check out their radon detector right now, you can visit this link here. Use the code ape10-10off to get a ten percent discount off your order. If you’re not ready to order it just yet, I’ll have another link later on in this article.

Ease of Use for Radon Detection Kits

Every radon detection kits are usually very simple to use, but their instructions may vary between all the different test kits out there.

Generally, the radon test kit will have you place the test kit in a room you don’t go into very often, or maybe even if your crawlspace/basement, if it’s a dry enough area.

Once you’ve placed the opened kit in one of these places, you’re supposed to leave it for a set amount of time. In that period of time the activated carbon (or whatever the kit uses to capture the radon), will absorb all the radioactive radon that it can. Some kits have you wait for 48 hours, some for a week, and some for a few months.

Once that test period is over, you’re supposed to send that kit into some laboratory somewhere and they’ll check the radon levels in the kit and get back to you with the results.

While all the steps involved in this process are pretty easy, there are a lot of them. It’s not as easy as just putting some batteries in a radon detector and checking on it every now and then.

But, these test kits can be cheaper than the radon detector is, which might be what you’re the most worried about.

If you choose to use a radon test kit, I recommend you use it in the winter. Radon is a bigger issue in the winter, so doing your test in the winter will let you see what your radon problem is at its worst. But, if winter has already passed, you can still do the test, just know that it isn’t at its worst.

Think you’re ready to run one of these one-off radon tests? You can pick up radon test kits on Amazon here.

How High of a Radon Level Should I Be Worried About?

The EPA recommends that you take action to reduce the amount of radon in your home if the level of radon is over “4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L)”. They also make a point of saying that lower levels of radon can be harmful as well, but they gave 4 pCi/L as their recommendation for immediate action.

What are “picocuries”? Picocuries are measurements of radioactive elements and the measurement is named after Madame Curie. A picocurie is one-trillionth of a Curie, which may sound small, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

After all, germs are small and people do a lot to make sure they kill germs.

Germs aren’t even radioactive!

Since radon gas is radioactive, it’s measured in picocuries. Since it’s radioactive, it can be hazardous to our health. Since radon is radioactive, we probably don’t want it in our homes. (Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not a fan of growing a tail! Hahaha)

How Much Radon is Too Much? What Are Some Radon Numbers That I Can Base My Radon Levels off of?

The EPA reports that the air outside is, on average, just .4 pCi/L, which is a tenth of the 4 pCi/L that they warn us about. The average level of radon in homes across the US is 1.3 pCi/L, which, as you can see, is several times higher than that of the outside.

The reason why radon is more concentrated inside is because radon floats. When it’s outside, it floats away and dissipates as it breaks down.

When it’s inside, it gets stuck. It can’t get out, so it just accumulates. As the radon accumulates, the risk levels of cancer rises.

I highly recommend checking out page 12 of the EPA report here, as it shows you the risk levels of lung cancer for each level of radon.

Believe it or not, there was one home in Pennsylvania that had a radon level of 3,715 pCi/L! I’m willing to bet that none of you will be seeing those kinds of numbers, but I have to warn you that there might be a ton more radon in your home’s air than you ever thought there could be. The only way to know for sure is to test it.

if you know that you’ve got a radon problem, then skip down to the section that says “What Can I Do If I Have a Radon Problem”.

What’s the Best Radon Detector on the Market?

The best radon detectors are made by AirThings. These air quality sensors are some of the best ones out there for their price, they give great, accurate, numbers, are easy to use, and they don’t look ugly, like some of the radon detectors out there.

I spent quite a long time looking at the various radon detectors out there (there actually aren’t that many that I found worthwhile to even look at).

The radon detectors that didn’t even get close to making the cut were clunky, hated by their users, and they didn’t really work. Some were dirt cheap, and there’s a reason why they were. As I’ve learned the hard way, cheaper is not always better.

Think of it as buying a car, if you find one for a third of comparable cars, odds are something is super wrong. I glossed through the info I could on these machines and could see a few issues.

