Hidden Environmental Problems Lurking Around the Home

Environmental issues in homes you sell or list are a pain in the “you know where.” As home inspectors, we are concerned with the health and welfare of our clients, as should you be as a Realtor®. It’s not appropriate for us to preach to Realtors®. Nonetheless, you must decide for your own practice of real estate how pro-active you will be with respect to environmental issues of radon, mold, lead-based paint, septic systems and water quality for homes served by water wells. In some cases, regulations, local practice or mortgage company requirements dictate the need to be pro-active. Lead-based paint issues are regulated by Federal and State disclosure rules. Radon and mold issues not so much.

Keep in mind those two dirty words: MATERIAL FACTS. What did you know or what should have known and what should you have disclosed to your client? This is an important question in every transaction and the subject of much litigation. This article is not a legal treatise. You must come to your own conclusion regarding whether or not to discuss these issues with your real estate clients and how much disclosure or delivery of information is necessary and/or required.

You can have peace of mind regarding these issues when you are working with an Alban inspector. We are qualified to perform testing for all of these environmental issues. We will never raise them with your clients; that’s your job. But our job, if requested, is to do appropriate visual inspecting and physical testing to determine the scope of any of these environmental issues.


Radon, a radioactive gas, is contained within soil, often under homes. It can seep into homes and commercial buildings through leeks in basements and is especially prevalent in buildings that are not ventilated properly. If not dealt with, radon can spread throughout a home and harm its inhabitants. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and is responsible for 2,900 deaths of non-smokers every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radon has been found in every State of the U.S. Unfortunately, Alban has performed a radon test in buyer’s home under contract in which one member of the seller’s family has had or at the time of the home inspection was suffering from lung cancer.


Exposure to mold can also cause homeowners significant difficulties. A 2004 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study found mold could cause home dwellers significant breathing problems.  Mold can also exacerbate asthma symptoms and lead to ongoing respiratory illnesses in children.  As part of a home inspection, A;lban inspectors are experienced professionals who can conduct mold testing to identify mold occurrences and potential problem spots where water may infiltrate a building. Wey can also inform homeowners about inexpensive and efficient solutions, such as cleaning using a bleach compound or correcting peeling or chipping paint. Homeowners can prevent future mold occurrences by keeping the humidity in their homes low and by ventilating their homes as much as possible. Moisture problems, often hidden, drive the growth of mold. An infrared camera survey of walls, ceilings and floors can find hidden moisture.


Homes built before 1978 (actually lead-based paint was often used into the early 1980’s because federal law did not prohibit its use, just its manufacture) often contained lead-based paint on exterior elements and interior trim, doors, and kitchen and bathroom walls. Only the most expensive older homes were painted on other wall surfaces due to the additional expense of adding lead to wall paint. You can thank President George H. W. Bush dog for today’s real estate regulations regarding disclosure and inspections for lead-based paint. Early in his residency, during a White House renovation, the dog became severely lead poisoned from lead containing construction dust. Bush called HUD Secretary Jack Kemp and asked what the US Government was doing about lead-based paint and childhood poisonings from it. This was the stimulant for today’s lead paint rules. Alban has a separate division performing lead-paint risk assessment for property owners and buyers and lead-based paint under Maryland’s rental property program.


Home buyers whose properties are served by well water need to test that the water purity is satisfactory and healthy.  In addition, home buyers are typically required to have water quality testing as a condition to mortgage approval. Alban inspectors are accredited to collect water in all local States. All laboratories utilized by Alban are nationally accredited.