Lead, radon and asbestos
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains high levels of lead. Lead based paint can chip or produce dust which can cause serious health problems if not taken care of properly. There are many solutions if you find that your home has lead based paint.
- Download the EPA's lead compliance guide (large PDF) to learn more about renovating in the presence of lead health hazards and protecting your family from exposure to lead.
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas known to increase the risk of cancer.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. The air pressure inside your home is usually lower than the pressure in the soil around your home’s foundation. Because of this difference in pressure, your home acts like a vacuum, drawing radon through foundation cracks and other openings. Radon may also be present in well water and can be released into the air in your home when water is used for showering, flushing the toilet, and such. Radon entering the home through water is a small risk compared with radon entering your home from the soil. In a small number of homes, the building materials such as granite and certain concrete products can give off radon, although building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves. Radon gas in soils is the principal source of elevated radon levels in the homes.
Testing - Testing for radon is inexpensive and easy. The amount of radon in the air is measured in "Pico curies per liter of air," or "pCi/L." You do not want to have radon levels above 4 pCi/L, which is the level of radon normally found in the outside air.
- Short-term testing – The testing kits for short-term testing cab be found at home-improvement or hardware stores. The test can last 2-90 days. This test is not as likely to give you a good report on year long radon levels.
- Long-term testing – Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. "Alpha track" and "electret" detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home's year-round average radon level than a short-term test.
Visit the Environmental Protection Agency's website for more information on short-term and long-term testing.
Radon Reduction – Radon can never be completely terminated from a home, but there are ways to minimize the radon levels in your house.
As a start, simply sealing or caulking up cracks and gaps in your basement foundation wall will help keep radon out. With today’s technology, elevated radon levels in most houses can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below. Your home foundation type may affect the kind of radon reduction system that will work best. There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home, but the one primarily used is soil suction, which pulls radon from below the home and vents it through a pipe or pipes to the air above the home where it is quickly diluted.
For more details on radon reduction methods, visit the EPA’s Consumer Guide on Radon Reduction.
Asbestos is a breathing hazard linked to lung cancer and asbestosis which may appear in pre-1970s homes in insulation around steam-pipes, boilers and furnace ducts; vinyl floor tile; roofing, shingles and siding; and dry-wall joint compound. It should be removed only by professionals.
Hazards of Asbestos – Usually it is best to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Do not disturb materials containing asbestos. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fiber. There is no danger unless fibers are released through ripping, sanding, or cutting and then those same fibers are inhaled into the lungs.
Where asbestos is found – These are the most common places. For more detailed places check the above asbestos link.
- 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.
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 ‘does’ contain asbestos and be careful not to disturb the area in question because there may be an increased health risk to you and others if asbestos fibers are released into the air. Call a professional for help. A professional will know exactly what to look for and will know the safest way to obtain samples for analysis.
What to do about asbestos – Do not panic if you think you have asbestos! If the material is left alone and not disturbed it is not a problem.
But if you would like to get rid of asbestos there are two ways to do it: repair or removal. Each one should be done by a professional. Do not attempt to test, find or fix an asbestos problem as handling and removal can be hazardous without training.
The professional will either repair by sealing or covering the asbestos material. Removal is more costly and increases the risk of releasing fibers. This should be the last resort, but if doing a major remodeling it is almost always required. .