There are several health hazards that can stay hidden in our homes for years. Especially as many Americans gravitate to larger, more expansive homes, we are inevitably seeing issues go unnoticed. Unfortunately, when homeowners don’t recognize the symptoms early enough, it can cause problems to compound, leading to costly repairs down the road as well as worsened health concerns.
By understanding many of the common health hazards that are present in some homes, and becoming aware of the symptoms that point to them, you can be prepared to solve issues as soon as they arise and prevent bigger problems from occurring.
Hazards to Look Out For
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that naturally occurs in rock and fiber. Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to use asbestos in most contexts. In fact, it is often used in construction for things like insulation, vinyl flooring, roofing and siding shingles, and more. The health risks that come along with being exposed to asbestos primarily occur when the asbestos material is disturbed in some way, such as during a home remodel. The longer or more frequent the exposure, the higher the risk.
Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure
- Asbestosis (a long-term, non-cancer lung disease)
- Lung cancer
In homes, asbestos can commonly be found in roofing, ceilings and internal walls, eaves, fencing, flue and water pipes, fireplaces, tiling, and flooring underlay. But again, the risk only arises once the asbestos is damaged. Undisturbed asbestos is considered low-risk.
If you find damaged asbestos in your home (or believe you may have), it’s better to be safe than sorry. Clear people from the area and put on PPE; then, dampen the area and cover it with a tarp. A licensed asbestos assessor can confirm if it is true asbestos and advise you on how to proceed.
Radon is a radioactive gas naturally released from rocks, soil, and water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon gas exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Like asbestos, the risk is greater with extended exposure, and because this gas is odorless and colorless, it is essential to seek out accurate air quality testing for early detection.
How Does Radon Enter the Home?
Radon in homes is caused by the natural decay of uranium in soil. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above, which is why (in homes that do have radon present) it is usually more concentrated in basements or crawl spaces. Specific areas that are more likely to be affected by radon include wells and house foundations that are cracked or gapping. Poorly ventilated, tightly sealed homes are also more likely to have higher radon levels, which is another reason that contacting an air quality expert can be vital for the health of your home.
Lead is probably one of the more common hazards found in homes; unfortunately, it is still commonly used for piping in many states. While some regions have active programs to reduce the use of lead pipes in homes, there are still many areas in the U.S. that do not have such efforts. Older homes are especially more likely to have the presence of lead in their homes, either in the plumbing system or in the paint used on the walls.
Potential Effects of Lead Exposure
- Developmental delays and learning disabilities in children
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Hearing loss
- High blood pressure
- Joint and muscle pain
- Mood disorders
- Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm
- Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women
Clearly, lead exposure can pose a serious health risk for homeowners and their families. The best way to protect yourself against lead exposure is to have your pipes and paint tested for lead and replace them if necessary.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be quite scary because the naturally occurring gas is both odorless and colorless, making it very difficult to detect. With that being said, it is highly preventable, especially with the modern availability of carbon monoxide detectors for your home.
The presence of carbon monoxide is almost always because of a faulty appliance in the home. Furnaces and water heaters are common sources of a leak, but other gas appliances such as stoves and dryers can be the issue as well. Power outages often lead to a higher risk as homeowners employ portable generators to run the appliances in their homes.
While most are aware that carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal in severe cases, it can also cause symptoms such as chest pain, confusion, convulsions, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and more.
Using appliances correctly and safely is the best way to prevent carbon monoxide leaks, but having carbon monoxide detectors in your home can also give you peace of mind. If you do notice a carbon monoxide leak, it’s best to contact a professional to repair or replace the broken appliance.
Mold and Moisture
Mold can be extremely detrimental to your health, and it typically forms in areas where there is moisture or poor ventilation in the home. Common areas of mold growth include leaky roofs, windows, or pipes. It can also appear in paints, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery.
When mold goes undetected, it can cause serious health issues such as extreme fatigue, joint inflammation, depression, and digestive problems. And unfortunately, it’s not the first cause that people think of, so it often sits longer than necessary.
To reduce the risk of mold forming in your home, prioritize adequate ventilation and ensure regular servicing of your AC system to maximize indoor air quality.
Volatile Organic Compounds
“Volatile organic compound” (VOC) is a catchall phrase used to refer to a large group of harmful chemicals that can be found in products we use to build and maintain our homes, such as cleaning supplies, scented candles, and more. When they are released into our home, we breathe them in, and at high levels, they can cause issues such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, and respiratory symptoms.
You can reduce your risk of VOC exposure by minimizing toxic household products and improving ventilation in your home.
When homes and their comfort systems (such as AC and heating) are not regularly maintained, pests can find their way into ducting, attics, crawlspaces, or even inside the walls. Aside from carrying diseases, pests such as mice, rats, and dust mites can trigger allergy symptoms, worsen asthma, and even cause infections if homeowners are exposed to their droppings.
To ensure that your home is free of pests, inspect and maintain it regularly, paying special attention to areas that are likely breeding grounds for rodents and insects.
Identifying and Treating Health Hazards in the Home
Regular maintenance by trusted professionals is the best way to minimize risk within your home. You can also have your indoor air quality tested by an expert to get a detailed report of any contaminants in your air and the exact levels that they’re present. Knowledge is power—getting to know your home can give you the peace of mind that your home is safe for your family.