Household Environmental Hazards | Prairie Home Inspections

Household Environmental Hazards

Many people have questions and concerns about their household environment.  There is a lot of information floating around about things like mold and lead.  Some of it is accurate, some not so much...


One of the hotest topics in real estate lately is mold.  There have been some sensationalized media stories about TOXIC MOLD.  This term is often misleading.  Some molds are toxigenic, meaning that they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), but the molds themselves are not toxic or poisonous.  Molds that create mycotoxins should be treated like other common household molds, meaning that testing for what type of mold you have is usually not important. The practical reality is that there is mold and mold spores in almost all indoor environments and they are usually not a big problem.  Some people are sensative to mold, or have medical conditions which make them vulnerable to mold or any number of other things, but there are no standards for dangerous levels of mold or mold spores.  Common sense measures like cleaning, drying up water and controlling indoor moisture will usually prevent mold from becoming a health issue in a home.  For more information about mold, check out the EPA website or download this Brief Guide to Mold and Moisture.


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Most people who have bought or sold a home, or even leased an apartment or home, have seen a "Lead paint addendum".  Lead is an environmental toxin that can have serious health effects.  The most widely publicized source of lead in the home is lead paint.  The use of lead paint was banned in 1978, but its use had been in decline in prior decades.  According to the EPA, the older a home is, the higher the possibility that it may have lead paint.  Usually old lead paint has been painted over with one or more coats of a non-lead paint.  In this case, the lead is usually not a problem.  Some areas that get extra wear or traffic, like windows, window frames, doors and stairs and railings may have older layers of paint exposed and require extra attention and care.  If you have an older home, you can minimize the risk of lead exposure by maintaining your painted surfaces in good condition and dusting often.  If you are painting or remodelding, be sure to take precautions with old painted surfaces, or verify that your contractor that is lead safe certified.  


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Another issue that gets less attention than lead paint is lead in your water.  In some areas, homes built in the 1930's or older may have lead water supply pipes.  Most lead supply pipes have been replaced, or can be replaced, but the use of lead containing fittings and solder in plumbing systems continues at ever decreasing levels.  Lead solder and fittings may be a concern depending on the hardness and acidity of your water.  Lead main supply piping will likely result in unsafe lead levels in your water.  There are ways to reduce your exposure with a lead supply pipe, however the only permanent fix is to replace the pipe.  A good home inspector will warn you about a lead main supply pipe, however a home inspector can not identify lead solder or fittings, so you may wish to test your water.  


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Asbestos is a mineral that has a naturally strong, light and fire resistant fiber.  These characteristics mean that it was (and is) used in a lot of products.  Various uses of asbestos have been banned over the years, but some products are still manufactured using asbestos.  In most houses, the majority of asbestos containg materials have not been in use since the 1970's.  Unless it is labeled, it is usually not possible to identify asbestos containing materials without lab testing.  If you think a material may contain asbestos, treat it as if it does and leave it alone.  The main thing to know about asbestos is that it should not be disturbed if it is in good condition.  If the asbestos is damaged, crumbling, falling apart, or if you are planning renovations that will disturb the material in question, you should take precautions.  Some of the materials that contain asbestos are siding, roofing shingles and felt, vinyl floor tiles, carpet adhesives,  vermiculite insulation, hot water and steam pipe insulation, transite chimneys, ventialtion pipe sealing tapes and compounds, wall and ceiling texture and several types of cement board.



Radon is another household hazard that seems to come and go in the media.  Inspite of the spotty news covereage, radon has always been around, and always will be.  There are plenty of misconceptions about radon, but here are some of the basics:  Radon is a naturally occuring, radioactive gas.  It is present everywhere, but can reach unhealthy concentrations in buildings.   Its caused the decay of uranium, which is present in much of the earth's crust.  Its colorless, odorless and chemically inert.  Its byproducts can have serious long term health effects.  The only way to know how much radon is present in an given area is to specifically test for it. If you want more detailed information about radon, here is a good FAQ.  If you do have elevated levels of radon in your home, remediation is recommended.  To test for radon, you can get a test kit your self, but if you want to know about radon levels prior to buying a house, you will probably have to hire a trained radon tester.  Prairie Home Inspections and the Center for Home Inspections offer radon testing as a stand alone service, or at a discount with a full home inspection.


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