My job as your professional home inspector is to alert you, to the extent possible, to unknown problems and potential environmental hazards in your current or potential home. I perform a non-invasive visual inspection of your property. While I may be able to alert you to possible problems, my basic inspections are no substitutes for specialized contaminant testing.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to many products to strengthen them and provide fire resistance and heat insulation. If disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers which can be inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos material that crumbles easily if handled or which has been scraped, sawed, or sanded into a powder is more likely to create a health hazard. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of lining of chest and abdominal cavity), and asbestosis (lungs scarred with the tissue). Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos insulation. Most of today’s products do not contain asbestos. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged or you plan changes that might disturb it, you require a professional for repair and removal. Before home remodeling, find out if asbestos is present.
Excerpts from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Asbestos and Vermiculite”.
Lead is a highly toxic metal used for many years in products in and around homes. Lead’s adverse health effects range from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Because their bodies are growing quickly, children age 6 and under are at greatest risk. Primary sources of lead exposure for children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust, and lead-contaminated residential soil. Lead might be present in any home built up until the 1940s. Rarely found in source water, lead can enter tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, joints, and solder. New homes are also at risk: even legally “lead-free” pipes can contain up to 8 percent lead and leave significant amounts of lead in the water for the first several months after installation. Since the 1980s, EPA and its federal partners have banned or limited lead used in consumer products, including residential paint. Federal regulations limiting the amount of lead in paint sold for residential use started in 1978. If your property was built before 1978 or you are considering remodeling, renovating, or repair, you may wish to think about lead inspection. Water quality can be compromised by such other trace elements as iron, excess acidity, manganese, calcium, magnesium, mineral salts, hydrogen sulphide, selenium, chromium, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.
Excerpts from U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, “Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil”.
Mold (fungi) is present everywhere, indoors and outdoors. There are more than 100,000 species of mold, at least 1,000 of which are common in America. Species of Cladosporium, Penicillium, and Aspergillus are some of the most commonly found species. Mold most likely grows in bathrooms, basements, and anywhere else where there is dampness or water. Many types of mold routinely encountered aren’t hazardous to healthy individuals. Too much exposure to mold may cause a worsening of such conditions as asthma, hay fever, or other allergies. Fevers and breathing problems in a vulnerable individual are possible but unusual. When moldy material becomes damaged or disturbed, spores, which are reproductive bodies similar to seeds, can be released into the air. Exposure can occur if people inhale the spores, directly handle moldy material, or accidentally ingest the spores. Since all molds need water to grow, mold can grow almost anywhere where there is high humidity, dampness, or water damage. Most often molds are confined to areas near the water source. Removing the source of moisture through repairs or dehumidification is crucial in preventing mold growth. Correcting underlying water damage and cleaning the affected area is the best way to treat mold. If mold contamination is extensive, a professional abatement company may be needed. Excerpts from The New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, Environmental & Occupational Disease Epidemiology, “Facts About Mold”.
Radon is a radioactive gaseous element produced in the disintegration of radium, a radioactive metallic element. It cannot be detected by the senses and can be confirmed only by sophisticated instruments and laboratory tests. The gas enters a house through pores and cracks in the concrete or through floorboards of poorly ventilated crawlspaces, especially when wet ground allows the gas to escape easily through the soil and disperse in the atmosphere. Radon is a lung carcinogen: the National Academy of Sciences estimates radon causes some 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths annually. The U.S. Surgeon General and the EPA recommend all houses be tested for radon. Houses with high radon levels can be fixed.
Excerpts from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Indoor Radon”.
Termites, which play a positive role in recycling wood and plant material, become a problem when they consume structural lumber. Every year thousands of U.S. housing units require termite treatment. These pests cause serious damage to wooden structures and posts and can also attack stored food, household furniture, and books. Successful termite management requires special skills, including a working knowledge of building construction and an understanding of termite biology and identification. In most cases, it is advisable to hire a professional pest control company for the inspection and control problem.
Wood-boring beetle larvae feed on wood and wood products. Adults of some species bore holes into plaster, plastic, and soft metals. Many species cause problems when emerging from wood in newly constructed buildings because they leave small circular or oval exit holes in the wood. To avoid these problems, infested wood must be kiln-fried before being used for lumber. The species Deathwatch Beetles is primarily found in soft woods (girder, beams, foundation timbers, some types of furniture, with some species attacking books). False powderpost female beetles bore a tunnel, or egg gallery, into wood or other materials, then deposit eggs in pores or cracks within the tunnel. Adults of some species bore through such soft metal as lead and silver, as well as plaster and other non-wood materials. Affected structural wood should be removed and replaced whenever possible.
Wood Wasps and Horntails. Wood wasp damage in buildings is likely to be more cosmetic than structurally weakening. Emerging wood wasps can chew through any substance: wallboard or plaster walls, hardwood floors, carpeting, linoleum, non-ceramic floor tiles, and other interior surfaces.
