HEALTH HAZARDS IN THE HOME
Before buying a home or apartment, ordering a home inspection to detect any leaks, structural issues, and other problems is a no-brainer. But often times, it’s not enough. While an inspector will check hundreds of common items, there may be other issues percolating that are not covered by a standard home inspection.
Checking for mold, lead, asbestos, indoor air quality, radon, and poor water quality are generally not included in a home inspection. Those hazards can be extremely harmful to you and your family, causing lifelong health problems. To detect them, you need an environmental inspection performed by a licensed professional.
And while it may be annoying to consider yet another cost when buying a home, consider this: You’re about to spend hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars on one of the biggest purchases you will ever make, and you will likely be living in the home for a long time. So, an environmental inspection that helps ensure that your home is safe will help you sleep soundly from your first night on.
“These tests should not be seen as ‘extras.’ They are an important part of buying a home,” counsels Robert Weitz, Founder of RTK Environmental Group, an environmental testing company that has been servicing the northeast for over 20 years.
“When you find out that the home you are about to spend $500,000 for has a serious mold problem, contaminated water, or toxic lead paint, which will cost tens of thousands of dollars to remediate, you may think twice about the purchase and walk away before you are in over your head. If you still decide to purchase the property, you will at least know what you are getting into.”
Here is a list of the potentially dangerous and costly items that require an environmental inspection, that are generally not covered in a general home inspection:
Exposure to lead paint can cause irreversible neurological damage. A home inspector can point out where paint is chipping or flaking, but they cannot determine with certainty whether the paint in your prospective home contains lead unless they are an EPA certified lead inspector, and conduct comprehensive lead testing. Lead dust is the most common cause of lead poisoning, and can be released from disturbing lead paint during renovations, opening and closing windows and doors that contain lead paint, or simply by putting a nail in a wall that contains lead paint.
In plumbing, while a general inspector can spot leaks and can point out outdated pipes and faucets, he cannot tell whether the pipes or water supply contain lead. This heavy metal cannot be seen, and it has no odor.
This topic has become top of mind since the catastrophe in Flint, Michigan, and people are becoming aware that exposure to lead is extremely dangerous, especially to children. It causes permanent brain damage, autistic-like symptoms, learning and behavior problems, hyperactivity, slowed growth hearing issues and anemia, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Pregnant women exposed to lead are at risk of passing problems on to their unborn children.
Exposure to even a few fibers of asbestos can cause cancer and respiratory problems. In general, inspectors may note visible elements, like pipe insulation or tiles, that may contain asbestos. But they won’t touch it. Asbestos has been used in roofs, attics, flooring materials, ceiling tiles, wallboards, and more. It is now known to cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. It may never present a problem if it is in good condition and untouched, but it becomes a hazard when it is disturbed, releasing its highly fibrous particles into the air. If you are planning a renovation, you need to know if the areas that will be worked on contain asbestos.
Indoor mold is a health hazard and should be properly removed. It is classified as either toxic or allergen, and neither is healthy. Home inspectors may notice mold if it’s visible on the outside of a wall, or they notice a musty odor, but they won’t be able to determine whether it is a toxic variety of black mold or not. Nor can the inspector identify the mold if it is behind the walls, under rugs, or in any of many other less accessible areas including basements, attics, and bathrooms. Another important note: if you are purchasing a home in the winter, mold may be dormant because the conditions aren’t ideal for mold. But as soon as heat and humidity come into play, mold becomes active and you could have a full-blown mold infestation.
Most everyone has heard about radon in homes. This dangerous, naturally occurring, radioactive gas is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the EPA. That makes it the second deadliest cause of lung cancer behind smoking. And unlike cigarette smoke, you can’t see or smell radon; the only way to detect it is with proper sampling techniques. It is found in homes all over the United States, especially in the northeast, and it is detected in elevated levels in one out of every 15 homes, according to the EPA. So testing for radon is a must for all homebuyers.
A basic home inspection will tell you if your faucets and pump work, but won’t tell you about your water quality. A comprehensive analysis of your drinking water is important. Heavy metals in pipes, arsenic that naturally occurs in groundwater, radon that is naturally produced when uranium decays in soil and water, and pesticide contamination are just some of the things that can taint the water you are drinking, bathing in, and using every day.
“Don’t neglect these important items,” said Weitz. “It doesn’t make sense to have a home looked over for working faucets and a roof in sound condition only to move in and learn the hard way that there was a health hazard you never saw coming. Smart homebuyers go the extra step, and know that environmental testing is just as important as a home inspection.”
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. If you would like to find out more about a what a basic home inspection covers, read Why Do I Need A Professional Home Inspection.