But with that said, I must admit that there were a few radon detectors that I did like. These runner-ups were reasonably priced, worked well and worked well.

What really did it for me, in the end, was that AirThings’ radon detectors were easy to use. I don’t care how cool something is if I can’t use the thing.

But it goes beyond just being easy to use, there were a couple other machines that were pretty straightforward.

What really sold me on the AirThings brand was how their data was so easy to access. Everything was simply set up. You could easily find all the information you needed to know and you could make decisions from there. There was only one other radon detector that came close for me, and I ended up making my final choice on my favorite unit on two final criteria.

Looks and price.

Yeah, I said it. I care about looks. When I see that two things are basically the same on the inside, I’ll let the outside decide sometimes. AirThings’ radon detectors aren’t shiny eye sores. They’re simple devices and you have a couple of options to choose from.

I like options, so that made me like AirThings a little bit more too.

But, price is the final nail in the coffin for the other radon detector. AirThings’ radon detector, the Corentium, was less money and it did all the same things. I could buy a radon test kit, or a few of them, with the money I saved by going with this option.

Who doesn’t like saving a bit of money, after all? You got a comparable device for a few bucks less, and that’s a big win.

Something that I also loved about AirThings is their mission. They want radon detectors in every home. Radon detectors can save lives, and AirThings wants these life-saving devices to be as common as smoke detectors. I love that!

You can order a radon detector from AirThings with this link here. Be sure to use the code ape10-10off to get ten percent off your order so you can save even more money.

The radon detectors that AirThings offers are the Corentium (which is their cheapest option), the Wave, and the Wave Plus. They’ve got other options too, but they’re not all radon detectors that are made for your home, like these are. Click the links on each radon detector’s name if you’d like to check one of those out. And, once again, you can use the code ape10-10off to get ten percent off at checkout!

What Can I Do If I Have a Radon Problem?

If you have a radon problem, then you need to work to mitigate the level of radon before it does too much more damage to you and your lungs. There are a few options that you can take, but the best one is called “radon mitigation”. Air purifiers with activated carbon filters can help to reduce the amount of radon in your home, but preventing it from getting into your home in the first place is the best course of action.

Radon Mitigation

Radon mitigation can be done by professionals, or by just you. Lots of people are going the DIY route nowadays to reduce radon levels in their homes, and odds are you can do it as well.

Most radon mitigation systems involve something called a radon fan, which you can pick up on Amazon here. These fans go in your basement and they suck the radon out of your basement before it can get into your home.

Most radon mitigation systems are set up in peoples’ basements because radon comes up out of the ground and then gets stuck when it gets in your home. By stopping it at your basement, that makes sure that it doesn’t get into your home’s living area.

But another radon mitigation step that can be taken is by sealing up the cracks in your home’s foundations (if you’ve got a concrete pad beneath your home). If you don’t have such a pad, then the radon fan might be the best option for you.

There are several routes that you can take to mitigate your radon exposure. I only shared two here, but there are plenty of other ones. A lot of people, professionals included, opt to use a combination of the various radon mitigation strategies and those are usually some of the best options.

But, if you aren’t ready to spend a few thousand dollars (or even a few hundred dollars), then just getting a radon fan could be all you need to get your home’s radon levels into the safe zone.

Air Purifiers

Air purifiers can be a part of your radon mitigation strategy, but, as I said before, mitigation is a lot more important. Radon mitigation keeps the radon from getting in. Air purifiers, on the other hand, can work to get rid of any radon that your radon home defense misses.

And because of that, I think it could be really helpful to get an air purifier to help you in your fight against radon which is doing its best to sneak into your home.

But, not just any air purifier will help you.

Not every air purifier is made to deal with radon.

If you want an air purifier to help you get rid of radon, you need to get one that has something called an activated carbon filter. These filters are sometimes called activated charcoal filters too, but they’re the same thing.

