Home Inspection: Environmental Checklist

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Home Emergencies | Glossary

Making a check of the home environment consists of checking the air quality, testing the water, testing for lead, and looking for pests and biological contaminants.

Air quality checks are best made during the winter months when the doors and windows are closed and there is a minimum amount of air exchanged between indoors and the outside. This is the best time to check for radon and backdrafting.


SEVERAL TYPES OF RADON detectors are available for the home, including alpha- track detectors, charcoal exposure kits, and digital detectors. TO PERFORM A BACKDRAFT TEST hold a lighted match or smoking incense stick under the draft diverter. The flame and smoke should be drawn into the flue.

RADON

Radon is the invisible odorless gas that is generated by the natural breakdown or decay of uranium in the earth’s soil. What makes radon harmful is the fact that it's radioactive. Radon can seep into the house through cracks in the foundation or through gaps around pipes or a conduit. To test for radon, you need a testing kit. These are avail able at home centers. If the initial test results are positive, consult with a specialist to determine the extent of the problem and possible solutions.

BACKDRAFTS

Backdrafting occurs when there is an air imbalance in the house and more air is being exhausted—usually through exhaust fans in the kitchen, clothes dryer, attic, and bathroom—than can be pulled back in through the gaps around the doors and windows. As the interior air is being exhausted, it must be replaced. If the replacement air coming from around doors and windows is insufficient, then more will be drawn through the chimney vents above the furnace and fireplace. Of course, this air is not fresh; it usually contains toxic combustion gases that can cause illness and even death.

Usually backdrafting is not a problem in older houses because the insulation is not as effective and construction tolerances are not as close as those in newer homes. Still, a homeowner can not afford to take chances and he should perform a backdrafting check every winter to be safe.

To perform a test, close all doors and windows in the house. Next, turn on all exhaust fans and also the clothes dryer. Start the furnace (do this by turning up the thermostat). Go to the furnace and wait a minute for the flue to heat up. Hold a lighted match or smoking in cense stick near the draft diverter—the funnel-like collar around the flue pipe. If the smoke from the incense stick is drawn into the diverter then the draft is functioning properly. If the smoke is blown away there is a backdraft.

For an immediate solution to the problem, you can open a few windows. Of course, this will let the cold in and may chill the house. For a permanent solution, install intake ducts with heat exchangers to bring fresh air in.

DRINKING WATER

Most homeowners take safe drinking water for granted, but tests have shown that drinking water in some communities may have contaminates that make it unsafe for consumption. Even if your local water system supplies safe drinking water there is still the possibility that the water coming into your house may be tainted if your pipes have metal or corrosion particles in them. it's a good idea to have your household water tested yearly to be sure it's safe enough to drink.

This requires collecting a sample from the tap and sending it to a state- approved testing laboratory. To find a laboratory, look in the yellow pages or Internet under “Laboratories -- Testing” or call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791. The laboratory should perform a heavy-metal test, an organic pesticide test, a nitrate test, and a bacteria test. If tests reveal contamination, you can install a filtration system to correct the problem.

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DRINKING WATER can become contaminated even after it enters the home. Radon gas coming from the ground can penetrate the pipes and taint the water. Some older fixtures and faucets may have a high lead content that can contaminate the water, and the metal in some pipes can leach into the water and also cause contamination.

LEAD

Lead in the home can be a problem because it's a toxic substance that, if ingested, can cause severe health problems and even death. The two biggest sources of lead in the home are in drinking water and in wall paint. Lead in paint may not be a problem as long as the paint film remains intact. If it starts to flake, chip, or abrade into powder (this is common around door or window frames), then it could pose a hazard to the children in the house. Children like to eat paint because it tastes sweet.


Testing for Lead in wall paint with a home test kit or by collecting samples and sending them to an EPA-approved lab. Scrape the paint surface to gather paint chips. Place the samples in a plastic bag and send them to the lab. Be sure to label all samples.

You can test your paint for lead with a home test kit (available at home centers). Most kits contain a chemical reagent, sodium rhodizonate, that turns red in the presence of lead. The test is made by scraping the paint surface to expose all layers, then swabbing the area with the reagent. If the area turns red, then lead is in the paint. A follow- up test should be made by a professional, to determine the quantity and concentration of lead in the house.

PESTS

Pests pose a threat to any house. Perhaps the worst pest is the termite. This is the small insect that can literally eat you out of house and home by ingesting the wood in your house. Sometimes termites leave visible signs of their presence in the form of mud tubes or tunnels up the side of the foundation. More often, however, there is no sign of termite infestation because the termites don't nest in the house. They work their way underground and penetrate the house through hairline cracks in the foundation. You are usually not aware of termites until you discover badly damaged framing members.

The only sure way to find termites in your home or in the surrounding soil is by having a pest control expert make an inspection. Pest control experts know where to look for termites and they have a variety of instruments and detectors to determine the extent of infestation. One device is the fiber optic borescope that can peep beneath flooring, and behind panels, to see if termites are present. You should have the inspection performed every few years.

Animal pests can also invade your home at any time. Raccoons, mice, and squirrels commonly enter through the chimney or dryer vent. Sometimes squirrels will eat through a weak soffit panel to make a nest in the attic. Checks consist of looking in potential nesting places throughout the home. Inspect the dryer vent every year—do this as a matter of routine to remove ac cumulated lint as well as mouse nests.

Before lighting the fireplace in the late fall, make a thorough examination of the chimney flue. This is a favorite nesting place of raccoons and squirrels. Also look at the insulation in the attic, because rodents invading the attic will nest in the soft fibers. Look in the far corners of the attic under the eaves. Indications of nests are rounded depressions with animal droppings. Birds will also nest in the chimney and in the rain gutters around the house, so inspect these areas in the late spring.

