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         Air Quality in the Home

Indoor air quality is generally worse than most people believe, but there are things you can do about it. 
 
Some Quick Facts:
  • Indoor air quality can be worse than that of outdoor air.
  • Problems can arise from moisture, insects, pets, appliances, radon, materials used in household products and furnishings, smoke, and other sources.
  • Effects range from minor annoyances to major health risks.
  • Remedies include ventilation, cleaning, moisture control, inspections, and following manufacturers' directions when using appliances and products.
Research has shown that the quality of indoor air can be worse than that of outdoor air. Many homes are built or remodeled more tightly, without regard to the factors that assure fresh and healthy indoor air. Our homes today contain many furnishings, appliances and products that can affect indoor air quality.
 
Signs of indoor air quality problems include:
  • unusual and noticeable odors;
  • stale or stuffy air;
  • a noticeable lack of air movement;
  • dirty or faulty central heating or air-conditioning equipment;
  • damaged flue pipes and chimneys;
  • unvented combustion air sources for fossil-fuel appliances;
  • excessive humidity;
  • the presence of molds and mildew;
  • adverse health reaction after remodeling, weatherizing, bringing in new furniture, using household and hobby products, and moving into a new home; and 
  • feeling noticeably healthier outside.
Common Sources of Air Quality Problems
 
Poor indoor air quality can arise from many sources. At least some of the following contaminants can be found in almost any home:
  • moisture and biological pollutants, such as molds, mildew, dust mites, animal dander, and cockroaches;
  • high humidity levels, inadequate ventilation, and poorly maintained humidifiers and air conditioners;
  • combustion products, including carbon monoxide, from unvented fossil-fuel space heaters, unvented gas stoves and ovens, and back-drafting from furnaces and water heaters;
  • formaldehyde from durable-press draperies and other textiles, particleboard products, such as cabinets and furniture framing, and adhesives;
  • radon, which is a radioactive gas from the soil and rock beneath and around the home's foundation, groundwater wells, and some building materials;
  • household products and furnishings, such as paints, solvents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, and fabric additives used in carpeting and furniture, which can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs); 
  • asbestos, which is found in most homes more than 20 years old. Sources include deteriorating, damaged and disturbed pipe insulation, fire retardant, acoustical material (such as ceiling tiles) and floor tiles;
  • lead from lead-based paint dust, which is created when removing paint by sanding, scraping and burning;
  • particulates from dust and pollen, fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters and unvented gas space heaters; and
  • tobacco smoke, which produces particulates, combustion products and formaldehyde.
Remedies to Indoor Air Quality Problems
 
Living Areas
 
Paneling, pressed-wood furniture, and cabinetry may release formaldehyde gas.
Remedy: Ask about formaldehyde content before buying furniture and cabinets. Some types of pressed-wood products, such as those with phenol resin, emit less formaldehyde. Also, products coated with polyurethane or laminates may reduce formaldehyde emissions. After installation, open windows. Maintain moderate temperature and humidity.
 
Biological pollutants can grow on water-damaged carpet. New carpet can release organic gases.
Remedy: Promptly clean and dry water-damaged carpet, or remove it altogether. If adhesives are needed, ask for low-emitting ones. During installation, open doors and windows, and use window fans or room air conditioners. Vacuum regularly. Consider area rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpet. Rugs are easier to remove and clean, and the floor underneath can also be cleaned.
 
Some floor tiles contain asbestos.
Remedy: Periodically inspect for damage or deterioration. Do not cut, rip, sand or remove any asbestos-containing materials. If you plan to make changes that might disturb the asbestos, or if materials are more than slightly damaged, contact a professional for repair or removal. Call your local or state health department or the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
Moisture encourages biological pollutants including allergens, such as mold, mildew, dust mites and cockroaches.
Remedy: If possible, eliminate moisture sources. Install and use exhaust fans. Use a dehumidifier, if necessary. Remove molds and mildew by cleaning with a solution of chlorine bleach (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon water). Maintain fresh air with natural and mechanical air circulation.
 
Your fireplace can be a source of carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Open the flue when using the fireplace. Have the flue and chimney inspected annually for exhaust back-drafting, flue obstructions, cracks, excess creosote, and other damage. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
 
An air conditioner can be a source of biological allergens.
Remedy: If there is a water tray, empty and clean it often. Follow all service and maintenance procedures, including changing the filter.
 
Gas and kerosene space heaters can release carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Never use unvented kerosene or gas space heaters. In the room where the heater is located, provide fresh air by opening a door to the rest of the house, turning on an exhaust fan, and slightly opening a window.
 
Tobacco smoke contains harmful combustion and particulate pollutants, including carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts.
Remedy: Do not smoke in your home or permit others to do so, especially near children. If smoking cannot be avoided indoors, open windows and use exhaust fans.
 
New draperies may be treated with a formaldehyde-based finish and emit odors for a short time.
Remedy: Before hanging, air draperies to ventilate odors. After hanging, ventilate the area. Maintain moderate temperature and humidity.
 
Paint manufactured before l978 may contain lead.
Remedy: Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition. Before removing paint, test for lead. Do-it-yourself lead test kits are available from hardware and building supply stores. Do not sand, burn off or remove lead-based paint yourself. Hire a person with special training to correct lead-based paint problems. For more information, call 1-800-LEAD-FYI.
 
Many animals create airborne allergens, such as dander, hair, feathers and skin.
Remedy: Keep pets outdoors as much as possible. Clean the entire house regularly. Deep-clean areas where pets are permitted. Bathe pets regularly.
 
Biological allergens caused by dust mites can trigger asthma.
Remedy: Clean and vacuum regularly. Wash bedding in water hotter than 130 degrees F. Use more hard-surface finishes; they are less likely to attract and hold dust mites.
 
Kitchen
 
Unhealthy and irritating vapors may be released from chemicals in household cleaners and similar products. Remedy: Select nonaerosol and non-toxic products. Use, apply, store and dispose of them according to manufacturers' directions. If products are concentrated, label the storage container with dilution instructions. Use up a product completely before discarding its container.
 
Pressed-wood cabinets can be a source of formaldehyde vapor.
Remedy: Maintain moderate temperatures (80 degrees maximum) and humidity (about 45%). When purchasing new cabinets, select solid wood or metal cabinets, or those made with phenol resin; they emit less formaldehyde. Ventilate well after installation.
 
Unvented gas stoves and ranges are sources of carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts.
Remedy: Keep appliance burners clean. Have burners periodically adjusted (blue-flame tip, not yellow). Install and use an exhaust fan. Never use a gas range or stove to heat your home.
 
Bathroom
Organic gases are released from chemicals in some personal care products, such as deodorant, hair spray, shampoo, toner, nail polish and perfumes.
Remedy: Select odor-free or low odor-producing products. Select nonaerosol varieties. Open a window, or use an exhaust fan. Follow manufacturers' directions when using the product and disposing of containers.
 
Air fresheners can release organic gases.
Remedy: Open a window or use the exhaust fan. Follow manufacturers' directions. Select natural products.
 
Bedroom
Humidifiers and cold-mist vaporizers can encourage biological allergens, including mold, mildew and cockroaches, that can trigger asthma, and encourage the spread of viruses and the growth of bacteria.
Remedy: Use and clean these appliances according to manufacturers' directions. Refill daily with fresh water.
 
