Natural Hazards in the Home

Natural Hazards vs. Introduced Hazards

In spite of all the safety rules and behaviors we adhere to around the home and while in public, there are many that we cannot easily avoid – or some “authorities” try to tell us.  These “natural” hazards include mold, radon gas, floods, lightening, tornados, mudslides, wildfires, etc.  Other hazards result from introduction into the home through selection of products that we use.  These include lead based paints, asbestos (in insulation and popcorn ceilings), pesticides, household cleaners, and others. Some of these – mold and radon gas, to name a couple – have been around forever, but seem to come to light and gained attention upon the advent of the “home inspector.”

The Home Inspector Role

The title of “home inspector” has something of a nebulous meaning.  The requirements for a license seems to have developed in the late 1980s, and the requirements were not consistent.  So called “Professional” organizations for inspectors also began to emerge.  The organizations began to formalize the structures to be examined and the methods and procedures to be used.  They also formalized the reporting methods and documents.  For the most part only those structural elements and system components that were readily visible were examined per the inspection requirements.

Mold, the Home Inspector, and the Real Estate Agent

Inspections for mold were latched onto by insurance companies, and they began to require mold inspections as a requirement for issuing insurance for homes.  There was a lack of consideration of the type mold being checked.  Mold has been around forever, in bathrooms and other damp locations, but not all types are considered dangerous.  However it was, and has been, treated generically.  In one personal experience on renewal of a rental house insurance policy, the inspector asked me if the house had mold.  I said that it didn’t.  He gave me a copy of his report and collected his fee.  As far as I know, he never checked any part of the house to see, for himself, if mold was present.  I also experienced a real estate agent prompting to buy a warranty for the buyer of a house I was selling.  The use of an inspector, encouraged by real estate agents, transfers risk of hidden defects, and law suits, from the agent to the inspector.  That risk is further transferred by use of the warranty.  Real estate organizations attempted to bring inspectors under their control – a conflict of interest.  The primary goal of the real estate agent is the production of a sale and collection of sales fees.

Lead Based Paint

The treatment of homes built prior to 1978 in regard to lead based paints pre-dated the home inspection and mold issues.  When homes are sold or rented, that were built before 1978, the owner or agent must provide written notification that the home may contain lead based paint (in a formalized document).  They must also provide the client a government specified booklet describing the hazard.

Asbestos

Asbestos has been used in many homes due to the fad of “popcorn” ceilings.  Detailed procedures have been developed for its removal and removal personnel must be trained and licensed.  Asbestos has been used also on the exterior of homes in the form of siding materials.  It was also used as insulation in the home and commercial and public structures.  Removal of the materials is very expensive, necessary, and messy.  Personnel must be protected from inhaling the fibers.

Useful Links

Environmental Protection Agency

Lead Abatement

Asbestos Abatement

Radon Mitigation