MOLD and MILDEW

Other serious biological pollutants in the home are mold and mildew. Some may seem like minor annoyances, such as the blackish stains that form on shower curtains, but when the infestation grows into large accumulations, it can become a serious health hazard. Often homeowners believe that as long as they don't see any signs of mold— that is, patches of green, blue, or black discoloration on surfaces—their environment is free of contamination. What they don’t realize is that mold colonies can be growing in areas that they can not see, such as in air ducts, remote at tic or basement spaces, or in the wall cavities. Left to grow and multiply, mold infestations may produce enough organic compounds to cause allergic re actions, sickness and , in extreme cases, death (a possibility with infants and others with breathing problems).

You should make an annual inspection of the house for possible mold and mildew contamination. The only tools you need are a strong flashlight and your eyes and nose. The flashlight and your eyes will help you to see in dark corners and recesses throughout the house. Your nose will help you to detect any musty odors present in the air. You may not be able to see the mold if it's growing in enclosed areas, such as a wall cavity, but you can detect it be cause the odor-laden spores will drift out through an electrical outlet or through a crack in the wall.

Stan_514-0.jpg KING and QUEEN TERMITES produce offspring. Workers are responsible for wood damage and feeding the young. Soldiers protect the colony against predators.


WITH A FIBER-OPTIC BORESCOPE, a pest control expert can look into walls and beneath flooring to find termite infestation. If your house has a history of termite problems, you should have this inspection performed every few years in the springtime when termites tend to thrive.

SEASONAL CHECKLIST

Inspecting your home should be a year round activity. it's important to schedule your inspections at the right time of year in order to maximize your results and also to make the most of your time. For example interior inspection and maintenance should be carried out in the winter when the weather is cold. Outside inspection and maintenance should wait until the warmer weather of spring or fall. The following list contains Information on what should be inspected and at what time of year as well as what you should look for when inspecting (match the numbers in both left and right columns):

WINTER

  1. Appliances
  2. Door lambs
  3. Door locks
  4. Environment
  5. Faucets
  6. Floors and stairs
  7. Hot water heater (body)
  8. Hot water heater (burner)
  9. Hot water heater - (pressure relief valve)
  10. Household tools
  11. Ladders
  12. Sink drains
  13. Sink supply valve
  14. Smoke and CO detectors
  15. Toilet (tank)
  16. Toilet (supply valve)
  17. Walls and Ceilings
  18. Windows
  1. Check for clean parts and lubrication
  2. Check for proper closing and air leaks
  3. Check for proper action
  4. Check radon levels and water quality, and paint for lead
  5. Check for leaks and corrosion
  6. Check for squeaks stains cracks and gaps
  7. Check for leaks and corrosion
  8. Check for proper flame color and flame height
  9. Check for proper functioning
  10. Check for sharpness and Integrity
  11. Check for defects
  12. Check for proper draining action, leaks, and corrosion
  13. Check for leaks
  14. Check for proper operation and batteries
  15. Check condition of internal flush mechanism and handle for proper action
  16. Check for leaks
  17. Check for cracks, dents, holes, and loose joint tape, and condition of paint or wallpaper
  18. Check for proper action, leaks, and drafts

SPRING

  1. Air conditioner
  2. Attic (inside) Chimney
  3. Driveway
  4. Floors
  5. Gutters and
  6. downspouts Masonry exterior
  7. Masonry, interior (basement)
  8. Pest control
  9. Roof
  10. Siding (metal or vinyl)
  11. Siding (wood)
  12. Walls and ceilings
  13. Windows
  1. Check for clean filters interior and exterior
  2. Check for leaks
  3. Check flue for damage, cleanliness, and creosote deposits
  4. Check for cracks and holes Check for scratches and proper finish
  5. Check for damage and proper placement of splash blocks
  6. Check for crumbling mortar or splayed concrete
  7. Check for condensation on walls
  8. Check for termites
  9. Check for overall condition and curled, broken, or missing shingles
  10. Check for cracks, dents, warps, and defects
  11. Check for cracks, dents, warps, and defects, and condition of paint
  12. Check for cleanliness and integrity of paint
  13. Check for broken panes, cracked glazing compound, and cleanliness

SUMMER

  1. Doors
  2. Floors
  3. Furniture
  4. Home security
  5. Lawn furniture
  6. Lawn mower
  7. Windows
  1. Check for lubrication of hinges and general condition
  2. Check finish
  3. Check finish
  4. Check quality of locks and lights, trim shrubs, hedges, and trees
  5. Check for cleanliness and needed repairs
  6. Check for overall condition, and cleanliness, and sharpness of blade
  7. Check for cleanliness and integrity of screens

FALL

  1. Attic
  2. Chimney
  3. Exterior windows and doors
  4. Gutters and
  5. downspouts
  6. Heating system (hot water)
  7. Heating system (steam)
  8. Heating unit (electric) Heating unit
  9. (forced air)
  10. Heating unit (gas) Heating unit (oil)
  1. Check condition of insulation
  2. Check for cleanliness
  3. Check for cracks and gaps in caulk
  4. Check for clogs
  5. Check radiators for repairs bleed them and drain sediment from boiler
  6. Check for proper pitch and unclogged valves, and drain sediment from boiler
  7. Check for broken wires, loose connections, and clean contacts
  8. Check air filters for cleanliness, drive belts for integrity, all ducts for leaks and gaps, and position of all dampers; clean all registers and clean and lubricate blower motor
  9. Check flame for color and height; have burner unit cleaned
  10. Check for filters cleanliness; lubricate motor and pump; have technician clean and tune

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