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The “Big Scary Three”: Asbestos, Lead, and Mold

The “Big Scary Three”: Asbestos, Lead, and Mold

Est. Reading Time: 7 minutes

Written by Jake Miller, Certified Professional Home Inspector

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Oftentimes during a home inspection, I am asked if the home contains any of “The Big Three”: asbestos, lead, or mold. This is a hard question to answer and is more involved than a simple yes or no. Since these tend to be the “big scary things” for many homebuyers, I wanted to shed a bit more light on these topics.

Sometimes I can answer the question of lead or asbestos with a cautious ‘no’ because the age of the home is newer (built after the mid-1990s). I say cautiously, because the US EPA banned the creation of new uses for asbestos in 1989, but companies were allowed to sell any remaining stock of products that contained asbestos. So, homes built shortly after that date may have some products that contain asbestos.

I also say ‘cautiously no’ to lead within a home built after 1978, because this is when lead paint was banned in the USA. 

Mold, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily found in older homes as opposed to newer homes, which can be a common misconception. Rather, it could be found in any home regardless of age or location. 

All that being said, let’s dive into each of these areas and talk about what we look for as Home Inspectors and some ways you can manage each.

1. Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous substance that has been used for hundreds of years to strengthen pottery, add durability to clothing, and improve fire resistance. Though it is naturally occurring and does a fantastic job of reducing fire damage, it has been known to cause adverse health conditions. The risk of asbestos-caused health conditions is most common when the material that it is most commonly found in (ie-9”x9” vinyl flooring, radiant heat lines, attic insulation, cement fiberboard siding) are in a “friable” state or, in other words, a dusty, inhalable state. When a Home Inspector finds a potential asbestos-type material, it is noted in the report as “potential”. This is because we aren’t testing for asbestos during a normal home inspection. While outside of the scope of a Home Inspection due to its invasive nature, additional testing can occur by removing and testing a small piece of the material.

We always recommend having a professional asbestos abatement company do the work of testing, removal and/or encapsulation of any potential asbestos material in your home. There are a few options that a person can look into if they have potential asbestos-containing material in their home. One option is to encapsulate it, which could be done in a number of ways.

  • If your home has flooring that may contain asbestos, the easiest option would be to cover it with another flooring material that does not puncture the flooring underneath.
  • If your home has a boiler system that was installed in the late 1800’s into the 1930’s, there is a potential that the water feed pipes may be wrapped in asbestos cloth. It will look like paper mache. This too can be encapsulated. The most common encapsulation method for this that we run into is a plastic bag system that is wrapped around the pipe and is taped tightly.
  • If your home has siding that may contain asbestos, a siding professional may encapsulate the siding with a new sheathing or plastic wrap and then apply the new siding right over top.

Be sure to check with your local codes to make sure you are compliant. If your home has potential asbestos like insulation in the attic, the best thing is to leave it alone. Most commonly, insulation professionals will just encapsulate it with more insulation. When it comes to asbestos in general, it is best to leave it alone as much as possible. If you decide to abate or encapsulate, it is best to contact an asbestos abatement company.

2. Lead

Lead in homes can be found in a few different areas and in a few different forms. The most common area we may find lead is in paint. Builders/painters used lead-based paint up until the late 1970’s. The second area we may find lead is in the water supply system of the home and/or the waste drain system. 

When it comes to lead-based paint, it can become an issue if it is ingested. This happens most often if the paint is flaking off and someone eats it. Tests are available to determine if paint contains lead. The most common solution to remedying lead based paint is to encapsulate it with more paint. If you see flaking paint in or on your home, it would be best to test then paint over it. 

We do offer lead-based paint testing as an add-on service at Marigold. You would indicate two areas that you would like swabbed, and we send the test to a lab and upload the results to your Client Portal.

The second most common place we find potential lead is in the water supply and waste drain systems of older homes. During an inspection, the water main to the home is inspected and if we observe a type of joint called a bulge joint, it is most likely a lead swept joint and can contain lead. If the lead swept joint is on the City side of the water meter (the portion coming from the ground into the home) we recommend contacting the City for removal and replacement. If there are any other areas where there may be lead swept joints within the water supply line, we would recommend contacting a licensed plumber for advice of removal and replacement of those joints. We do often come across lead swept joints or piping within the waste drain system, this is generally not a large issue as it is leaving the home. 

3. Mold

Mold is naturally occurring microbial growth that is commonly found in areas that are high in moisture. Every home will have some type of mold, but having your home tested to see what type and level is important. While we don’t want to understate the potential dangerous impact of mold, we also want to remember that technically speaking, any type of cheese you have in your refrigerator is a type of mold, and it is not harmful to most people. 

We tend to find mold in basements and crawl spaces. The cause of mold is multifaceted but could include improper ventilation of the area, improper drainage around home, a water leak within the home (from a water supply system or waste drain system), or a multitude of other factors. Most mold inspectors will either conduct an air sample mold test or a swab surface mold test. These are then sent to a third party laboratory and are evaluated. The results indicate what types of mold are present and at what levels. Once the results are received, the homeowner can then take steps to better determine what type of mold remediation may need to happen. Depending on the type, cleaning the area thoroughly, sealing the area with a mold preventative paint or primer, and remedying any causes of moisture (ie-leaky faucet or drain, correcting outside drainage issues and/or gutter cleaning or realignment) are all that is needed. Sometimes more mitigation is needed and may involve removal of wall material to gain access to affected areas. 

Marigold offers both Mold Testing via Air Samples and Mold Swab Testing. We are trained to perform these tests and send them to a laboratory and upload the results to your Client Portal. As generalists, we are not mold experts and cannot interpret the results or conduct remediation, you will have the essential information you need in determining whether to take and what type of further action.

Some ways to help prevent mold growth are to make sure water does not enter your home. This is done with gutters and grading (the slope and landscaping around your home). These two things go great lengths in preventing moisture intrusion to the home. If you do have moisture intrusion, it is best to dry the area fully, clean, and seal. It is also recommended to clean your HVAC system on a regular basis (every 2-4 years). This will remove debris and build up within the system. Maintaining your HVAC system is also a major way to prevent mold growth within the system. Changing the furnace filter every 1-2 months (for 1” filters) or every 3-6 months (3”- 4” filter) and if your home has a whole home humidifier, changing that filter twice a year will reduce microbial spores from being blown around your home. 

The Wrap

At the end of the day, we always recommend having your home inspected by a Certified Professional Home Inspector. During your inspection, the inspector will comment on any areas that may contain one or more of the “big three” things that were written about in this article. Though some seem scary because of potential health issues, there are solutions to reduce the exposure to them. If you have any questions about asbestos, lead, or mold, please contact the Minnesota Department of Health or Marigold Home Inspections.