Moth repellents often contain the pesticide paradichlorobenzene.
Remedy: Avoid breathing vapors. Place them in tightly sealed trunks or other containers. Store separately, away from living areas.
 
Chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process release organic gases.
Remedy: Bring any odors to the attention of your dry cleaner. Try to air out dry-cleaned goods before bringing them indoors. Seek alternatives to dry cleaning, such as hand washing items.  Consider using green dry cleaners who use newer, non-toxic solvents and methods to clean garments.
 
Utility Room
 
Unvented gas clothes dryers produce carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts and can be a fire hazard. Remedy: Regularly dispose of lint around and under the dryer. Provide air for gas units. Vent the dryer directly to the outdoors. Clean the lint trap, vent and ductwork regularly.
 
Gas and oil furnaces and boilers, and gas water heaters can produce air-quality problems which include back-drafting of carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Have your heating system and water heater, including gas piping and venting, inspected every year.
 
Asbestos pipe wrap and furnace insulation can release asbestos fibers into the air.
Remedy: Periodically check for damage and deterioration. Do not cut, rip, sand or remove any asbestos-containing materials. If you plan to make changes that might disturb the asbestos, or if materials are more than slightly damaged, contact a professional for repair or removal.
 
Basement
Ground moisture encourages biological allergens, including mold and mildew.
Remedy: Inspect for condensation on walls, standing water on the floor, and sewage leaks. To keep the basement dry, prevent outside water from entering indoors by installing roof gutters and downspouts, by not watering close to the foundation, by grading soil away from the home, and by applying waterproofing sealants to the basement's interior walls. To prevent the accumulation of standing water, consider installing a sump pump. If sewage is the source of water intrusion, have drains professionally cleaned. If moisture has no obvious source, install an exhaust fan controlled by humidity levels. Remove mold and mildew. Regularly clean and disinfect the basement floor drain.
 
Radon is an invisible, radioactive gas which poses the risk of lung cancer.
Remedy: Test your home for radon. Do-it-yourself kits are inexpensive and easy to use. Have an experienced radon contractor mitigate your home if your radon level is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.
 
Chemicals in hobby products, such as solvents, paint, glue and epoxy, release organic gases. Remedy: Follow manufacturers' directions for use, ventilation, application, clean-up, and container storage and disposal. Use outdoors when possible. When using indoors, open a window or use an exhaust fan. Re-seal containers tightly. Clean tools outside or in a well-ventilated area.
 
Garage
Car and small engine exhaust are sources of carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts.
Remedy: Never leave vehicles, lawn mowers, snowmobiles, etc., running in the garage.
 
Paint, solvent and cleaning supplies may release harmful vapors.
Remedy: Provide ventilation when using them. Follow manufacturers' directions. Buy only as much as you need. If the products contain methylene chloride, such as paint strippers, use them outdoors. Re-seal containers well. Keep products in their original, labeled containers. Clean brushes and other materials outside.  Opt for non-toxic green products whenever possible.
 
Pesticides and fertilizers used in the yard and garden may be toxic.
Remedy: Use non-chemical methods whenever possible. Follow manufacturers' directions for mixing, applying and storing.  Wear protective clothing. Mix or dilute these products outdoors. Provide ventilation when using them indoors. Store them outside of the home in their original, labeled containers. After using the product, remove your shoes and clean your hands and clothing to avoid bringing the chemicals into your home.
 
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • Install a smoke detector in each bedroom or in the adjacent hallway.
  • If you have gas or other fossil-fuel appliances in the house, install carbon monoxide detectors in these locations.
  • Combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available.
  • Check the batteries frequently, at least annually.
Amount of Ventilation
 
If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Unless they are built with a special mechanical means of ventilation, homes that are designed and constructed to minimize the amount of outdoor air that can "leak" into and out of the home may have higher pollutant levels than other homes. However, because some weather conditions can drastically reduce the amount of outdoor air that enters a home, pollutants can build up even in homes that are normally considered "leaky."
 
How Does Outdoor Air Enter a House?
 
Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by infiltration, natural ventilation and mechanical ventilation. In a process known as infiltration, outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints and cracks in walls, floors and ceilings, and around windows and doors. In natural ventilation, air moves through opened windows and doors. Air movement associated with infiltration and natural ventilation is caused by air-temperature differences between the indoors and outdoors, and by wind. Finally, there are a number of mechanical ventilation devices, from outdoor-vented fans that intermittently remove air from a single room, such as the bathroom and kitchen, to air-handling systems that use fans and ductwork to continuously remove indoor air and distribute filtered and conditioned outdoor air to strategic points throughout the house. The rate at which outdoor air replaces indoor air is described as the air-exchange rate. When there is little infiltration, natural ventilation or mechanical ventilation, the air-exchange rate is low and pollutant levels can increase.
 
Indoor Air Pollution and Health
 
Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly years later.
 
Immediate Effects
 
Immediate effects may show up after a single exposure, or it may take repeated exposures. These include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Such immediate effects are usually short-term and treatable. Sometimes, the treatment is simply eliminating the person's exposure to the source of the pollution, if it can be identified. Symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever, may also show up soon after exposure to some indoor air pollutants.
 
The likelihood of immediate reactions to indoor air pollutants depends on several factors. Age and pre-existing medical conditions are two important influences. In other cases, whether a person reacts to a pollutant depends on individual sensitivity, which varies tremendously from person to person. Some people can become sensitized to biological pollutants after repeated exposures, and it appears that some people can become sensitized to chemical pollutants, as well.
 
Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds and other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the time and place that symptoms occur. If the symptoms fade or go away when a person is away from home, for example, an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources that may be possible causes. Some effects may be made worse by an inadequate supply of outdoor air, or from the heating, cooling or humidity conditions prevalent in the home.
 
Long-Term Effects
 
Other health effects may show up years after exposure has occurred, or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is prudent to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.
 
While pollutants commonly found in indoor air are responsible for many harmful effects, there is considerable uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems. People also react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants. Further research is needed to better understand which health effects occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations found in homes, and which occur from the higher concentrations over short periods of time.
 
In summary, indoor air contaminants can be a source of ill health. Hire an InterNACHI inspector trained in air quality to perform your next home inspection.

Air Sampling for Mold Inspections

 
 
Taking air samples during a mold inspection is important for several reasons.  Mold spores are not visible to the naked eye, and the types of mold present can often be determinair sampleed through laboratory analysis of the air samples.  Having samples analyzed can also help provide evidence of the scope and severity of a mold problem, as well as aid in assessing human exposure to mold spores.  After remediation, new samples are typically taken to help ensure that all mold has been successfully removed.
 

Air samples can be used to gather data about mold spores present in the interior of a house.  These samples are taken by using a pump that forces air through a collection device which catches mold spores.  The sample is then sent off to a laboratory to be analyzed.  InterNACHI inspectors who perform mold inspections often utilize air sampling to collect data, which has become commonplace.

Air-Sampling Devices

There are several types of devices used to collect air samples that can be analyzed for mold.  Some common examples include:

  • impaction samplers that use a calibrated air pump to impact spores onto a prepared microscope slide;
  • cassette samplers, which may be of the disposable or one-time-use type, and also employ forced air to impact spores onto a collection media; and
  • airborne-particle collectors that trap spores directly on a culture dish.  These may be utilized to identify the species of mold that has been found.