Carpenter Ants. Several species can damage wood in building and other structures. Though ants don’t eat wood, they bore into it to make their nests, sometimes causing serious structural damage. Also, they nest in hollow doors, cracks and crevices, furniture, wall voids, and termite galleries. New building infestation occurs when land-cleaning in the area disturbs existing native colonies.
Excerpts from University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, UCIPMOnline, “Statewide Pest Management Program”.
What Is asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
How can asbestos affect my health?
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease.
Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.
Where can I find asbestos and when can it be a problem?
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos.
Common products that may have been made with asbestos include insulation, soundproofing, decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings, hot water and steam pipes, and furnace ducts.
What should be done about asbestos in the home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic! Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone, since material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs.
If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed.
Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos.
The federal government has training courses for asbestos professionals around the country. Some state and local governments also have or require training or certification courses. Ask asbestos professionals to document their completion of federal or state-approved training. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of EPA-approved training. State and local health departments or the EPA may have listings of licensed professionals in your area.
For more information, contact the EPA.
Why is lead in some homes?
Lead is a highly toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. In general, the older a home, the more likely it has lead-based paint.
The most common sources of household lead are:
- Paint– The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, but homes built before this time may have used lead paint.
- Dust– Household dust can be contaminated with lead from paint, as can the soil around a house whose exterior was painted with lead paint.
- Drinking water– Your home might have plumbing with lead or lead solder.
Can lead cause health problems?
If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.
Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.
What should I do about lead?
You can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention.
To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead abatement contractor. Abatement methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials.
Who should do the cleanup?
Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems — someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government. Contact the National Lead Information Center at http://www.epa.gov/oppt/lead/ for help with locating certified contractors in your area and to see if financial assistance is available.
For more information, contact the EPA.
Why is mold growing in my home?
Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.
Can mold cause health problems?
Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances.
Allergic reactions to mold are common and include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.
How do I get rid of mold?
It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors, but indoor mold growth can be controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and also fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but don’t fix the water problem, the mold problem most likely will return.
Who should do the cleanup?
If the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet, you can probably handle the job yourself. However:
If there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet, consult the EPA’s material on mold. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document is applicable to other building types.
If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations in EPA’s Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, or the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygenists .
If you suspect that the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold, consult the EPA information center before taking further action. Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold – it could spread mold throughout your home.
If the water and/or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, then call in a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.
If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.
For more information, read the EPA’s A Brief Guide to Mold.
What is radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soils, rock, and water throughout the U.S. Radon causes lung cancer, and is a threat to health because it tends to collect in homes, sometimes to very high concentrations.
How can radon affect people’s health?
Almost all risk from radon comes from breathing air with radon and its decay products. Radon decay products cause lung cancer.
There is no safe level of radon — any exposure poses some risk of cancer. In two 1999 reports, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded after an exhaustive review that radon in indoor air is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoking. The NAS estimated that 15,000-22,000 Americans die every year from radon-related lung cancer.
How do I know if there is radon in my home?
You cannot see, feel, smell, or taste radon. Testing your home is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing for radon in all rooms below the third floor.
Radon testing is inexpensive and easy–it should only take a few minutes of your time. Millions of Americans have already tested their homes for radon. Various low-cost, do-it-yourself test kits are available through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail outlets. You can also hire a trained contractor to do the testing for you.
What can I do to protect myself and my family from radon?
The first step is to test your home for radon, and have it fixed if it is at or above EPA’s Action Level of 4 picocuries per liter. You may want to take action if the levels are in the range of 2-4 picocuries per liter. Generally, levels can be brought below 2 pCi/l fairly simply.
The best method for reducing radon in your home will depend on how radon enters your home and the design of your home. For example, sealing cracks in floors and walls may help to reduce radon. There are also systems that remove radon from the crawl space or from beneath the concrete floor or basement slab that are effective at keeping radon from entering your home. These systems are simple and don’t require major changes to your home. Other methods may be necessary.
People who have private wells should test their well water to ensure that radon levels meet EPA’s newly proposed standard.
For more information, contact the EPA.
A typical homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover destruction caused by termites, even though they cause over 1 billion dollars in damage to homes throughout the United States each year. It’s important that homeowners understand the threat of termites, and take the necessary steps to protect their homes.
Subterranean termites are extremely destructive. First they build tunnels to wooden structures, and then they burrow into those structures to obtain food. Any wood or cellulose-containing material constitutes termite food, and given time to do so, they’ll eat until nothing is left but a shell. Termites avoid light and air, so they build their colonies where you’re not likely to stumble upon them.
On the off chance you do see them, remember that it’s easy to confuse termites with ants. Fortunately, there are features that distinguish them.
- narrow waists
- bent antennae
- two sets of wings (one wing is longer than the other)
- thick waists
- straight antennae
- two sets of wings (same size)
The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.