Environmental Inspection

As existing homes get older we hear a lot more about environmental concerns. Even a home that looks perfectly fine can contain serious health hazards that have not been discovered, and the current owner may not be aware of them. Most experienced home builders and home inspectors can perform proper tests to ensure that your home is as safe as possible. Here are some tips to help you get the results you want:

Inspect your home inspector before he inspects your home

Most states don’t require the home inspectors to be licensed. If you find a major problem or defect that was not discovered or disclosed to you by the home inspector, the inspector’s financial liability to you may be limited to the inspection fee that you paid. So do your homework to determine that your home inspector is competent. You should review the most important environmental inspections, including water, radon gas and lead testing in addition to the general home inspection. Belonging to a trade association, or being “trusted” does not guarantee inspector’s competency or the results of the inspection. Pay your inspector for the time you will spend going through the report, ask questions and make sure that the inspector’s personality and disclosure style are compatible with your expectations.

Read and understand the inspection contingency clause

The right to inspect a property is very important for all property buyers. The inspection contingency clause was made a part of real estate purchase contracts to allow the buyer to inspect the property within a specific time frame, typically between 5 to 21 days. Home inspection contingency clause specifies property items that you have the right to inspect, and under what terms and conditions you can require the seller to repair such items, or allow you to cancel the contract. Make sure home inspection contingency allows you to inspect the property for any structural, mechanical or environmental issues. Always verify that you have a GENERAL contingency that gives you 10 days (from the date of signing of the contract) to hire a home inspector of your choice to inspect the property for any structural, mechanical and environmental issues. Every contingency should give you the right to cancel the purchase of the property, or require the seller to make all appropriate repairs. Also, contingency removal should define how and who will perform the repairs, and that all repairs will be verified to be satisfactory by your home inspector prior to closing of the sale as part of the final walk through.

Make sure to include environmental inspection

Verifying that your property is environmentally healthy is as important as determining if it is structurally and mechanically sound. Recent studies show that environmental hazards in homes and office buildings contribute to chronic diseases. The primary environmental issues that affect your health are drinking water, radon, lead dust and mold and mildew. When the property inspection is completed, the inspection report documents all health hazards and defects, and lists recommendations for repair, or for further inspections by specialized inspectors. Property inspections may include:

  • Soils and geological inspection
  • Foundation and structural inspection
  • Termite inspection
  • Roof Inspection
  • Doors and windows inspection
  • Fireplace Inspection
  • HVAC – Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Inspection
  • Water quality inspection
  • Plumbing inspection
  • Mold and mildew inspection
  • Electrical inspection
  • Lead-based paint inspection
  • Asbestos inspection
  • Radon gas inspection

Water quality testing

Safe drinking water and clean water for bathing is absolutely necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, many properties do not contain water that is considered to be safe or healthy. Most public water supplies obtain their water from underground aquifers. The water is tested and treated for contaminants, and although the water leaving a public water supply may be considered safe before it leaves the plant, it travels through underground piping that may be old and deteriorating, and may contain lead and other contaminants that leach into the water. Additionally, the plumbing supply in the home may contain lead solder or have lead in fixtures that may contaminate the water..

Radon gas testing

Radon is a radioactive gas that has been in found in properties across theUnited States. It comes from natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water, and it contaminates the air you breath. Radon typically moves up through the ground and into your home through the cracks and holes in the foundation, and it can even seep through the foundation itself. Once radon is in your home, it gets trapped because most homes do not have sufficient ventilation. Additionally, radon can also enter your home through well water. Any home, new or old, well-sealed and drafty home, and home with or without basement can have a radon gas problem.

It is estimated that nearly one out of every fifteen homes in theUnited Stateshas an elevated radon level. Radon gas is classified as Class 1 human lung carcinogen, and long exposure to high levels of radon gas can cause lung cancer. As a result, the EPA and the office of the Surgeon General recommend all homes to be tested for the presence of radon. Because radon is an invisible and odorless gas, special radon gas test is the only way to determine if a home has high radon levels. If a high radon level is detected the mitigation systems costing between $800 and $2000 are available to remedy it.