When and When Not to Sample

Samples are generally best taken if visual, non-invasive examination reveals apparent mold growth or conditions that could lead to growth, such as moisture intrusion or water damage.  Musty odors can also be a sign of mold growth.  If no sign of mold or potential for mold is apparent, one or two indoor air samples can still be taken, at the discretion of the inspector and client, in the most lived-in room of the house and at the HVAC unit.  

Outdoor air samples are also typically taken as a control for comparison to indoor samples.  Two samples -- one from the windward side and one from the leeward side of the house -- will help provide a more complete picture of what is in the air that may be entering the house through windows and doors at times when they are open.  It is best to take the outdoor samples as close together in time as possible to the indoor samples that they will be compared with.

InterNACHI inspectors should avoid taking samples if a resident of the house is under a physician’s care for mold exposure, if there is litigation in progress related to mold on the premises, or if the inspector’s health or safety could be compromised in obtaining the sample.  Residential home inspectors also should not take samples in a commercial or public building.

Where to Sample and Ideal Conditions

In any areas of a house suspected or confirmed to have mold growth, air samples can be taken to help verify and gather more information.  Moisture intrusion, water damage, musty odors, apparent mold growth, or conditions conducive to mold growth are all common reasons to gather an air sample.  Samples should be taken near the center of the room, with the collection device positioned 3 to 6 feet off the ground.

Ten minutes is an adequate amount of time for the air pump to run while taking samples, but this can be reduced to around five minutes if there is a concern that air movement from a lot of indoor activity could alter the results.  The sampling time can be reduced further if there is an active source of dust, such as from ongoing construction.

Sampling should take place in livable spaces within the house under closed conditions in order to help stabilize the air and allow for reproducibility of the sampling and measurement.  While the sample is being collected, windows and exterior doors should be kept shut other than for normal entry and exit from the home.  It is best to have air exchangers (other than a furnace) or fans that exchange indoor-outdoor air switched off during sampling.

Weather conditions can be an important factor in gathering accurate data. Severe thunderstorms or unusually high winds can affect the sampling and analysis results.  High winds or rapid changes in barometric pressure increase the difference in air pressure between the interior and exterior, which can increase the variability of airborne mold-spore concentration.  Large differences in air pressure between the interior and exterior can cause more airborne spores to be sucked inside, skewing the results of the sample. 

Difficulties and Practicality of Air Sampling

It is helpful to think of air sampling as just one tool in the tool belt when inspecting a house for mold problems.  An air sample alone is not enough to confirm or refute the existence of a problem, and such testing needs to be accompanied by visual inspection and other methods of data collection, such as a surface sample.  Indoor airborne spore levels can vary according to several factors, and this can lead to skewed results if care is not taken to set up the sampling correctly.  Also, since only spores are collected with an air sample and may actually be damaged during collection, identification of the mold type can be more difficult than with a sample collected with tape or a cultured sample.

Air samples are good for use as a background screen to ensure that there isn’t a large source of mold not yet found somewhere in a home.  This is because they can detect long chains of spores that are still intact.  These chains normally break apart quickly as they travel through the air, so a sample that reveals intact chains can indicate that there is mold nearby, possibly undiscovered during other tests and visual examination. 

In summary, when taken under controlled conditions and properly analyzed, air samples for mold are helpful in comparing relative particle levels between a problem and a control area.  They can also be crucial for comparing particle levels and air quality in an area before and after mold remediation.  
 

Carpet Mold: Identification, Prevention and Removal

by Nick Gromicko and Ethan Ward
 
 
The Dangers of Mold
 

Molds produce allergens, which are substances that can cause allergic reactions, as well as irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances known as mycotoxins.  Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.  Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis).  Allergic reactions to mold are common.  They can be immediate or delayed.  Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.  In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.  Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold, but can also occur.

Carpet at Risk

Carpeting is an area of the home that can be at high risk for mold growth.  In order to grow, mold needs moisture, oxygen, a food source, and a surface to grow on.  Mold spores are commonly found naturally in the air.  If spores land on a wet or damp spot indoors that contains dust for them to feed on, mold growth will soon follow. Wall-to-wall carpeting, as well as area rugs, can provide an ample breeding ground for mold if conditions are right.  At especially high risk for mold growth are carpeting located below ground level in basements, carpet in commonly moist or damp climates, and carpet that has been wet for any period of time. 

Identifying Mold in Carpeting

Just because mold is not immediately apparent or visible on a carpet's surface does not mean that mold growth is not in progress.  In fact, mold will probably only be visible on the surface of carpets in unusually severe cases of growth, such as carpet damaged in flooding that has remained wet for some time.  The following are some examples of identifiable instances where mold growth has occurred or is likely to occur:

  • visible mold growth:  As stated above, this can be a rare case, but sometimes it may be obvious from visual inspection that mold growth is occurring.  Carpet in this condition is most likely not salvageable and should be disposed of and replaced.  Often, even if mold growth is not visible on the top of carpeting, it may be occurring underneath the carpet where it can't be easily seen.  Carpet suspected of containing mold should always be examined on both sides.

  • carpet mildew:  Any discoloration or odor on carpeting that might be described as mildew is probably a case of mold.

  • wet or water-damaged carpet:  Any carpet that has been subjected to water damage from flooding or standing water will most likely need to be disposed of.  Conditions are ripe for mold growth, in this case.  Even if visibly apparent mold growth has not yet begun, it is highly likely to happen unless the carpet is completely removed, cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours.  Even then, removal and cleaning are not guaranteed to prevent mold growth.  It is more likely that the carpet will need to be replaced.

  • wet padding beneath carpet:  If padding beneath the carpet has become wet for any reason, or has become moist from condensation, the padding as well as the carpet on top are at risk for mold growth.  The padding may need to be replaced, as will the carpet, in some cases.

  • basement carpet:  Carpeting in basements below grade level is especially at risk in areas where humidity is high, or where wide temperature swings can produce condensation.

  • odors and stains:  There is a wide range of things that can cause odors and stains on carpets.  If mold is suspected, samples can be taken and sent for analysis to determine if mold growth has occurred.

Preventing Mold Growth in Carpeting

The best method for combating mold is to not allow mold growth in the first place.  The best way to do so is by ensuring that conditions conducive to growth do not exist.  Below are some ways to prevent mold growth in carpets.

  • Reduce indoor humidity.  The use of dehumidifiers will help control moisture in the air, depriving mold spores of the water they need to grow into mold.  A range of 30% to 60% humidity is acceptable for interiors.

  • Install intelligently.  Do not install carpeting in areas that are likely to be subject to frequent, high moisture.  Carpet in a bathroom, for example, will quickly turn to a breeding ground for mold growth due to the high humidity from constant water use in that area.

  • Choose high-quality carpet padding.  Solid, rubber-slab carpet padding with anti-microbial properties is available.  It is slightly more expensive than other types of padding but can be helpful for preventing the growth of mold, especially in climates prone to periods of high humidity.

  • Never allow standing water.  Carpet exposed to standing water will quickly be ruined.  If standing water ever occurs because of a leak or a spill, all carpeting exposed must be immediately cleaned and dried.  The top and bottom surfaces of the carpet, any padding, and the floor underneath must be cleaned and completely dried within a short period of time after exposure to standing water if the carpet is to be saved.  If a large flood has occurred, or if standing water has been present for any extended period of time, the carpet will probably need to be replaced.

