The Importance of Lead Inspection for Health and Safety

The recent water crisis in Flint, MI has drawn national attention to the crisis of lead contamination. In fact, the health risks posed by the substance have been recognized since at least the Middle Ages. In the U.S., there are laws in place to limit the health impacts, but many people still come in contact with the substance through materials that predate the regulations. While aging water infrastructure is certainly a cause for concern, it is far from the only way humans are exposed to unsafe levels of lead. It is far more common for people to be exposed through the paint inside their home or office. Before renovating older buildings, it is critical to perform a lead inspection and take precautionary measures to prevent it from entering the blood.

In Flint, the state appointed a city manager to take over the city’s finances after it declared bankruptcy. That manager made a financial decision to stop purchasing water from nearby Detroit and instead connect the intake pipes to the Flint River, which flows through town. While the decision was fiscally sound, it led to unintended consequence resulting in one of the worst public health crises in U.S. history. The water in the river was loaded with chlorides, a corrosive chemical. The city failed to perform a lead inspection on the water pipes and, when the chloride-laden water hit the pipes, it gradually pulled the heavy metal into the mix. The people who bathed, drank, and washed with that water were exposed to the toxic metal and suffered severe health consequences. As the images of those consequences flooded television screens across the country, many people were (understandably) concerned with the safety of their drinking water, but they did not consider the exposure posed by paint.

Lead pigment has been used since at least 400 B.C. The writings of Pliny the Elder and Theophrastus describe an extraction method using vinegar to isolate the white pigment that was used for makeup and clothing dye. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the white pigment was the primary source of white in artistic paintings. Writings from this period attest to the risk of apoplexy and paralysis from prolonged exposure to the substance. Still, despite this awareness, it continued to be used in white paint to improve the durability and gloss of the cover.

By the 1960s, a growing body of clinical science demonstrated the full extent of the harm, and not only harm to those subjected to prolonged exposure. Even with clear data demonstrating the cause and effect, it was not until 1978 that it was finally outlawed. For homes built prior to 1978 (the majority of housing stock in most urban areas), there is a high statistical probability that lead-based paint was used at some point. Before starting any work, a lead inspection is essential. Sanding prep work can release particles into the air, where they can be inhaled, posing a risk not just to the workers but any people in the immediate area. Those concerned about their exposure should contact the EPA or their state health agency for further information.

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Homeowner Tips From a Certified Home Inspection Pro

Tools Every Homeowner Should Have

Flashlight: None of the tools you own will be of any use if you cannot visually inspect the situation. The problem-and solution-are apparent only with a good flashlight. A traditional two-battery flashlight is usually sufficient, as larger flashlights may be too unwieldy. Of course, having backups at home (as well as in all your vehicles) is a must for emergency situations.

Tape Measure: Measuring house projects requires a tape measure-not a ruler or a yardstick. Tape measures come in many lengths, although one that is at least 25 feet is best. Measure everything at least twice to ensure accuracy, regardless of the project.

Hacksaw: A hacksaw is useful for cutting metal objects, such as pipes, bolts and brackets. Hacksaws look thin and flimsy, but they’ll easily cut through even the hardest of metals. Blades are replaceable, so focus your purchase on a quality hacksaw frame. Use a stable surface for cutting, and use caution, as a hacksaw injury can be painful and deep.

Torpedo Level: Only a level can be used to determine if something, such as a shelf, appliance or picture, is correctly oriented. The torpedo-style level is unique because it not only shows when an object is perfectly horizontal and vertical, but it also has a gauge that shows when an object is at a 45-degree angle. The bubble in the viewfinder must be exactly in the middle-not merely close.

Safety Glasses: For all tasks involving a hammer, saw or a power tool, you should always wear safety glasses or goggles. They should also be worn while you mix chemicals, install insulation, and do major renovation projects involving tear-downs of building materials, such as drywall, because anything that can go airborne upon destruction can wind up in your eyes, causing irritation or injury.

Fire Safety for the Home

The National Fire Protection Association’s fire prevention program promotes the following eight tips that people of all ages and abilities can use to keep family members safe, especially during the threat of a house fire.

Plan and practice your escape from fire

We’ve heard this advice before, but you can’t be prepared to act in an emergency if you don’t have a plan and everybody knows what that plan is. Panic and fear can spread as quickly as a fire, so map out an escape route and a meeting place outdoors, and involve even the youngest family members so that everyone can work as a unit to make a safe escape. If you live in a condo or apartment building, make sure you read the signs posted on your floor advising you of the locations of stairways and other exits, as well as alarm pull stations and fire extinguishers.

Plan your escape around your abilities

Keeping a phone by your bedside will allow you to call 911 quickly, especially if the exits of your home are blocked by smoke or flames. Keep a pair of shoes near your bed, too. If your home or building has a fire escape, take some time to practice operating it and climbing it.

Smoke alarms save lives

If you don’t already have permanently installed smoke alarms hard-wired into your electrical system and located outside each bedroom and on each floor, purchase units and place them in those locations. Install them using adhesive or screws, but be careful not to touch your screwdriver to any internal wiring. Doing this can cause an electrostatic discharge and disable them. Also, install carbon monoxide detectors as they can protect family members from lethal poisoning even before a fire starts.

Give space heaters space

Whether saving on utility bills by using the furnace infrequently, or when using these portable units for spot heating, make sure you give them at least 3 feet of clearance. Be sure to turn off and unplug them when you leave or go to bed. Electrical appliances draw current even when they’re turned off, and a faulty unit can cause a fire that can spread through the wires in the walls at a deadly pace.