Activated carbon filters are the only air filter that can actually filter gasses out of the air. Every other kind of filter targets particles.

Because radon is a gas, activated carbon is the only way you can capture it and keep it from entering your lungs.

How much is an air purifier going to cost you?

Well, that’s the thing, you’ll probably end up wanting to get a few air purifiers. Air purifiers aren’t made to take care of your own house because they can’t clean the air in rooms that they aren’t in.

But, you don’t have to buy a dozen air purifiers right off the bat, just buy them one at a time, if you’re on a budget.

table lamp on white wooden nightstand beside bed

If you do choose to buy just one air purifier at a time, prioritize your bedrooms. You spend most of your time at home in that one room so, if you have a radon problem, you’ll be exposed to radon the longest in that one room.

Additionally, you should prioritize the rooms on your home’s lower levels. The EPA says that you should test for radon in the lower three stories of a building and that’s because radon rises from the ground. As such, your first lines of defense should be as low as you can get them.

Ideally, it’s best to get an air purifier in every room of every house, but that’s not always practical, I get it.

But you have to start somewhere if you want to be as safe as you can!

I recently ran some numbers and found that a home that was about 1,450 square feet could probably be taken care of for under 300 dollars. That, according to my calculations, was for two larger rooms (500 square feet each), and three bedrooms (150 square feet each). The larger rooms could be your living room, kitchen and dining room, family room, anything that’s bigger.

Of course, there are lots of different house plans out there, so you’ll probably have to adjust that a bit, depending on your home.

The air purifiers that I ran this calculation for all had activated carbon filters and they were the cheapest options I could find that were still worth buying. Again, you can mix and match as much as you please. You can shop around yourself even.

Here’s a link to the air purifier for 500 square foot rooms on Amazon. Here’s a link to the air purifier for 150 square foot rooms, also on Amazon. If you’d like to see my other air purifier recommendations, you can see them in this list: Air Purifier Essentials Top Picks: Best HEPA Air Purifiers on the Market

What if Mitigation and Air Purifiers aren’t Enough to Get My Home’s Air into the Safe Zone for Radon?

If mitigation and air purifiers aren’t enough to get your home’s radon levels under 4 pCi/L, then you will have to consult some local professionals.

I’ve yet to hear about anyone who hasn’t been able to get their radon levels into the safe zone, but anything can happen. The world’s a big place.

There’s a chance that, if you went the DIY route for mitigation, that you did something wrong, after all, mitigation isn’t your specialty, we all make mistakes. Speaking from experience, I can say I make some pretty dumb mistakes when I’m trying something new.

If you hire a professional when your efforts fall flat, they might find your shortcomings. They might just change one or two things and that’ll fix everything. Or they might start a massive project that will save your home.

Local professionals will know the tricks to limit radon in your area, so they might know a cool trick that you couldn’t have ever found out.

But, odds are that your efforts will be very effective. Radon’s surprisingly easy to deal with when you know what you’re doing!

Want to read some more stuff on radon? Check out my other radon articles here!

What is the Best Air Purifier for Radon Gas?

Do Air Purifiers Help with Radon Gas? | What’s the Number 1 Best Way to Deal with Radon Gas in My Home?

What Air Purifier is the Best for Radon Gas? | The 3 Best Air Purifiers for Radon Gas

Does a HEPA Filter Help With Radon? | Can a HEPA Filter Remove Radon from My Home’s Air?

Will an Activated Carbon Air Purifier Get Rid of Radon Gas?

Or, if you’ve read enough on radon for the day, check out these cool air purifier articles!

What is a Water Based Air Purifier? | The Pros & Cons of Water Air Revitalizers

Do Air Purifiers Reduce Dust?

What’s the Best Air Purifier for Someone with Pets?

Jonathon Silva

Jonathan Silva is our longtime Air Purifier Essentials author. He has been writing on air purification technologies for his entire professional career.

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