  • Clean smart.  When carpeting needs to be cleaned, try to use a dry form of cleaning, when possible.  If any water, liquid, or other moisture has come in contact with the carpet during cleaning, be sure it is dried thoroughly afterward.
     

Removing Mold From Carpet

In many cases, if mold has grown on carpet, cleaning will not be possible.  If growth has occurred on more than one area of the carpet, or if there is a large area of growth, the carpet will probably need to be replaced. 

Small areas of growth that have been quickly identified can sometimes be dealt with.  Detergent and water used with a steam-cleaning machine may be enough to clean the carpet thoroughly.  It is then important to ensure that the carpet dries completely after cleaning to prevent the growth from recurring.  Stronger cleaning agents can be substituted if detergent does not work.  Anything stronger than detergent or common rug-cleaning products should first be tested on an inconspicuous area of the carpet to ensure that the rug will not be damaged during cleaning.  About 24 hours is a reasonable amount of time to wait after testing to be sure that wider cleaning will not discolor or damage the carpet.

Another option in instances where mold growth is not widespread is to remove the ruined section of the carpet.  If cleaning has been attempted unsuccessfully, the area of mold growth may be removed and replaced with a patch of similar carpet.  Of course, this will only work in situations where aesthetics are not a big concern, since exactly matching the patch to the original carpet may be difficult and the seam may be visible.  If mold has grown in more than one area of the carpet, or if the area of growth is larger than a couple of feet, this will probably not be an effective method of mold removal.
 
As with all areas of the interior at risk for mold growth, prevention is the best method of control for carpet mold.  Eliminating high-moisture conditions and preventing the risk of flooding or standing water will reduce the possibility of growth.  Inspectors will want to know where to look for and how to identify mold growth in carpeting.  It is also helpful to know how to determine if carpet should be replaced, or whether there is a possibility of cleaning and saving it.
 
 

Central Humidifiers


Central humidifier
 
Humidifiers are devices that humidify air so that building occupants are comfortable. Central humidifiers are hard-wired into a house’s plumbing and forced-air heating systems.
 

What is humidity?

Humidity refers to the amount of moisture in the air. “Relative humidity” signifies the amount of moisture in the air relative to the maximum amount of water the air can contain before it becomes saturated. This maximum moisture count is related to air temperature in that the hotter the air is, the more moisture it can hold. For instance, if indoor air temperature drops, relative humidity will increase.

How do central air humidifiers work?

Central air humidifiers are integrated into the forced-air heating system so that they humidify air while it is being heated. The water that is used by the device is pumped automatically into the humidifier from household plumbing, unlike portable humidifiers, which require the user to periodically supply water to the device. Humidifiers are available in various designs, each of which turns liquid water into water vapor, which is then vented into the house at an adjustable rate.

Why humidify air?

Certain airborne pathogens, such as those that cause the flu, circulate easier in dry air than in moist air. Moist air also seems to soothe irritated, inflamed airways. For someone with a cold and thick nasal secretions, a humidifier can help thin out the secretions and make breathing easier.

Indoor air that is too dry can also cause the following problems:

  • damage to musical instruments, such as pianos, guitars and violins;
  • dry skin;
  • peeling wallpaper;
  • static electricity, which can damage sensitive electrical equipment, cause hair to stick up, and can be painful or annoying; and 
  • cracks in wood furniture, floors, cabinets and paint.

Central Humidifier Dangers

Humidifiers can cause various diseases. The young, elderly and infirm may be particularly at risk to contamination from airborne pollutants such as bacteria and fungi. These can grow in humidifiers and get into the air by way of the vapor where it can be breathed in. Some of the more common diseases and pathogens transmitted by humidifiers are:

  • Legionnaires’ Disease. Health problems caused by this disease range from flu-like symptoms to serious infections. This problem is generally more prevalent with portable humidifiers because they draw standing water from a tank in which bacteria and fungi can grow;
  • thermophilic actinomycetes. These bacteria thrive at temperatures of 113° to 140° F and can cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is an inflammation of the lungs; and 
  • “humidifier fever,” which is a mysterious and short-lived, flu-like illness marked by fever, headache, chills and malaise, but without prominent pulmonary symptoms. It normally subsides within 24 hours without residual effects.

Other problems associated with humidifiers include:

  • accumulation of white dust from minerals in the water. These minerals may be released in the mist from the humidifier and settle as fine white dust that may be small enough to enter the lungs. The health effects of this dust depend on the types and amounts of dissolved minerals. It is unclear whether these minerals cause any serious health problems;
  • moisture damage due to condensation. Condensed water from over-humidified air will appear on the interior surfaces of windows and other relatively cool surfaces. Excessive moisture on windows can damage windowpanes and walls, but a more serious issue is caused when moisture collects on the inner surfaces of exterior walls. Moisture there can ruin insulation and rot the wall, and cause peeling, cracking or blistering of the paint; and
  • accumulation of mold. This organic substance grows readily in moist environments, such as a home moistened by an over-worked humidifier. Mold can be hazardous to people with compromised immune systems. 

Designs and MaintenanceHumidistat

  • drum-type humidifier:  has a rotating spongy surface that absorbs water from a tray. Air from the central heating system blows through the sponge, vaporizing the absorbed water. The drum type requires care and maintenance because mold and impurities can collect in the water tray. According to some manufacturers' instructions, this tray should be rinsed annually, although it usually helps to clean it several times per heating season.
  • flow-through or “trickle” humidifier:  a higher quality though more expensive unit than the drum-type, which allows fresh water to trickle into an aluminum panel. Air blows through the panel and forces the water to evaporate into the air stream. Excess water exits the panel into a drain tube. This design requires little maintenance because the draining water has a “self-cleaning” effect and, unlike the drum-type humidifier, there is no stagnant water.

Other tips that InterNACHI inspectors can pass on to their clients:

  • If equipped with a damper, it should be closed in the summer and opened in the winter. The damper may appear as a knob that can be set to “summer” or “winter” setting, or it may be a piece of metal that can be inserted to cover the duct opening.
  • The humidifier is controlled by a humidistat, which must be adjusted daily. Some new models do this automatically, although most require daily attention from building occupants. The humidistat should contain a chart that can be used to identify the proper setting based on the outdoor temperature. If this adjustment is not performed, condensation will likely collect on cool surfaces and potentially lead to mold or wood rot. Many homeowners do not know that this calibration is necessary.
  • The furnace might need to be checked for rust. Some humidifiers are installed inside the plenum of the furnace, which can be damaged by rust if the humidifier leaks.
  • Central humidifiers may have a solid core that should be replaced each year. The manufacturer’s instructions should be consulted regarding this replacement.

In summary, central humidifiers are used to humidify air to make it more comfortable, but they can cause health problems and building damage if they are not properly maintained. 

Asbestos


What is Asbestos?
 
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance. InterNACHI inspectors can supplement their knowledge with the information offered in this guide. 
 
How Can Asbestos Affect My Health?
 
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer in the forms of mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
 

The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increase with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos. 

Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard. 

Where Can I Find Asbestos and When Can it Be a Problem?
 
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos. Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include: 
  • steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly;
  • resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers, and so may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal;
  • cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers, and so may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation;
  • door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use;
  • soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly or water-damaged material may release fibers, and so will sanding, drilling or scraping the material;
  • patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos fibers;
  • asbestos cement roofing, shingles and siding. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, dilled or cut;
  • artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces, and other older household products, such as fireproof gloves, stove-top pads, ironing board covers and certain hairdryers; and
  • automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets.
Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found in the Home
  • Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement.
  • Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
  • Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
  • Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
  • Older products, such as stove-top pads, may have some asbestos compounds.
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard or cement sheets.
  • Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
  • Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

What Should Be Done About Asbestos in the Home?

