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With most of us spending more than 90% of our lives indoors (Consumer Product Safety Commission), it is worth thinking more closely about the quality of living in our homes. Some of the most common problems in homes show that radon is present in 1 out of 16 homes; water leaks exist in 1 out of 10 homes; structural problems can be found in 1 out of every 6 houses, and lead-based paint and non-functioning smoke detectors are present in a staggering 1 out of 4 homes.

Homes can contain lead-based paint, asbestos, formaldehyde, radon, mold, imported drywall and other substances that can cause illnesses or chronic health problems. Homes are also full of safety hazards from stairs and stoves to bathtubs and swimming pools that can contribute to accidents, injuries or deaths.

To maintain a healthy home, occupants should keep it dry, clean, well-ventilated, free from contaminants, pest-free, safe and well-maintained. Good home maintenance can act to reduce allergens, prevent illness, and reduce injury from accidents. Such concerns don’t necessarily mean you must give up your dream of buying a home. But you do need to bring along a knowledgeable professional and licensed home inspector to help identify any costly repairs.

According to Marcie Geffner, one way to find these hazards is get a home inspection, but that’s only a starting point. A home inspector can’t move furniture or boxes without the homeowner’s permission and even a vacant house isn’t 100 percent accessible.

First-time homebuyers especially should seek the help of a home inspector as they have never been through the home buying process before and are not aware of the potential problems they could encounter as homeowners.

Buying or Selling Real Estate

Whether buying or selling real estate, there are several environmental issues that one needs to be aware of. Some possible environmental issues that may arise in the buying and selling process are:


Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that occurs worldwide in the environment as a byproduct of the natural decay of uranium present in the earth. Radon is present in varying quantities in the atmosphere and in soils around the world. It usually enters the home through cracks in the foundation. Radon that is present in surrounding soil or in well water can be a source of radon in a home.

Most homes have some radon present, and tests can determine if the level present is higher than what is considered safe. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one in 15 homes in the United States has a high level of radon. Real estate agents, contractors and home inspectors can help you test for radon before you buy.

A radon reduction or mitigation system will need to be installed if the level is too high.

Toxic Mold

The first thing to understand about mold is that it everywhere. It’s in the air, on plants and foods, dry leaves and other organic matter. It’s very common to find molds in homes and buildings. The mold spores enter the home through doorways and windows, heating and air conditioning systems. They can also enter on animals, clothing, shoes, bags and people. When these spores drop and meet with excessive moisture in your home, they will grow.

Mold can be found even in new homes. Common problem sites can include flooding, leaky roofs, bad pipes, overflowing sinks or tubs and numerous other sources of excess moisture. Many of the building materials for homes provide suitable nutrients for mold, helping it to grow. Items like paper, paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, wood products, paint, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet and upholstery.

Many times if you see visible mold on a wall or surface, chances are you are only seeing a portion of the mold. In these cases, it is best to have the mold tested by your home inspector. A lab will determine what type of mold it is.

For homeowners, a mold inspection will either put your mind at rest or make you aware of any problems that could arise because of the mold. If any mold is found to be present and active in the home, the mold inspection will ensure you are not surprised by costly clean up and potential health hazards of mold.

Molds can cause health problems as well as structural damage.

Wood Destroying Insects

A termite inspection, more properly referred to as a Wood Destroying Pest and Organism inspection report, is recommended when purchasing or selling a home and entails a thorough inspection of the complete exterior and interior of the structure for wood destroying pests and organisms. The inspector will evaluate the home’s exterior, identify any signs of termite activity as well as conditions conducive to termites or other infestations.

Upon completion of the inspection, the inspector will go over all findings and recommendations with the homeowner or agent if desired. A written report is issued and usually available within one to two working days.

A state-licensed inspector will perform each service and provide a detailed report on any existence of wood destroying organisms in the home.

Lead Paint

Lead is a metallic element found worldwide in rocks and soils. Lead paint may be present in homes built before 1978. It is not harmful unless ingested, such as by an infant chewing a window sill. When ingested, lead accumulates in the blood, bones, and soft tissue of the body and high concentrations of lead in the body can cause death or permanent damage to the central nervous system, the brain, the kidneys, and red blood cells.

Generally, if the lead-based paint is in good condition, not cracking or peeling, it is not a hazard. If the condition is hazardous, the paint will either need to be removed or sealed in such a manner as to eliminate the hazard.


This household hazard was most commonly used to insulate furnaces and boilers. Water pipes leading to radiators were also commonly insulated the same way. Asbestos was also commonly used in vinyl flooring and in some composite roof materials.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral found in rocks and soil throughout the world, which has been identified as a carcinogen. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. Asbestos has also been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings. Asbestos may have been used in the insulation or other building materials of homes built more than 30 years ago.

The health risks with asbestos arise when age, damage, construction or remodeling causes materials that contain asbestos to crumble, flake or deteriorate and release asbestos fibers into the air. These fine fibers can be inhaled through the nose and mouth.

If the asbestos is releasing fibers into the air, it needs to be removed or repaired by a professional contractor specializing in asbestos cleanup.

Water Quality

Water quality is a common concern and a buyer may want to have the water source tested before purchasing real estate. Typically, a basic water quality test will check pH, water hardness, the presence of fluoride, sodium, iron and manganese, plus bacteria such as E-coli. Also, water may be tested for the presence of lead or arsenic.

Before You Buy a Home

One way to identify these unhealthy conditions is to get a home inspection to determine any possible environmental concerns.

Although an environmental inspection falls outside the standards and practice of most home inspections, a certified home inspector who is certified and has been trained in these areas can offer these services in addition to your home inspection.

Most home buyers will find that there are no environmental concerns with the property that they want to purchase, however, if some questions are raised, consider having the concerns tested.

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