Old homes have a history to them. They have provided shelter for other families, perhaps even for centuries. You may love your house because of it’s character and feel. Though old homes have many beautiful features, they can also harbor hidden hazards. Be aware of the dangers lurking in your historic house and take action to protect your health and your family.
According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, a majority of homes built before 1960 and some built as late as 1978 used lead-based paints. When you rent or purchase a historic home, the previous owner or landlord is required to warn you of the potential presence of this paint because it can become dangerous.
Exposure to high levels of lead may cause a coma, convulsions, and in some cases, death. Minimal exposure is also harmful, as it can cause damage to your blood cells, your colon, your kidneys,your brain and your central nervous system. The potential hazards are even worse for children.
Unfortunately, if your home does contain lead paint, removing it is extremely difficult. Most of the time, painting over it is a safer option because you aren’t releasing the lead into the air. When the lead paint is broken down – by sanding or blasting – the particles enter the air you breathe where they can be inhaled. Painting over it simply prevents the release of lead. Call your town’s building representative to ask what the laws are for lead paint removal.
Asbestos is a flame-resistant material that was widely used in home insulation and other materials in the 1940s through the 1970s. However, builders now know that the fiber can cause lung disease. As occurs with lead paint, disturbing asbestos fibers releases them into the air where they can be inhaled. Fortunately, they are also only hazardous when tampered with. If the carcinogenic material sits idol, you have little to worry about.
If you do find asbestos material in your home that has been damaged, you should call an industrial hygiene firm to inspect the area. You may then need an asbestos abatement contractor to repair the damage. These contractors specialize in the handling of the material and will ensure that your old home is once again safe.
Carbon monoxide is a danger in all homes, but especially in old houses that have their original appliances or wood-burning stoves. The poisonous gas is the result of the incomplete burning of fuels, such as natural gas, coal, wood, charcoal, kerosene and more. Inspect you appliances and be sure to ventilate your house when using a wood-burning stove or fireplace.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing a carbon monoxide detector, which will alert you to the presence of this odorless, colorless, tasteless gas. You should use it the way you would a smoke detector by installing a device on every floor and checking the batteries periodically.
Damaged foundations create a variety of hazards. Radon gas – a naturally occurring radioactive gas proven to cause cancer – can enter your home through foundational cracks. Inspect your house for the presence of radon by acquiring a test kit. The EPA website can provide you with a description of the kit, the features it should have and where you can find one.
You may also discover water seepage, structural damage, and mold and mildew in your home as a result of a cracked foundation. Fortunately, repairing the cracks will prevent these issues in the future. Have a contractor inspect the property and discus the possibility of a repair plan with you.
Old homes that still use their original wiring might be in harm’s way. Not only were some of the system designs unsafe, but old wires don’t have the capacity to support many modern electronics, such as home security systems. Be on the lookout for these warning signs that indicate you have faulty wiring:
- Circuit breakers that trip regularly
- Dim or flickering lights
- Fuses that you have to replace frequently
- Electrical shocks when you touch a piece of equipment (outlet, etc.)
- Unusual sounds and/or smells emitting from electrical system
- Switch plates that are warm to the touch
Have an electrician inspect your home and provide you with options to improve your home’s wiring. You may only need to implement a few simple changes, such as installing a ground fault interrupter. However, some systems need to be replaced entirely.