If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic.  Usually, the best thing to do is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless the asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released and then inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, abrasions or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow. Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stove-top pads and ironing board covers. Check with local health, environmental or other appropriate agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present. 
 
How to Identify Materials that Contain Asbestos
 
You can't tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos, or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is not recommended. If you nevertheless choose to take the samples yourself, take care not to release asbestos fibers into the air or onto yourself. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone. Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be sampled. Anyone who samples asbestos-containing materials should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before sampling and, at a minimum, should observe the following procedures: 
  • Make sure no one else is in the room when sampling is done.
  • Wear disposable gloves or wash hands after sampling.
  • Shut down any heating or cooling systems to minimize the spread of any released fibers.
  • Do not disturb the material any more than is needed to take a small sample.
  • Place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area to be sampled.
  • Wet the material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent before taking the sample. The water/detergent mist will reduce the release of asbestos fibers.
  • Carefully cut a piece from the entire depth of the material using a small knife, corer or other sharp object. Place the small piece into a clean container (a 35-mm film canister, small glass or plastic vial, or high-quality resealable plastic bag).
  • Tightly seal the container after the sample is in it. 
  • Carefully dispose of the plastic sheet. Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material on the outside of the container or around the area sampled. Dispose of asbestos materials according to state and local procedures.
  • Label the container with an identification number and clearly state when and where the sample was taken.
  • Patch the sampled area with the smallest possible piece of duct tape to prevent fiber release.
  • Send the sample to an asbestos analysis laboratory accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Your state or local health department may also be able to help.  
How to Manage an Asbestos Problem
 
If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal. Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so that fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely. Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent the release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make removal of asbestos later (if found to be necessary) more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor. Major repairs must be done only by a professional trained in methods for safely handling asbestos. Minor repairs should also be done by professionals, since there is always a risk of exposure to fibers when asbestos is disturbed.
 
Repairs 
 
Doing minor repairs yourself is not recommended, since improper handling of asbestos materials can create a hazard where none existed. If you nevertheless choose to do minor repairs, you should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before doing anything. Contact your state or local health department or regional EPA office for information about asbestos training programs in your area. Your local school district may also have information about asbestos professionals and training programs for school buildings. Even if you have completed a training program, do not try anything more than minor repairs. Before undertaking minor repairs, carefully examine the area around the damage to make sure it is stable. As a general rule, any damaged area which is bigger than the size of your hand is not considered a minor repair. 
 

Before undertaking minor repairs, be sure to follow all the precautions described previously for sampling asbestos material. Always wet the asbestos material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent. Commercial products designed to fill holes and seal damaged areas are available. Small areas of material, such as pipe insulation, can be covered by wrapping a special fabric, such as re-wettable glass cloth, around it. These products are available from stores (listed in the telephone directory under "Safety Equipment and Clothing") which specialize in asbestos materials and safety items. 

Removal is usually the most expensive method and, unless required by state or local regulations, should be the last option considered in most situations. This is because removal poses the greatest risk of fiber release. However, removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home that will disturb asbestos material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a contractor with special training. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family.
 
Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They and What Can They Do? 
 
Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos. 
 
Asbestos professionals can conduct home inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition, and advise on the corrections that are needed, as well as who is qualified to make these corrections. Once again, material in good condition need not be sampled unless it is likely to be disturbed. Professional correction or abatement contractors repair and remove asbestos materials. 
 
Some firms offer combinations of testing, assessment and correction. A professional hired to assess the need for corrective action should not be connected with an asbestos-correction firm. It is better to use two different firms so that there is no conflict of interest. Services vary from one area to another around the country. 
 
The federal government offers training courses for asbestos professionals around the country. Some state and local governments also offer or require training or certification courses. Ask asbestos professionals to document their completion of federal or state-approved training. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of EPA-approved training. State and local health departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed professionals in your area. 
 

If you have a problem that requires the services of asbestos professionals, check their credentials carefully. Hire professionals who are trained, experienced, reputable and accredited -- especially if accreditation is required by state or local laws. Before hiring a professional, ask for references from previous clients. Find out if they were satisfied. Ask whether the professional has handled similar situations. Get cost estimates from several professionals, as the charges for these services can vary. 

Though private homes are usually not covered by the asbestos regulations that apply to schools and public buildings, professionals should still use procedures described in federal or state-approved training. Homeowners should be alert to the chance of misleading claims by asbestos consultants and contractors. There have been reports of firms incorrectly claiming that asbestos materials in homes must be replaced. In other cases, firms have encouraged unnecessary removal or performed it improperly. Unnecessary removal is a waste of money. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family. To guard against this, know what services are available and what procedures and precautions are needed to do the job properly. 

In addition to general asbestos contractors, you may select a roofing, flooring or plumbing contractor trained to handle asbestos when it is necessary to remove and replace roofing, flooring, siding or asbestos-cement pipe that is part of a water system. Normally, roofing and flooring contractors are exempt from state and local licensing requirements because they do not perform any other asbestos-correction work.

Asbestos-containing automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets should be repaired and replaced only by a professional using special protective equipment. Many of these products are now available without asbestos.
 
If you hire an InterNACHI inspector who is trained in asbestos inspection:
  • Make sure that the inspection will include a complete visual examination, and the careful collection and lab analysis of samples. If asbestos is present, the inspector should provide a written evaluation describing its location and extent of damage, and give recommendations for correction or prevention.
  • Make sure an inspecting firm makes frequent site visits if it is hired to assure that a contractor follows proper procedures and requirements. The inspector may recommend and perform checks after the correction to assure that the area has been properly cleaned.
If you hire a corrective-action contractor:
  • Check with your local air pollution control board, the local agency responsible for worker safety, and the Better Business Bureau. Ask if the firm has had any safety violations. Find out if there are legal actions filed against it.
  • Insist that the contractor use the proper equipment to do the job. The workers must wear approved respirators, gloves and other protective clothing.
  • Before work begins, get a written contract specifying the work plan, cleanup, and the applicable federal, state and local regulations which the contractor must follow (such as notification requirements and asbestos disposal procedures). Contact your state and local health departments, EPA regional office, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regional office to find out what the regulations are. Be sure the contractor follows local asbestos removal and disposal laws. At the end of the job, get written assurance from the contractor that all procedures have been followed.
  • Assure that the contractor avoids spreading or tracking asbestos dust into other areas of your home. They should seal off the work area from the rest of the house using plastic sheeting and duct tape, and also turn off the heating and air conditioning system. For some repairs, such as pipe insulation removal, plastic bags may be adequate. They must be sealed with tape and properly disposed of when the job is complete.
  • Make sure the work site is clearly marked as a hazardous area. Do not allow household members or pets into the area until work is completed.
  • Insist that the contractor apply a wetting agent to the asbestos material with a hand sprayer that creates a fine mist before removal. Wet fibers do not float in the air as easily as dry fibers and will be easier to clean up.
  • Make sure the contractor does not break removed material into smaller pieces. This could release asbestos fibers into the air. Pipe insulation was usually installed in pre-formed blocks and should be removed in complete pieces.
  • Upon completion, assure that the contractor cleans the area well with wet mops, wet rags, sponges and/or HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaners. A regular vacuum cleaner must never be used. Wetting helps reduce the chance of spreading asbestos fibers in the air. All asbestos materials and disposable equipment and clothing used in the job must be placed in sealed, leakproof, and labeled plastic bags. The work site should be visually free of dust and debris. Air monitoring (to make sure there is no increase of asbestos fibers in the air) may be necessary to assure that the contractor's job is done properly. This should be done by someone not connected with the contractor. 
Caution! 