If you smoke, smoke outside

Not only will this keep your family members healthier and your home smelling fresher, it will minimize the chance that an errant ember from your cigarette will drop and smolder unnoticed until it causes damage.

Be kitchen-wise

This means monitoring what you have on the stove and keeping track of what’s baking in the oven. Don’t cook if you’re tired or taking medication that clouds your judgment or makes you drowsy. Being kitchen-wise also means wearing clothing that will not easily catch on the handles of pots and pans, or graze open flames or heating elements. It also means knowing how to put out a grease fire: water will make it spread, but salt or baking soda will extinguish it quickly (as will covering the pot or pan with a lid and turning off the stove). Always use your cook top’s vent fan while cooking. Also, keep a small, all-purpose fire extinguisher in a handy place such as under the sink. These 3-pound lifesavers are rated “ABC” for their fire-suppressing contents. Read the instructions on these inexpensive devices when you bring them home from the store so that you can act quickly, if the time comes.

Stop, drop and roll

Fight the urge to panic and run if your clothes catch fire because this will only accelerate its spread. Tamping out the fire by rolling is effective, especially since your clothes may be on fire on your back or lower body where you may not be immediately aware of it. If ground space is limited, cover yourself with a blanket to tamp out any flames, and douse yourself with water as soon as you can. Additionally, always stay close to the floor during a fire; heat and smoke rise, and breathable air will normally be found at the floor-level, giving you a greater chance of escape before being overcome by smoke and toxic fumes.

Keep your family safe by following these simple tips!

Electrical Panel Safety

All homeowners should know where their electrical panel is located. When you open the door to it, you should find breakers that are labeled which correspond to the different rooms or areas of the home. Breakers will sometimes trip due to a power surge or outage, and the homeowner can flip the switch to reactivate the current to the particular room or area. Behind the breakers is the dead front, and it is this electrical component that should be removed only by a qualified electrician or inspector.

Before touching the electrical panel to re-set a breaker, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I have an escape path? Make sure that you know where you can safely turn or step if you must escape a dangerous surprise, such a bee or a spark. An unfortunately placed shovel or extension cord, for instance, can turn a quick jerk into a dangerous fall.

Is the floor wet? Never touch any electrical equipment while standing on a wet surface!

Does the panel appear to be wet? Check overhead for dripping water that may have condensed on a cold water pipe.

Is the panel rusty? Rust is an indication of previous wet conditions that may still exist.

Are there scorch marks on the panel door? This can indicate a past or very recent arc, and further investigation should be deferred to a licensed electrician.

Here is a list of defective conditions that a homeowner may see that may be called out during an electrical inspection:

Insufficient clearance. According to the 2008 National Electrical Code, most residential electrical panels require at least a 3-foot clearance or working space in front, 30 inches of width, and a minimum headroom clearance of 6 feet, or the height of the equipment, whichever is greater.

Sharp-tipped panel box screws. Panel box cover screws must have blunt ends so they do not pierce the wires inside the box.

Circuit breakers that are not properly sized

Oxidation or corrosion to any of the parts. Oxidized or corroded wires will increase the resistance of conductors and create the potential for arcing.

Damage caused by rodents Rodents have been known to chew through wire insulation in electrical panels (and other areas), creating an unsafe condition. Rodents have been electrocuted this way, leaving an unsightly mess inside the panel.

Evidence of electrical failures, such as burned or overheated components

Evidence of water entry inside the electrical panel Moisture can corrode circuit breakers so that they won’t trip, make connections less reliable and the equipment unsafe to touch.

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Inspect Your Home for Moisture to Prevent Damage

Flooding usually gets all the attention when it come to the thoughts of damages done to home from water. However the damages from small leaks can itself be huge if not caught and corrected. This information can save you thousands of dollars. We recommend that home owners inspect their own homes annually and have their homes inspected by a home inspection company every 3 years looking for moisture issues.

Every home has a water heater of some type. It is estimated that 5 to 7 million water heaters fail ever year, and all failures have possibility of causing water damage. The average cost for repairs after a water heater fails can exceed $20,000 according to the Insurance Information Institute. Home owners can spot early signs of water heater failure quickly and easily. With the large potential for damage this should be inspected often by the home owner.

Other areas of moisture issues are harder to see and home owners are recommended to have a home inspection company conduct a moisture inspection on the home. This is slightly different than the whole home inspection that is often done when buying the home. A moisture inspection focuses only on moisture related areas. Moisture is a necessary ingredient for mold issues. Often moisture inspections are done along with testing for molds if suspicious growth is found during the moisture inspection. If suspicious growth is observed then the home owner can decide to have the inspection company take a swab sample and air samples for mold analysis by a lab.

A moisture inspection is more than looking for leaking pipes and drains. Exterior situations that can lead to moisture intrusion are looked for as well as proper ventilation for attics, attic spaces, crawl spaces and roofs are looked at as well. Moisture problems in many spaces can go unseen for years. This delay is identification increases the difficulty and the cost in correcting these issues.

Moisture meters and humidity levels in the home can be measured and utilized as well to help determine issues and potential causes. If conditions and situations present themselves thermal imaging cameras can also be used as well to help determine moisture issues.

Molds are present in every home and in the fresh exterior air. If a mold spore is present on a food source such as drywall, wood trim, wood or even on dust it will not necessarily grow to a problem level. If that same spore and location were to have moisture added, now you have conditions where molds can grow and become an issue.

To prevent water damage and moisture related issues such as mold growth it is recommended that all home be check often for water leaks. Home owner should often monitor their homes and hire a home inspection company to do a more thorough moisture inspection every few years to help protect the home and the health of the family.

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