Thinking About Leaving the City? Get an Environmental Home Inspection Before You Buy.
The Goal? A Healthy Home.
The coronavirus pandemic has people seriously thinking about leaving the City in search of more space and a healthy suburban lifestyle. Naturally, buyers want to be sure that their prospective new homes don’t have any unpleasant surprises. That’s why it’s important to consider having an environmental home inspection prior to purchase.
Homes, anywhere and at any time, can harbor mold, asbestos or radon, and contain poor indoor air quality, polluted water, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), any one of which can lead to serious health issues. That is why savvy realtors recommend investing in environmental testing services prior to purchase. For buyers, unhealthy conditions in a home or apartment can make or break a deal.
A Home’s Age Doesn’t Matter
It’s not just older homes that have problems; newer ones do, too. While older homes are more likely to contain lead (found in pipes and paint) and asbestos (found in hundreds of building materials), newer homes can suffer from poor indoor air quality and mold infestation. Newer structures are built to be airtight to conserve energy, but this can lead to trapping air that contains mold. That can happen when building materials are left outside in the rain while the home is under construction. Damp or wet materials can carry mold spores into the new home. Oftentimes, building materials also contain VOCs, chemicals, and other toxins because of how they are manufactured.
What should you check for?
Most home inspectors lack the knowledge and certifications necessary to test for potentially toxic substances. Therefore, you should schedule an environmental inspection with a certified independent testing company before signing a contract. If you invest in an inspection prior to purchase, you could save tens of thousands of dollars in remediation and repair costs afterwards. And, if environmental issues are found prior to going to contract, the seller may take care of them, or you may get the property for less. Here’s what to test for:
Mold can be found virtually anywhere in a home—in walls, floors and ceilings, under a sink, and even beneath carpeting. Mold can be present wherever water or moisture has seeped into a home—around windows, roofs, leaky pipes, or basements that may have flooded and not properly dried or have cracks in the foundation.
Exposure to mold can cause or worsen health issues like allergies and asthma, and can exacerbate more serious respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. Typically, the average home inspector will look for visible signs of mold, but unless they see it or smell a musty odor, they won’t know a potential problem exists, which is why you should turn to an independent certified testing company.
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality (IAQ) has become a major consideration when buying a home. According to the EPA, our indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment, and in some cases, the air indoors is 100 times more polluted than the air outdoors, especially in larger cities like New York. In new construction, many of the materials used contain alarmingly high levels of harmful formaldehyde and toxic VOCs.
Exposure to even a few asbestos fibers can cause cancer and respiratory problems. Over the years, asbestos was used in roofing materials, flooring, pipe insulation, ceiling tiles, wallboard, and hundreds of other building supplies. It may never present a problem if material is in good condition, but when asbestos is disturbed, you risk of releasing its fibrous particles into the air. If a homebuyer or home inspector identifies any deteriorating asbestos material or the buyer is planning any renovations, asbestos testing will be more than a mark on the home inspection list, so best to have it covered early.
Homes and apartments built before 1978 should be tested for lead paint, inside and out. Lead dust, which comes from deteriorating surfaces, is the most common cause of lead poisoning and is easily ingestible. Typically, the dust is created where there’s friction, such as windows and windowsills. It is also released through sanding and remodeling.
Pipes and faucets are also a source of lead in water. Soil can also have elevations of lead from a home’s deteriorating external painted surfaces. Exposure to lead can cause irreversible neurological damage.
Radon is a dangerous, naturally occurring radioactive gas responsible for over 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the EPA. You can’t see or smell radon. The only way to detect it is with proper sampling techniques. It is very prevalent in the northeast, where it is estimated that one out of every five homes have elevated levels of radon. If you know it’s there, it’s easily remedied with a radon mitigation system.
A comprehensive analysis of the home’s drinking water is important. A basic home inspection will tell you if your pump and faucets work, but it won’t analyze the water quality. Heavy metals in pipes, arsenic that naturally occurs in groundwater, radon that is naturally produced when uranium decays in soil and water, pesticide contamination, and bacteria are just some of the things that can taint the water you will be drinking, bathing in, and using every day.
So, as you plan your next move, make sure you’re buying a “healthy home.” Have an environmental home inspection prior to committing to a purchase. Not all environmental hazards are obvious. To detect them requires expertise, licensure, technology, and experience. If you would like more information on what types of environmental inspections may be right for you, please feel free to call us at 800.392.6468.