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A worker wearing protective clothing while clearing asbestos from an old attic after a asbestos inspection was done in a home.
A worker wearing protective clothing while clearing asbestos from an old attic.

When purchasing a home or living in one, it’s crucial to ensure that it’s not just aesthetically pleasing but also safe to live in. Hidden environmental hazards such as radon, mold, and asbestos can pose significant health risks. Therefore, understanding these hazards and knowing how to address them is essential for maintaining a healthy living environment. Thus, let us take a deep dive into these common issues, how inspectors test for them, and what steps you can take if they’re found.

What is Radon, Mold, and Asbestos?

Asbestos, mold, and radon are hidden hazards that pose significant health risks in homes. Identifying and addressing these hazards through thorough home inspections is crucial for ensuring a safe and healthy living environment.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals composed of thin, needle-like fibers. Due to its heat resistance, tensile strength, and insulating properties, asbestos was widely used in construction materials like insulation, roofing, and flooring. However, when asbestos-containing materials deteriorate or are disturbed, they release fibers into the air that can be inhaled.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at the workplace, contributing to over 107,000 deaths annually from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

Mold

A mold inspection is important for homes, especially in regions of high moisture and humidity

Mold is a type of fungus that grows in damp, humid environments. Commonly found in basements, bathrooms, and kitchens, mold reproduces by releasing spores into the air. These spores can cause allergic reactions, respiratory problems, and other health issues, particularly in individuals with compromised immune systems.

Mold can also cause structural damage to buildings by breaking down wood and other organic materials. It is crucial to address mold infestations promptly to maintain indoor air quality and structural integrity. The Institute for Functional Medicine has found sufficient evidence linking indoor mold exposure to respiratory issues.

Radon

Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally from the decay of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It can seep into homes through cracks in the foundation, walls, and other openings. Because radon is invisible and has no smell, testing is the only way to determine its presence and concentration levels in a home. Effective mitigation techniques can reduce radon levels and minimize health risks.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. According to the EPA, radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S.

Why Addressing These Hazards Is Important

Understanding these hazards is essential for homebuyers, as addressing them promptly can prevent serious health issues and costly repairs. Therefore, home inspectors play a critical role in identifying asbestos, mold, and radon, ensuring that homes are safe and healthy for their occupants.

  • Health Risks:
    Exposure to radon, mold, and asbestos can lead to severe health issues, including respiratory problems and cancer.
  • Property Value:
    Homes with these issues can suffer a significant drop in market value. Addressing them can protect and even enhance your investment.
  • Legal Requirements:
    In some regions, disclosing these hazards during the sale of a home is mandatory, and failure to do so can result in legal consequences.

How Inspectors Test for These Hazards

Home inspectors use various methods to test for asbestos, mold, and radon during inspections. These testing methods help ensure that any potential hazards are identified and addressed, safeguarding the health of the home’s occupants.

Asbestos Testing

Testing for asbestos involves taking samples of suspected materials, such as insulation, floor tiles, and roofing, and analyzing them in a laboratory. Since asbestos fibers are hazardous when airborne, the collection process must be done carefully to avoid releasing fibers. Inspectors are trained to safely handle and remove small samples without causing fiber release.

Mold Inspection

Mold inspections typically involve a visual assessment of the property and air quality testing. They may use moisture meters to detect damp areas conducive to mold growth. Air sampling or surface sampling (swab or tape lift) can be performed to identify mold types and spore counts, with samples analyzed in a lab to determine the extent and type of mold contamination. Advanced techniques, such as thermal imaging, can help identify hidden moisture problems that could lead to mold growth.

Radon Testing

Home inspectors use radon test kits to measure the levels of radon in a home. They do this by placing a radon test kit in the lowest livable area of the home and sending it to a lab for analysis. These kits can be either short-term (2-7 days) or long-term (more than 90 days). For real-time monitoring of radon levels, continuous radon monitors may also be used.

Steps to Take if Hazards Are Found

If during the home inspection asbestos, mold, or radon is found, hastily take specific steps to address these hazards. Ensure the safety and health of the home’s occupants. Here are the recommended steps for each hazard. By following these steps, homeowners can effectively address these environmental hazards and maintain a safe living environment.

Asbestos Abatement:

If the inspector finds asbestos, contact professional abatement services to remove or encapsulate the asbestos safely.

  1. Do Not Disturb: Avoid disturbing the asbestos-containing materials, as this can release harmful fibers into the air.
  2. Hire a Professional: Contact a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. These professionals are trained to handle and remove asbestos safely.
  3. Encapsulation or Removal: Depending on the condition and location of the asbestos, the contractor may recommend encapsulation (sealing the asbestos material) or complete removal.
  4. Follow Regulations: Ensure all work complies with local and federal regulations, which dictate safe asbestos removal and disposal procedures.

Mold Remediation:

The process of mold remediation includes identifying and fixing moisture sources, removing affected materials, and cleaning and disinfecting the area.

  1. Identify the Source: Determine and eliminate the source of moisture that’s causing the mold growth. This might involve repairing leaks, improving ventilation, or using dehumidifiers.
  2. Professional Assessment: For extensive mold growth, hire a professional mold remediation service. They will assess the extent of the infestation and develop a plan for removal.
  3. Clean and Remove Mold: Small mold areas (less than 10 square feet) can often be cleaned with commercial mold removers or a mixture of bleach and water. Always use protective gear.
  4. Prevent Future Growth: After removal, ensure the area remains dry and well-ventilated to prevent future mold growth.

Radon Mitigation:

If high levels of radon are detected, mitigation systems can be installed. These systems typically involve venting radon from beneath the home to the outside.

A house is commonly tested during a radon inspection with a single use test kit. If initial readings are high or remediation work has begun a system like this isz used to determine a more accurate measurement over time. An added benefit of this unit is real time measurement.
Radon monitoring system
  1. Confirm Results: If a short-term test indicates high radon levels, follow up with a long-term test to confirm the results.
  2. Radon Mitigation: Hire a certified radon mitigation contractor to install a radon reduction system. Common methods include soil suction, which draws radon from beneath the house and expels it outside.
  3. Retest: After you install the mitigation system, retest the home to ensure radon levels have been reduced to safe levels.
  4. Regular Monitoring: Continue to monitor radon levels periodically to ensure the mitigation system remains effective.

Conclusively, understanding and addressing environmental hazards like radon, mold, and asbestos during a home inspection is critical for ensuring a safe living environment. Therefore, by hiring a qualified, reliable home inspector and taking appropriate actions if these hazards are found, you can protect your health and investment. Remember, a safe home is a happy home.