Do not dust, sweep or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. These actions will disturb tiny asbestos fibers and may release them into the air. Remove dust by wet-mopping or with a special HEPA vacuum cleaner used by trained asbestos contractors.

 

Lead Facts

Did you know the following facts about lead?
 
FACT: Lead exposure can harm young children and babies even before they are born.
FACT: Even children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.
FACT: You can get lead in your body by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips containing lead.
FACT: You have many options for reducing lead hazards. In most cases, lead-based paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.
FACT: Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family.
 
If you think your home might have lead hazards, read on to learn about lead and some simple steps to protect your family.

Health Effects of Lead
  • Childhood lead poisoning remains a major environmental health problem in the U.S.
  • Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.
  • People can get lead in their body if they:
    • put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths;
    • eat paint chips or soil that contains lead; or
    • breathe in lead dust, especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces.
  • Lead is even more dangerous to children than adults because:
    • babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them;
    • children's growing bodies can absorb more lead; and 
    • children's brains and central nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
  • If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:
    • damage to the brain and nervous system;
    • behavioral and learning problems (such as hyperactivity);
    • slowed growth;
    • hearing problems; and 
    • headaches.
  • Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from:
    • difficulties during pregnancy;
    • other reproductive problems (in both men and women);
    • high blood pressure;
    • digestive problems;
    • nerve disorders;
    • memory and concentration problems; and 
    • muscle and joint pain

 

Where is Lead Found?

In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. 
 
Paint
 
Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978. Some states stopped its use even earlier. Lead can be found:
  • in homes in the city, country and suburbs;
  • on apartments, single-family homes, and both private and public housing complexes;
  • on the interior and exterior of the house;
  • in the soil around a home.  Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint and other sources, such as past use of leaded gas in cars;
  • in household dust. Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint and from soil tracked into a home;
  • in drinking water. Your home might have plumbing that uses lead pipes or lead solder. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of lead. If you think your plumbing might have lead in it:
    • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.
    • Run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours.
  • on the job. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family's clothes;
  • in old (vintage or antique) painted toys and furniture;
  • in food and liquids stored in lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery and porcelain;
  • from lead smelters and other industries that release lead into the air;
  • with hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.
  • in folk remedies that contain lead, such as "greta" and "azarcon" used to treat an upset stomach.

 

Where is Lead Likely to be a Hazard?

  • Lead from paint chips, which you can see, and lead dust, which you can't always see, can be serious hazards.
  • Peeling, chipping, chalking and cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
  • Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear. These areas include:
    • windows and window sills;
    • doors and door frames;
    • stairs, railings and banisters; and 
    • porches and fences.
Note: Lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard.
  • Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry-scraped, dry-sanded, or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when people vacuum, sweep or walk through it.
  • Lead in soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil, or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes.

 

Checking Your Family and Home for Lead

  • Have your children and home tested if you think your home has high levels of lead.
  • Just knowing that a home has lead-based paint may not tell you if there is a hazard.
To reduce your child’s exposure to lead, get your child checked, have your home tested (especially if your home has paint in poor condition and was built before 1978), and fix any hazards you may have.
 
Your Family
  • Children’s blood lead levels tend to increase rapidly from 6 to 12 months of age, and tend to peak at 18 to 24 months of age.
  • Consult your doctor for advice on testing your children. A simple blood test can detect high levels of lead. Blood tests are important for:
    • children at ages 1 to 2;
    • children and other family members who have been exposed to high levels of lead; and 
    • children who should be tested under your state or local health screening plan.
Your doctor can explain what the test results mean and if more testing will be needed.
 
Your Home
 
You can get your home checked in one of two ways (or both):
  • A paint inspection tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home. It won't tell you whether the paint is a hazard or how you should deal with it.
  • A risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure, such as peeling paint and lead dust. It also tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.
Have qualified professionals do the work. There are standards in place for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure that the work is done safely, reliably and effectively. Be sure to ask your InterNACHI inspector about lead paint during your next inspection. Trained professionals use a range of methods when checking your home, including:
  • a vsual inspection of paint condition and location;
  • a portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine;
  • lab tests of paint samples; and 
  • surface-dust tests.
Note: Home test kits for lead are available, but studies suggest that they are not always accurate. Consumers should not rely on these tests before doing renovations or to assure safety.
 
What You Can Do to Protect Your Family
 
If you suspect that your house has lead hazards, you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family's risk:
  • If you rent, notify your landlord of peeling or chipping paint.
  • Clean up paint chips immediately.
  • Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner, or a cleaner made specifically for lead. 
REMEMBER: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH PRODUCTS TOGETHER, SINCE THEY CAN FORM A DANGEROUS GAS.
  • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty and dusty areas.
  • Wash children's hands often, especially before they eat, and before nap time and bed time.
  • Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
  • Keep children from chewing window sills and other painted surfaces.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
  • Make sure children eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
In addition to day-to-day cleaning and good nutrition, you can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged amd painted surfaces, and by planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions, called "interim controls," are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention. To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead-abatement contractor. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials. Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not enough. Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems -- someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government. To be safe, hire an InterNACHI inspector trained in lead detection for your next inspection.
 
Are You Planning to Buy or Rent a Home Built Before 1978?
 
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. Federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renting or buying pre-1978 housing.
  • Residential Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Program
    • LANDLORDS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint.
    • SELLERS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards.
If not conducted properly, certain types of renovations can release lead from paint and dust into the air.
  • Pre-Renovation Education Program (PRE)
    • RENOVATORS have to give you a pamphlet titled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” before starting work.
  • Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling or renovations that disturb painted surfaces (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls). 
    • Have the area tested for lead-based paint.
    • Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and fumes.
    • Lead dust can remain in your home long after the work is done.
    • Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can't move your family, at least completely seal off the work area.
    • If you have already completed renovations or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or dust, get your young children tested and follow the steps outlined to protect your family.

Marijuana Grow Operations

 
 
A marijuana grow operation is the cultivation of marijuana, sometimes illegally, for the purpose of sale and distribution. Indoor grow operations can beMarijuana grow operation found in places such as houses, apartments, commercial businesses and abandoned factories. There are thousands of illegal marijuana growers in the United States, but the problem is considerably more serious in Canada.
 

Facts and Trends

  • In Canada, marijuana grow operations are becoming so common that many police departments have given up trying to fight them. From 1994 to 2004, the number of marijuana cultivation offenses more than doubled, and Canadian law enforcement estimates that there are currently 50,000 grow operations in the country.
  • In the Canadian province of British Columbia, marijuana growth generates an estimated $7 billion annually.
  • Most of the marijuana grown in Canada will eventually be sold in the United States, where it is worth more.
  • Grow operations can be found in any type of house and community. Homes with grow operations are not necessarily cheap rentals or suspicious-looking, crumbling old homes in ramshackle communities. Newer homes in upscale communities are increasingly used to hide grow operations. Marijuana cultivation can be so lucrative that the entire cost of the house is paid for in a short period of time.
  • Although it may seem like a serious risk for a current grower to hire an inspector to examine their home, it does happen, if rarely. Many grow operations are not temporary, and the growers have an otherwise normal household. Drug dealers need their homes to be inspected, too.

