Surprises are great — but not when you’re closing on your new home. Even if a house passes a pre-close inspection, environmental hazards like mold, asbestos, radon, and lead may still be lurking. According to 2013 data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 30 million American homes pose “significant” health issues.
The good news: For the most part, those issues are easy to detect and, with professional intervention, easy to remedy. The bad news: A standard home inspection doesn’t include tests for environmental factors like air quality, and these kinds of tests — and their fixes — can be expensive.
That’s why experts suggest making your offer contingent on environmental test results. The presence of certain hazards doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pass on a property you really love; if the current owners are willing to pay experts to get rid of the problem, you and your family can move ahead without worry. If they aren’t, that’s their problem — anything that worries you could scare off other potential buyers, too.
Here are four health hazards to look out for when you’re closing on a home, plus what to do if you encounter an issue.
Yes, it looks gross, but a little bit of mold often isn’t usually anything to panic over, especially if it’s contained to one small area of the home. On a large scale, however, mold can cause unpleasant, allergy-like symptoms and even trigger asthma attacks. Young children, seniors, and people with heart and lung disease are particularly susceptible to mold’s effects.
Sellers may or may not have to disclose mold-related issues, depending on state laws. But you (or a home inspector) can still assess mold risk by asking the current owners about any flooding, burst pipes, or leaks they’ve dealt with in the past.
The presence of mold shouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker. You can easily DIY mold remediation of a small area. If the growth is more widespread, call in the pros.
If you’re buying a home that was built before 1978, it probably contains lead paint. Fortunately, if the property’s painted surfaces are in good condition, it may be okay. Lead paint becomes problematic when it’s cracked or peeling, and can be especially harmful to young children and pregnant women.
Sellers are legally required to disclose the presence of lead in a home and share results if they’ve had levels tested. If they haven’t, buyers are, by law, given 10 days during which they can bring in their own inspectors.
If lead is a concern for your family, leave the remediation to certified professionals who meet EPA standards.
Similar to lead, asbestos was prevalent in homes built before 1975. It can be found in all kinds of surfaces and materials, from pipe insulation to siding to linoleum. Long-term exposure to asbestos can cause lung disease and cancer; however, just like lead paint, asbestos-filled products may not be cause for concern if they’re in good condition. In fact, if they are in good condition, it’s better to not disturb anything. Attempts to remove it will probably send highly-toxic asbestos particles into the atmosphere.
If you’re worried about asbestos, see if the seller will permit testing by an industrial hygiene firm. (Never test for asbestos yourself.) If it is present and poses a hazard, get estimates for professional removal from an asbestos abatement contractor. Fixing the problem won’t take long, but whoever handles it should be properly licensed.
Exposure to radon, a radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, can pose a serious health risk. In fact, it’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., after smoking. Radon can enter your home through cracks in the doors, windows, and foundation, and isn’t just an issue for older homes — newer constructions can have hazardous radon levels, too. In fact, the EPA estimates that almost one out of every 15 homes has elevated radon levels.
Experts suggest testing your home for radon twice a year. If the sellers haven’t tested for radon recently, insist that they reduce the home price to cover radon testing and, if levels are unsafe, remediation. You won’t need to hire a separate home inspection firm to conduct a radon test, although it may be an additional charge. If radon is present, don’t assume that means you have to retract your offer; radon removal pros are easy to find and relatively inexpensive.
The upshot: Know what tests to ask for and don’t be afraid to ask for them. Your dream home isn’t the only thing at stake — your family’s health is, too.