Environmental Issues – What You Should Know

Today is my birthday and because I’m a real estate geek with a strange sense of humor, I realized were I a property I would have to wear a lead-based paint disclosure around my neck as I was built before 1972. Anyway, that led me to this week’s topic – environmental issues. Issues may not be the best word, but there are certain past practices and natural elements that prospective, and current, homeowners should be aware of.

Let’s start with lead-based paint. Lead was a common ingredient until congress passed a law banning it in 1971 and gave manufacturers until 1978 to phase out its use. Today, any property built prior to 1978 being sold or leased must include a disclosure stating whether or not the owner is aware of lead paint and if so any steps taken to remedy it. Lead is nasty stuff and causes many health issues in children, but it is very easily addressed. Any old paint covered in fresh paint has been what’s called ‘encapsulated’. This is the easiest, least expensive way to address the possibility of lead exposure in a home. The other is abatement which entails physically removing any paint that contains lead and re-covering the surfaces which must be done by a company licensed in proper abatement. If  lead is a concern for your family there are simple swipe tests available or you can call an environmental inspection company for more in depth testing.

The second most commonly seen is asbestos. You know those law firm commercials talking about mesothelioma? Asbestos is what causes it and was used back in the day in many different building applications such as siding, floor tile, and pipe insulation. It was very effective for it’s use, and harmless as installed, but as it ages it starts fraying and that’s where the trouble starts. Fraying asbestos is easily inhaled and is an extreme cancer risk. Do you run and hide? Nope, you encapsulate it just like the paint. Do not disturb what’s there and cover it with modern siding, flooring, or plumbing tape. Abatement is also an option, which WVU did with several buildings a few years ago including the coliseum, but again this is typically overkill for residential purposes.

The third most common environmental hazard is from Mother Nature herself – radon. The EPA standard is anything below 4.0 pCi/L (picocuries per liter, duh) is safe so if you have a radon test done and find it higher than recommended levels a mitigation system is easily installed in your basement. There is no rhyme or reason to radon, it’s emitted from uranium deposits deep below the earth’s surface, and it can be found in your home but not your neighbors. The mitigation system is a quiet fan that runs constantly and pipes air our of your basement and over your roofline into the atmosphere. Depending on the home, a typical system will run between $1,000 and $2,000.

That’s it for the scary (but easily fixed) stuff! Until next week, remember the kiddos are out of school so watch where you’re going. And don’t forget your sunscreen….

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