Lead poisoning

People can get lead in their body if they put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths, eat paint chips or soil that contains lead or breathe in lead dust, especially during renovations that disturb surfaces painted with lead containing paints. Lead is more dangerous to children because:

  • Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths that may contain lead
  • Children’s growing bodies absorb more lead
  • Children’s brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead

Symptoms of lead poisoning:

If you or your child experiences any of the symptoms below in conjunction with suspected lead poisoning, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Lead poisoning symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Poor attention span
  • Noticeable learning difficulty
  • Slowed speech development
  • Hyperactivity

Lead can be found in older homes and in general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. Federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978. Lead can also be found in the soil around a home. Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint or other sources such as past use of leaded gas in cars. Additionally, children playing in yards can ingest or inhale lead dust. Lead dust from deteriorating lead-based paint or from soil tracked into a home may contain significant amounts of lead. If your house has plumbing with lead or lead solder, your water may also contain lead. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling the water does not get rid of lead. If you think your plumbing might contain lead use only cold water for drinking and cooking to minimize the lead exposure. Always run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water faucet for a few hours

If you work with lead or work in a place that works with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Always shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes. Old painted toys and old furniture should be avoided as a child might chew on the paint and ingest the dangerous lead from it. Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain can also become contaminated because lead can leach in from these containers. Activities such as making pottery or stained glass or refinishing furniture may also cause lead exposure, as can lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air. Old remedies such as “Greta” and “Azarcon” to treat an upset stomach contain lead.

Homes built prior to 1978 may contain lead-based paint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 87 percent of homes built before 1940 have some lead-based paint while 24 percent of homes built between 1960 and 1978 have some lead-based paint. So what can you do? You can hire a certified professional to check for lead-based paint in your home. To find a certified inspector, call theNationalLeadInformationCenterat 1-800-424-LEAD (5323). You may also test using a lead test kit. Test kits should be recognized by the EPA and are available at hardware stores.

What can I do to protect my family?

If you suspect your house has lead hazards you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family’s risk:

  • Clean up all paint ships or dust, and clean all floors, window frames, window sills and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge, or paper towel with warm water and an all-purpose cleaner or cleaner made specifically for lead
  • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty or dusty areas
  • Frequently wash children’s hands, especially before they meals, nap time and bed-time
  • Regularly wash play areas, toys, bottles, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals
  • Keep children from chewing window sills or other painted surfaces
  • Never use antique painted crib or other antique baby furniture that a child might chew on
  • Do not let children play with antique or old painted toys
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid bringing in lead from soil
  • Make sure children eat healthy meals, children on healthy diet consume less lead
  • If you rent, notify your landlord of any peeling or chipping paint and have it removed

Keep young children or pregnant women out of the home during remodeling that could potentially put dust-containing lead into the air.

The Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) law enacted by the EPA in 2010 requires all contractors disturbing lead paint to be certified by EPA for use of Lead Safe Work Practices. Read http://www.epa.gov/rrp. Some paint removal methods used by painting contractors in the past are now prohibited: 1) caustic methylene chloride, 2) open air dry scraping and sanding, and 3) high heat guns at 1000+ degrees which vaporize the lead. New soy-based and other “Green” liquid removers are acceptable if you don’t have very thick paint and have only small areas to strip. Sanding is permitted with a special HEPA vacuum attachment to collect the lead dust. Low heat infrared eco-strip makes no lead fumes and little dust from the soft, clumping paint shavings. Any mechanical method you use has to be UL listed for safety.

Lead testing

Lead is one of the most toxic elements in existence. Lead was used for many years in paints and was finally banned in theUnited Statesin 1978. As a result, over 75% of the nations properties contains lead-based paints. Exposure to lead causes permanent damage to the nervous system, especially in children and pets. The CDC declared lead poisoning as the number one preventable environmental disease affecting children. Exposure to lead causes reduced I.Q., reading and learning disabilities, reduced attention span, even Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Lead paint exposure is usually not a result of chewing lead paint chips, but exposure to invisible lead dust that may be present on window sills and floors in the property. As the lead paint ages and deteriorates, or is disturbed by repainting or remodeling, invisible lead dust is created. Normal vacuuming does not remove the lead dust because the small particles pass through most bags and filters. Lead dust problem can be usually corrected by paint stabilization through repainting, and specialized dust cleaning using a vacuum with an appropriate HEPA filter. It is important to dust test any home built prior to 1978, especially if you have children or pets. Lead dust testing can be accomplished by a home inspector, environmental inspector, or can be done by the homeowner upon moving into the home.


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