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Hidden Health Hazards in Housing
Congratulations!!! You have an accepted offer* on the house of your dreams and from what you can see, the house seems to have been well maintained. You negotiated a super awesome price and can't wait to get the contracts signed! But not so fast! Before you commit, you should at least have a basic home inspection done to take a more in depth look at the systems of what will soon be your new home. Remember, once it's yours, it's yours. Should anything come up after you close, it is now your responsibility.
Think of your home inspection as a "physical" for your soon to be new home. Should something come up during the physical, it's an opportunity to look at that aspect of the house a little deeper. It may require getting a specialist in for a service, repair or replacement. And if there is something uncovered that makes you decide to walk away, consider it some of the best $$ you've ever spent.
If it's not a new house, it is bound to have a little something, (Loose toilet seat, leaky faucet, unresponsive GFI outlet) all properties do. But the ones that I am going to share with you here are the ones that could propose hazards to your health... asbestos, lead, mold and radon. Aside from radon, the other health hazards are typically found in older homes, though all can be remedied.
Here's what you should know.
Asbestos is a fibrous, naturally occurring mineral which is highly resistant to heat and corrosion. For that reason, it was used in a wide variety of building products, such as floor and ceiling tiles, siding, insulation (see also vermiculite) and some roofing shingles and tars. It was mostly used in homes built between 1930 and 1950. It was discovered that people who were exposed to asbestos by inhalation began developing lung cancer and mesothelioma. The use of asbestos containing materials was banned in 1989.
If asbestos is found in the home you are planning to purchase, it doesn't mean that you have to walk away from the property, but it does mean that you should contact a specialist and educate yourself on the costs and procedures to remove and maybe renegotiate. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just ripping out that basement tile floor. Asbestos is harmful when it is broken and becomes airborne. For more information on asbestos, check out:
Unfortunately we've heard the recent horror stories about what lead in the drinking water has done to the children in Flint, Michigan. Lead was a popular ingredient used in paints before it's use was banned in 1978. It was known to accelerate the drying process and to make products painted with the metal more resistant to moisture. But lead is highly toxic and can cause damage to the brain, the kidneys and nerves. It is especially harmful to pregnant women and to young children, who can be exposed by putting their hands in their mouths after touching contaminated objects, eating paint chips and/or playing in lead-contaminated soil.
As I am writing this, I'm actually not sure why we don't as a practice test the drinking water during the home inspection process, though I am sure it can be done, but sellers of 1-4 family homes nationwide are required to provide a lead paint disclosure indicating whether or not they have any knowledge or records of lead discovered in the home.
As real estate professionals, we are required to equip our tenants and buyers of 1-4 family homes built before 1978 with a lead paint pamphlet, encouraging them to read through and educate themselves about the lead paint hazards. With lead, if the home has been painted with the newer latex paint products since 1978, the lead would be encapsulated. We are taught that this would render it harmless, however, you do have the right to test for lead during your home inspection. Discuss with your inspector and check out the sites below for more information:
Mold is a fungi and is a natural part of the environment. It can be found everywhere. Some of us may even have some form growing in the veggie drawers of our refrigerators. With regard to the house you are considering purchasing, mold is a concern if it has been tested and has been determined to be toxic black mold, also known as stachybotrys chartarum. If you see any signs of vegetation in the home that cause you to believe that there could be a mold issue, have it tested and call in a specialist if needed.Your home inspection will only tests what is visible, though there can be testing done to analyze the air quality if you require further evidence.
Over the years, I've encountered homes that have had flooding or water issues on the lower level, which required that sheetrock and/or flooring be cut out to avoid/control the growth of mold. Mold can release spores as it grows and these spores can not only spread, promoting more mold growth, but if ingested can cause asthma like symptoms; eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as bleeding in the lungs or nose if exposed for longer periods of time.
When confronted with mold in a home you would like to pursue, keep in mind that not all visible vegetation is toxic and mold can be remediated. The best way to prevent mold is to control the moisture in your home. For more information regarding mold, visit:
Of the four home health hazards covered in this blog, radon is the one that I've encountered the most over my years in real estate. Radon is a natural, radioactive gas that is emitted from the breakdown of rock. It is odorless. You can't see it. You can't taste it, but it can kill you. It has been determined to cause lung cancer and estimated to be responsible for thousands of deaths of year.
Radon testing is generally considered an "add on"to your basic home inspection. Don't overlook this important test to save a few bucks. Even if the home you are buying doesn't have a basement, which is typically where the testing is conducted. Test the bottom floor anyway!
The test for radon is conducted over 2-3 days. It requires the tester leaving canisters in the home, which are later retrieved and sent to a lab for analyzing. If the results come back showing the house has above the acceptable limits, there are things that can be done to assist in bringing the levels down, including the installation of a mitigation system (by a state certified mitigation installation contractor). Once the mitigation system is in place, retest to confirm that the levels have indeed dropped to acceptable limits. If you purchase a house with a mitigation system already in place, you should still do your own independent test to ensure that the system is still functioning properly. Just like your air-conditioning or heating system, the mitigation system is not forever and can stop functioning. Regular routine maintenance or testing is the best way to ensure your family's safety. For more information on radon, visit:
Purchasing anew home is much bigger than the walk-in closet and the 2 car garage. Don't lose sight of the big picture items.
Know the health of your new home and learn how to best preserve and protect it and keep your family safe from the health hazards in housing.
(*New York does a letter of intent before contracts. New Jersey does contract with attorney review and time built in for inspections)
"Just Do It" is the motto I live by. Whether it be trying something new or making a decision to change something old, when I decide to do it, I just do it!
That goes for helping you accomplish....