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Environmental Concerns

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Environmental concerns in and around the home deal with issues that are for the most part beyond the scope of a professional home inspection. The New York State Standards of Practice for Home Inspectors, Section 197-5.16 Limitations and Exclusions, item (c) states the following:

“Home inspectors shall not be required to determine the presence or absence of any suspected hazardous substance including but not limited to, latent surface and/or subsurface volatile organic compounds, PCB’s, asbestos, urea formaldehyde insulation, toxins, carcinogens, diseases, wood destroying organisms, mold, hazardous plants, illicit drugs or drug making equipment, lead paint, noise or contaminants in soil, water, air quality, wet lands or any other environmental hazard.”

Some Common Environmental Concerns

  • Carbon Monoxide

    A colorless, odorless gas and a by-product of fuel burning appliances. It can leak into home from faulty combustion or improper venting. high levels may result in severe headaches, breathing difficulties, dizziness, confusion, cardiac trauma, and ultimately, death. Even long term low exposure can cause brain damage.
  • Radon Gas
    A naturally occurring soil gas that seeps into homes from the ground and can build up to high concentrations in homes. It’s the number one cause of lung cancer in non smokers, can lead to death over many years. Can’t see it or smell it.
  • Lead

    Children and fetuses of pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. Lead affects the
    nervous system and proper development. These effects may be irreversible and include
    hearing impairment, behavioral problems and reduced intelligence. May also cause flu-like symptoms, stomach cramps, irritability, loss of appetite and general fatigue.
  • Mold
    All homes have some mold present, small amounts are normal. However if indoor air mold levels are higher than in outdoor air, or if a significant mold colony is growing in in the home, there may be a cause for concern. There are very many types of mold, some molds are more toxic and dangerous that others and some people more vulnerable than others. Those most at risk are old people, and people with respiratory problems or compromised immune systems.
  • Asbestos

    Can cause cancer and other types of lung disease if inhaled. Present in hundreds of building products including pipe and duct insulation on heating systems, stucco, plaster, drywall compound spackle, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, attic and wall insulation. Asbestos is considered dangerous only when “friable”, when material is in a state where the fibers may be released into the air and breathed.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
    Produced from some building materials, home furnishings, cleaning supplies, etc. Can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Primary cause of sick house syndrome.
  • Pesticides
    Can get into well water. Can affect the neurological system or reproductive system of the target pests but also pets and humans. Other detrimental health side affects.
  • Contaminated Drinking Water
     Most lending institutions require well water drinking systems to be tested for E-coli bacteria contamination. Well water can also be contaminated from pesticides, lead and other heavy metals, petroleum derivatives, fertilizers etc.
  • Indoor Air Quality
    Many newer homes are built so tight and energy efficient that there is not sufficient fresh air exchange. The indoor air can easily become 10 times more polluted than the outdoor air.
  • Pesticides
    Number one cause of lung cancer in non smokers, can lead to death over many years

The best Home Inspectors test for environmental concerns;  Better home inspectors offer testing for one or more environmental concerns that can be included with a home inspection, usually for an added fee or may be a stand alone test. Radon testing is probably the most common environmental test most home inspectors offer for an additional fee at the time of an inspection.

Some home inspectors also offer mold testing, water testing etc. I offer a “Sick House Syndrome” inspection and testing service for people who have or suspect they have environmental issues resulting in a sick home. A word of caution here, some home inspectors merely offer these services to make a quick buck and if the inspection or test is not done properly is a total waste of money and can give misleading implications – either positive or negative. So check the qualifications and certifications of persons performing these tests or inspections.

A home inspector knowledgeable of environmental testing is a valuable asset, their ability to provide additional environmental testing services makes them a source of a valuable knowledge in addition to the cost savings available to have that testing done at the same time as the home inspection. Un-knowledgeable inspectors will most often ignore health hazards present during a home inspection. The home buyer is left to figure it out on their own or hire one or more specialists to test or inspect for potential or suspected environmental concerns.

Environmental issues are especially important when buying an older home with known concerns such as asbestos insulation on boiler and heating pipes for example. An inspector who offers these services can provide important safety information in addition to reduced cost for testing, since they are already at the house. When home buyers express these concerns to me prior to their home inspection, I tell them that when we are at the house, I will let them know if I think it’s necessary to do testing or not. Many times testing is not needed because the presence of hazards like asbestos or mold or lead may be very obvious.

I always recommend testing for radon gas, because there is absolutely no way to tell if there is high radon unless you do a radon test. You can not see, smell, feel or taste radon gas. Even if there is a radon mitigation system (radon removal system) installed to lower high radon gas it is still a good idea to test for radon to make sure the system is working properly. Alarmingly, I’ve seen quite a few homes with radon mitigation systems installed and running that still have unacceptably high radon levels.

If you suspect or know of environmental hazard(s) in or around your home, seek out a knowledgeable home inspector or environmental specialist to inspect and test and help direct you in resolving the concern. You can always contact your state or local health department for assistance if you can’t find any locally. And remember check the qualifications of those you hire to ensure your peace of mind and that you are not wasting your money.