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Charlie Glahe WIN Broomfield

Catching asbestos and radon problems with a home inspection

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There are a number of potential deal-breaking factors that can derail a home sale, many of which are of the cosmetic variety. Based on preferences, a buyer may decide to nix a deal for a home that has features with specific appeal or lacks certain desired amenities.

In some instances, though, the deal needs to be called off - or delayed - for the sake of public health. If asbestos or radon is discovered during the home inspection process, either will present a potentially serious issue for both the buyer and seller. Simply inhaling asbestos fibers can be dangerous, as they can get trapped in lung tissue and inflict long-term damage. Over the last few decades, a number of medical, environmental health and regulatory organizations have pushed for greater emphasis on minimizing exposure to asbestos as more information is gathered regarding its prevalence and ramifications. It doesn't always present an immediate hazard, but the nature and extent of the threat needs to be identified and contained in order to ensure the minimization of its effects.

Radon has gotten less publicity than its big bad brother, asbestos, but the odorless, colorless gas can greatly increase lung cancer risk if it goes undetected, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Considering that one in every 15 U.S. residences has a radon level high enough to warrant action, its inclusion in any property inspection should be a priority.

It doesn't have to be a deal breaker 
The good news for prospective home buyers is that, as we learn more about each of these threats and devise new tactics for both detection and neutralization, radon and asbestos don't automatically nullify a potential transaction. What was once something of a death sentence for a deal can now be navigated via prescription and careful monitoring. Additionally, many treatment professionals are licensed in both asbestos and radon solutions, so the customer can consult with and receive estimates from just one party. This is essential to efficiently moving the process along and minimizing the delays associated with detection.

In many cases, asbestos can be left alone without presenting a serious hazard. It's when substances go uncontrolled or are allowed to spread that elevated levels of fibers persist. Typically, the threat level is greater in homes built during the first half of the 20th century, and the fibers can actually be consumed by air filters and passed right back through vacuum cleaners. In the worst-case scenario, fibers can lodge themselves in bodily tissue after inhalation and form cancerous cells. Symptoms generally don't manifest unless people are exposed to high levels of asbestos over prolonged periods of time. More frequently, these higher levels of exposure occur over time for people whose careers involve sanding, buffing or working with grinding machinery.

Still, especially in older homes, it's absolutely worth determining the level of asbestos present so that the situation can be addressed. Asbestos samplings are most commonly found in steam pipes, boilers, furnace ducts, floor tiles, door gaskets and sheets of cement. It also may present itself in roofing, shingles or siding on the exterior of the home, in which case an inspector will need to determine whether a long-term problem presents itself, necessitating its immediate removal.

Radon enters a home through similarly sneaky avenues, often sifting through cracks, gaps and/or wall cavities. Any entry point for easements or pipework - even construction joints - can serve as a path through which radon can gain access. Fortunately, through the consultation of a home inspection team and a real estate agent, most radon issues can be remedied as long as they are identified early enough. Doing so will help a prospective buyer determine whether the purchase still constitutes a solid investment.