Why should inspectors care about grow operations?

Learning about the typical problems created by grow operations will enable inspectors to recognize defects. If an inspector can recognize that water damage, for instance, was a byproduct of a former grow operation, they may waste less time in the attic searching for the source of water leaks.

Common indications of marijuana grow operations:

  • heat and humidity. Water that is fed to plants will transpire and evaporate from the containers into the surrounding air. Cannabis plants also require warmth. Excess water vapor and high temperatures can lead to the following defective conditions:
    • water damage. Water damage caused by grow operations will likely appear uniform throughout the room, unlike the generally localized damage caused by water leaks. Even normal house plants can create enough water vapor to damage shingles, and a large marijuana grow operation may cause a considerable amount of water damage.           
    • large mold accumulations. Mold grows fast in humid environments. It can be a health concern, as well as a source of structural decay.
    • lack of snow on roof in winter due to high temperatures indoors because of the use of grow lights, etc. Fish hooks used to penetrate power lines and steal electricity
    • unusually high amounts of steam coming from vents in winter.
  • improper electrical connections. Grow operations, even relatively small ones, require an enormous amount of electricity for lighting. Some utility companies will report suspiciously high levels of consumption to police. In order to avoid this possibility, growers will often illegally bypass the electric meter to gain access to electricity without any record of the theft. They accomplish this by tapping electricity from the power lines before they reach the meter. In the accompanying photo, Romex cable has been attached to large fish hooks that were used to tap utility lines at the pole and illegally deviate current into the home. Inspectors may encounter other types of inventive yet improper or dangerous electrical connections.
  • high electricity bills. Energy auditors, many of whom are inspectors, may come across a house that uses far more energy than seems necessary. Inspectors may also be given utility bill information from energy auditors.  

Other indications for InterNACHI inspectors and neighbors:

  • skunky marijuana odor. Other odors may also be apparent, such as those from mothballs, air fresheners or chlorine, which are used in an attempt to mask the marijuana smell;
  • unusual garbage strewn across lawn. Items used for growing marijuana, such as wiring, PVC piping and nutrient containers, may be discarded and left around the house;
  • humming sound. electrical equipment used for the growing operation can create sounds similar to transformers;
  • windows covered in dark plastic or newspaper;
  • perpetually illuminated rooms;
  • extra security, such as guard dogs and fences.
In summary, inspectors may encounter unsafe or defective conditions caused by marijuana grow operations.

Meth Labs

 
Meth lab
 

Methamphetamine (also known as "crystal meth" or "meth") is a highly addictive and illegal stimulant. A meth lab is an illegal drug-manufacturing site, often a house or apartment, containing equipment and potentially toxic chemicals required to produce meth.

Facts and Statistics About Meth Labs

  • In 2003, more than 17,000 meth labs were seized by police in the United States. Seizures in recent years have been significantly fewer, but authorities estimate that tens of thousands of homes may be contaminated by toxic chemicals from meth labs.
  • Far fewer meth labs per capita have been seized in Canada than in the United States.
  • Meth labs can be found in any neighborhood, regardless of social, socio-economic, and ethnic composition.
  • Carpeting, wallboard, ceiling tile and fabric may absorb spilled or vaporized chemicals. These chemicals may remain for many years after the meth lab has been disassembled, potentially poisoning future tenants. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to make contaminated homes habitable. 
  • It is estimated that 5 to 7 pounds of chemical waste is produced for each pound of meth manufactured. 
  • One tablespoon of methanol, an ingredient required in meth production, can cause permanent blindness if ingested. Death can result from the ingestion of less than half of a cup of the chemical. Other common chemicals used to produce meth include bleach, household drain cleaner, benzene, methylene chloride, trichloroethane, battery acid, lye, ammonia and muriatic acid. More chemicals can be formed during the “cooking” process.
  • Chemicals required or created by the meth production process can cause health problems, such as cancer, brain and nervous system injury, injury to the liver and kidneys, birth defects, and reproductive disorders.
  • Meth labs can be very small. They have been found in bathtubs and inside vehicles.
Why should inspectors care?
  • for their own safety. InterNACHI inspectors should not handle items that they believe are contaminated with dangerous chemicals.
  • for the safety of their clients. It is the inspector's responsibility to call out potentially dangerous conditions in homes.
A Case Report:

Jason and Rhonda Holt purchased a house in Tennessee to start their family. They were soon plagued by mysterious illnesses. Their three babies became pale and lethargic, requiring many trips to the emergency room where they were put on respirators and one received steroids. Rhonda developed headaches, and her husband suffered kidney ailments. They endured these illnesses for years until they discovered, five years after moving into their house, that it was the location of a former meth lab. The Holts would need to spend more than $30,000 to rid their home of the toxic chemicals that had saturated the home.
 

Visually Recognizing a Possible Meth Lab:

The following conditions are indications that a residence is or was once used as a meth lab:

  • the presence of equipment used to cook meth, such as pressure cookers, jugs, blenders, aluminum foil, pH test strips, turkey basting wands, rubber gloves,Chemical stains from a former meth lab   thermometers, funnels, strainers and duct tape;
  • unusual odors. The odors associated with meth labs often smell sweet or bitter, and some people have described it as burning popcorn. An ammonia smell, similar to that of pet urine, may also be present. Waste products may have been dumped down sinks, drains or toilets. These waste products can collect in drains, traps and septic tanks and can give off fumes; 
  • covered or blacked-out windows;
  • chemical staining of walls and floors. Yellow or red stains are likely to be a result of phosphorous or iodine spillage;
  • burnpits, stained soil, or dead vegetation indicating dumped chemicals from a meth lab;
  • security measures, such as cameras or baby monitors outside of buildings. Unusual small holes in walls and doors may indicate runways for cables;
  • trap doors in floors or walls;
  • rust appearing on door hinges, cabinet knobs, light fixtures or keys. Corrosive gasses such as hydrochloric acid cause this rusting;
  • unusual burn marks;Burns caused by the meth production process
  • missing or detached smoke detectors; and 
  • unusual venting or plumbing.
Testing:

Some inspectors offer meth testing services for additional fees. Generally inspectors charge for each sample test and the more samples taken the better. Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Indoor Air Consultants, says "Once an inspector acquires one positive test, he/she should consider the home to be a former lab at that point, but numerous negative tests should be considered inconclusive."


Should inspectors report meth labs to the authorities?

Inspectors are not DEA agents, and it is technically not the inspector's legal responsibility to report suspicions to authorities. Furthermore, police generally do not care much about former meth labs, which are more of an environmental concern than a criminal issue.  Obviously, it is highly unlikely that an inspector will be invited to perform an inspection in a house that has a working meth lab, but it is possible.  If an inspector encounters an operational meth lab he/she should report it to police.  If an inspector believes that a home, septic tank or yard may be contaminated, he/she should contact the local health department or department of natural resources for advice. 
 
In summary, inspectors should try to notice signs of former meth labs, which can contaminate their surroundings with toxic chemicals.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas.

You cannot see, smell or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home.  When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer.  In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today.  If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

 

You should test for radon.

