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Before You Buy An Older Home

Older Homes Have Character, But Can be Full of Hazards

If you’ve ever seen an episode of “This Old House” or binge-watched HGTV on demand, you probably have your eye on an older home. After all, they’re often charming, well constructed, architecturally intriguing — and not hard to find.

In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of homes in this country is 40 years, and roughly 80 percent of buildings in the United States were built before 1978.

Why We Mention ‘1978’

Prior to 1978, paint applied to building interiors and exteriors contained lead, which is why many older homes today still contain lead paint. They also frequently harbor deadly asbestos which, when disturbed, can cause serious health problems including lung cancer, COPD, and cognitive disabilities.

So, before you go all in on for that architectural gem, know what potential pitfalls to avoid so that the Greek revival you love doesn’t end up a Greek tragedy. A buyer or homeowner should be aware of these hazards before renovating a home that was built before 1978:


Mold is often found hidden inside walls, ceilings, and floorboards–even under carpeting! Mold grows when there is condensation from the difference in temperature between basements and attics, or from a leaky pipe, flooding or any moisture that get trapped. Home inspectors look for signs of mold, but unless they see it or smell a musty odor, a prospective homebuyer is unlikely to find out if a house has mold. Visible mold can sometimes be just the tip of the iceberg. Exposure to mold can cause or worsen health issues like allergies, asthma, and more serious respiratory illnesses. Unfortunately, mold can be found in any structure, built before or after 1978.


Before the 1980s, asbestos was used in roofing, pipe insulation, heat lines, attics, outside siding, flooring materials, ceiling tiles and wallboards. It was popular because it insulates and protects effectively. When left untouched, asbestos typically doesn’t pose a health risk. However, when disturbed, particles may be released into the air. If a homebuyer is planning any renovation work, asbestos testing should be prioritized on the home inspection list. Breathing in just a tiny bit of asbestos can cause deadly respiratory ailments. Yes, it is extremely dangerous. Asbestos is still found with astounding regularity in older homes, today!


Old paint—even if it sits a few layers down–can decay and release dangerous lead dust and small chips into the air. Lead dust is often released when a surface is sanded. The dust can be absorbed into soil (hello vegetable gardens!). Additionally, asbestos can leach into drinking water if older pipes, faucets, and plumbing connectors that contain lead crack or break. When ingested or inhaled, lead can be particularly dangerous for children and pets.

So, make a smart move. Contact RTK Environmental for an inspection prior to buying your new home—even if your new home is an ‘old’ home. Nothing is more important than the health of your family. Contact our office to schedule an appointment: 800.392.6468.

There has been a 300% increase in patients diagnosed with asthma over the past 20 years. (USA Weekend)

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