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A Green Environment for Your Home

There are many environmental concerns today disclosed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A lot of them depend on the area you’re in and the age of the property you’re interested in purchasing. Please contact the EPA for further, more specific information and recommendations regarding testing of various environmental issues. The following is a brief description of various issues which all can be inspected and be a contingency in a contract on a property you’re interested in buying:


Radon

Radon is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas which results from the natural breakdown of Uranium and Radium in the earth, so it is easy to overlook. Radon enters a home through cracks and holes in the foundation and can also be found in well water. The main concern is radioactivity which becomes trapped in your lungs through normal breathing. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.


Although smoking by itself is the leading cause of cancer, when it is combined with elevated Radon levels, a person may be 10 to 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than from smoking alone. EPA estimates that 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has an elevated level of radon gas. Any home can have a radon problem, new or old, with or without a basement.


EPA recommends long-term testing (i.e., 5 years) -- this is an impossibility if you’re interested in buying a home now. Short-term testing by an EPA listed contractor/technician in full compliance with EPA protocols can be obtained to measure the Radon level in any property. For readings 4.0 pCi/L (pico curies per liter) or above, the EPA recommends that a Radon mitigation system be installed to reduce the Radon level in the property.


Lead-Based Paint

If the home you intend to purchase was built before 1978, it may contain lead-based paint. About three out of every four pre-1978 properties contain lead-based paint. Lead poisoning can cause:

  • Major health problems, especially in children under 7 years old because their bodies are not fully grown and are easily damaged.
  • Damage a child’s brain, nervous system, kidneys, hearing, or coordination.
  • Affect learning.
  • Behavior problems, blindness and even death.
  • Problems in pregnancy and affect a baby’s normal development.
  • Miscarriages, premature births, and the poison may be passed onto the unborn babies.

Lead-based paint hazards can be found in:

  • Moving parts of windows and doors that can make lead dust and chips.
  • Windows, doors, wood trim, walls and cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms, on porches, stairs, railings, fire escapes and lamp posts.
  • Soil next to exterior of buildings that have been painted with lead-based paint and leaded gasoline dust in soil near busy streets.
  • Drinking water (pipes and solder).
  • Parents who may bring lead dust home from work on skin, clothes and hair.
  • Colored newsprint and car batteries.
  • Highly glazed pottery and cookware from other countries.
  • Removing old paint when refinishing furniture.

Asbestos

Asbestos may be found in plumbing, siding, flooring and even mastic. Houses constructed prior to 1984 almost certainly have materials within them known as ACM (asbestos containing materials) which consist of at least 1% by weight of asbestos material. Spackle joint compounds used to smooth the finish between wall board materials was mostly ACM prior to 1975. Floor tiles were mostly ACM prior to 1984. Asbestos was also used to wrap pipes leading from furnaces in older homes. Please do not attempt to remove asbestos from a property on your own, most jurisdictions forbid homeowners attempting this and require a trained environmental inspector to remove it. Problems occur when you try to remove it, it creates a dust which you might easily breathe causing severe health problems.


UFFI Insulation

Urea formaldehyde foam insulation was a popular insulation material that was capable of being injected into cavities in buildings. The product out-gassed formaldehyde as it cured and sometimes for a period afterward.It was thought to have ill health effects and was controversial enough for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety

Commission to ban it (1982). The banning was later overturned. The out-gassing has a relatively short, 6 months, half life and though old installations appear to pose no substantial health risk, the negative taint of its presence may affect the perceived value of the building.


FRT Plywood

FRT is a plywood treated with a chemical to prevent flames spreading in the event of the fire. It was used on townhouses and condos roofs, 4 feet on each side (sometimes more) of the walls separating each individual unit in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s. Some types of this plywood has been identified as defective—but not all of them!! It was discovered that a chemical reaction occurs at a lower attic temperature than expected, which weakened the plywood and caused structural failure. A visual inspection may not be able to tell you whether the materials used on a roof are defective. FRT plywood is usually darker in color. Look for the following:

  • A white powdery substance or stain on the plywood visible in the attic, caused by the leakage of chemicals.
  • A darkening of the wood, resembling black coffee.
  • A charred appearance to the plywood.
  • Plywood that becomes brittle or cracks and crumbles easily.
  • A leak in the roof.
  • The roof on the exterior might appear wavy.
  • FRT cannot be repaired. If the roof is defective, it must be replaced.

  • Underground Storage Tanks (UST).

Prominent in older homes when oil tanks for heating the property was placed underground. Although the properties may have changed their heating systems to natural gas today, these tanks may still be underground. Should they have a leak (LUST), oil seepage could get into the ground and possibly the drinking water. It is recommended that the tanks either be removed completely (very expensive) or filled in with concrete (most common).

Other issues of concern today are the following:
  • Electromagnetic Fields.
  • Water testing in both private and public water systems for bacteria, chemicals, lead, copper and other specific toxins.
  • Toxins in soil—many pesticides used in and around homes have been identified as potentially carcinogenic. Quite a few have been out of use as of 1986.
  • Wood Preservatives often contain chemicals which are harmful. The wood or its shavings or debris should not be burned or disposed of carelessly. Skin contact with the wood is not advised.
  • Lead Pipe Solder—the most common joining material for copper tubing in water supply systems until approximately 1986 was 50% lead solder. If the home has copper tubing and was built before 1986, it is most likely that the drinking water supply pipes contain this type of material.