Testing is the only way to find out your home's radon levels. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.

You can fix a radon problem.

If you find that you have high radon levels, there are ways to fix a radon problem. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels.

If You are Selling a Home...

The EPA recommends that you test your home before putting it on the market and, if necessary, lower your radon levels. Save the test results and all information you have about steps that were taken to fix any problems. This could be a positive selling point. 

If You are Buying a Home...

The EPA recommends that you know what the indoor radon level is in any home you are considering buying.  Ask the seller for their radon test results.  If the home has a radon-reduction system, ask the seller for information they have about the system.

If the home has not yet been tested, you should have the house tested.

If you are having a new home built, there are features that can be incorporated into your home during construction to reduce radon levels.

These radon testing guidelines have been developed specifically to deal with the time-sensitive nature of home purchases and sales, and the potential for radon device interference.  These guidelines are slightly different from the guidelines in other EPA publications which provide radon testing and reduction information for non-real estatesituations.

This guide recommends three short-term testing options for real estate transactions.  The EPA also recommends testing a home in the lowest level which is currently suitable for occupancy, since a buyer may choose to live in a lower area of the home than that used by the seller.

1. Why do you need to test for radon?

a. radon foundRadon has been found in homes all over the U.S.

 

Radon is a radioactive gas that has been found in homes all over the United States. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water, and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above, and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water. Your home can trap radon inside.

Any home can have a radon problem, including new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. In fact, you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home. That is where you spend most of your time.

Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L or more).  Elevated levels of radon gas have been found in homes in your state.  

 

b. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend that you test your home.

Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.

 

fixedYou cannot predict radon levels based on state, local, or neighborhood radon measurements.  Do not rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your home.  Homes which are next to each other can have different radon levels.  Testing is the only way to find out what your home's radon level is.

In some areas, companies may offer different types of radon service agreements.  Some agreements let you pay a one-time fee that covers both testing and radon mitigation, if needed.  



Water Quality

Drinking Water
 
The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don’t tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That’s because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn, and the treatment it receives. Now you have a new way to find information about your drinking water if it comes from a public water supplier (The EPA doesn’t regulate private wells, but recommends that well.  owners have their water tested annually.) Starting in 1999, every community water supplier must provide an annual report (sometimes called a "consumer confidence report") to its customers. The report provides information on your local drinking water quality, including the water’s source, the contaminants found in the water, and how consumers can get involved in protecting drinking water. You may want more information, or you may have more questions. One place you can go is to your water supplier, who is best equipped to answer questions about your specific water supply. 
 
What contaminants may be found in drinking water?
 
There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches. Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels, minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe. Some contaminants come from the erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away. Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems have established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells. Similarly, some surface-water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination. Right now, states and water suppliers are working systematically to assess every source of drinking water, and to identify potential sources of contaminants. This process will help communities to protect their drinking water supplies from contamination. 
 
Where does drinking water come from?

A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface-water sources, such as lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Sometimes, these sources are close to the community. Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it’s important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake or reservoir. In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers, the natural reservoirs under the earth’s surface, that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many states. As with surface water, it is important to remember that activities many miles away from you may affect the quality of ground water. Your annual drinking water quality report will tell you where your water supplier gets your water.
 
How is drinking water treated?

When a water supplier takes untreated water from a river or reservoir, the water often contains dirt and tiny pieces of leaves and other organic matter, as well as trace amounts of certain contaminants. When it gets to the treatment plant, water suppliers often add chemicals, called coagulants, to the water. These act on the water as it flows very slowly through tanks so that the dirt and other contaminants form clumps that settle to the bottom. Usually, this water then flows through a filter for removal of the smallest contaminants, such as viruses and Giardia. Most ground water is naturally filtered as it passes through layers of the earth into underground reservoirs known as aquifers. Water that suppliers pump from wells generally contains less organic material than surface water, and may not need to go through any or all of these treatments.
 The imageThe quality of the water will depend on local conditions. The most common drinking water treatment, considered by many to be one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century, is disinfection. Most water suppliers add chlorine or another disinfectant to kill bacteria and other germs. Water suppliers use other treatments as needed, according to the quality of their source water. For example, systems whose water is contaminated with organic chemicals can treat their water with activated carbon, which adsorbs or attracts the chemicals dissolved in the water.
 
What if I have special health needs?

People who have HIV/AIDS, are undergoing chemotherapy, take steroids, or for another reason have a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to microbial contaminants, including Cryptosporidium, in drinking water. If you or someone you know fall into one of these categories, talk to your healthcare provider to find out if you need to take special precautions, such as boiling your water. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of high levels of certain contaminants, including nitrate and lead. To avoid exposure to lead, use water from the cold tap for making baby formula, drinking and cooking, and let the water run for a minute or more if the water hasn’t been turned on for six or more hours. If your water supplier alerts you that your water does not meet the EPA’s standard for nitrates, and you have children under 6 months old, consult your healthcare provider. You may want to find an alternate source of water that contains lower levels of nitrates for your child. 
 
What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?

The EPA has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may be present in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. The EPA sets these standards to protect the health of everybody, including vulnerable groups like children. The contaminants fall into two groups, according to the health effects that they cause. Your local water supplier will alert you through the local media, direct mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact them for additional information specific to your area. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water,microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people’s bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don’t have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high-enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over the EPA’s safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection byproducts, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of these chronic effects include cancer, liver and kidney problems, and reproductive difficulties.
 
Who is responsible for drinking water quality?

The Safe Drinking Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility for setting national drinking water standards that protect the health of the 250 million people who get their water from public water systems. Other people get their water from private wells which are not subject to federal regulations. Since 1974, the EPA has set national standards for over 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water. While the EPA and state governments set and enforce standards, local governments and private water suppliers have direct responsibility for the quality of the water that flows to your tap. Water systems test and treat their water, maintain the distribution systems that deliver water to consumers, and report on their water quality to the state. States and the EPA provide technical assistance to water suppliers and can take legal action against systems that fail to provide water that meets state and EPA standards.
 
 What is a violation of a drinking water standard?

Drinking water suppliers are required to monitor and test their water many times, for many things, before sending it to consumers. These tests determine whether and how the water needs to be treated, as well as the effectiveness of the treatment process. If a water system consistently sends to consumers water that contains a contaminant at a level higher than EPA or state health standards regulate, or if the system fails to monitor for a contaminant, the system is violating regulations, and is subject to fines and other penalties. When a water system violates a drinking water regulation, it must notify the people who drink its water about the violation, what it means, and how they should respond. In cases where the water presents an immediate health threat, such as when people need to boil water before drinking it, the system must use television, radio and newspapers to get the word out as quickly as possible. Other notices may be sent by mail, or delivered with the water bill. Each water suppliers’ annual water quality report must include a summary of all the violations that occurred during the previous year.
 
How can I help protect my drinking water?

Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water. There are lots of ways that individuals can get involved. Some people will help clean up the watershed that is the source of their community’s water. Other people might get involved in wellhead protection activities to prevent the contamination of the ground water source that provides water to their community. These people will be able to make use of the information that states and water systems are gathering as they assess their sources of water.  Concerned citizens may want to attend public meetings to ensure that their community’s need for safe drinking water is considered in making decisions about land use. You may wish to participate when your state and water system make funding decisions. And all consumers can do their part to conserve water and to dispose properly of household chemicals.