This old (dangerous?) house
The older your home, the more charming and beautiful it may be — but its age also increases the odds for problems. From lead paint to asbestos, here's what to check for, and what to do if you find a potential danger.
More than 30 million homes — roughly one-third of the homes in the United States — are at least 50 years old. That’s a lot of beautiful old houses — with lots of potential problems.
What should you look out for, whether you’re the owner of a Victorian painted lady or a Beaux Arts brownstone? We’ve done your virtual inspection for you and identified seven key villains, along with their solutions, so read on. (Bing Cube: Check out photos of Victorian homes)
1. The villain: Old electrical systems
Why it matters: A study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the 1980s found that fires occurred disproportionately more often in homes that are more than 40 years old.
Over time, wiring in these homes can corrode, says Underwriters Laboratories (PDF file). Wires using a rubber compound that was widely used before 1950 are known to become brittle with age and when “they are subjected to bending, abrasion or harsh usage,” UL says.
How to know if you have a problem: The only way to really know what kind of problems you have is to hire a trusted electrician to inspect the house, the experts say.
Here are some other common warning signs of electrical problems in older homes, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International:
- Circuit breakers that frequently trip or fuses that often need replacement
- Dim and/or flickering lights
- Unusual sounds and smells from your electrical system
- Hot switch plates
- Electrical shocks
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What to do: Two professionally installed updates to your old home can help reduce the fire danger significantly, the foundation says:
- Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are devices that replace standard circuit breakers in the electrical panel. They detect arc faults and shut down the power immediately.
- Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are specialized outlets that have the best protection available against electric shock. They’re found mostly in kitchens and bathrooms.
The cost: Electrical inspections will vary by location. In the Boston area, for instance, Holt Electrical Co. charges $100 to inspect a home’s electrical system (and waives the fee if work results from the inspection).
AFCIs cost $25 to $50; GFCIs cost just $5 to $10.
2. The villain: Old or leaking oil tanks
Why it matters: Many old homes relied — and still rely — on oil fuel. That fuel is either stored in tanks in the basement or buried in the yard. Typically, the old steel tanks have a life expectancy of just 10 to 15 years, writes Daniel Friedman, an inspector, consultant and author of the exhaustive home-inspection site InspectAPedia.com, which contains oodles of information about dealing with old oil-storage tanks.
- On our blog, 'Listed': Energy-efficient 'Smart Home' mixes technology, vintage pieces
The mess from a leak can range from trivial “to tens of thousands of dollars if oil has leaked from a buried oil tank into surrounding soils or, worse, into nearby waterways or wells,” Friedman says.
How to know if you have a problem:
If your tank is inside your house:
- Look for obvious clues, like an oil spot under the tank, Friedman says.
- Know your tank: How old is it? What type is it?
- “We recommend an ultrasound test that measures thickness of the tank steel along its critical bottom section, the area more likely to be corroded and leaky,” he says.
- Water is terrible for tanks. Look for signs such as rust and debris in the oil filter or at the oil burner when it’s serviced, he says. (Read more about testing here.)
If you think the tank is outside your house:
- First, track down the tank. Look for fill or vent pipes in the yard or sticking out of the house.
- Only a pretty bad leak will be obvious to the eye. Hire a pro. A specialty company can test surrounding soil and do a low-pressure test of the tank to check for leaks. If you suspect any water, have the oil company pump it out.
What to do: If there are no leaks, either an above-ground or buried tank can be abandoned in place, Friedman says. That could be as simple as making sure it’s empty and leaving it — or emptying it and filling it (in the case of a buried tank) with something like sand (more expensive).
The cost: An ultrasound test for an above-ground tank is roughly $125, Friedman says. Adding limited-term insurance is roughly $100.
Removal or replacement costs vary widely by location, tank size, etc., but can be significant: Removing an old above-ground oil tank and installing a new one can run $2,000 to $4,000, according to InspectAPedia.com. (This is a job for the pros, Friedman says.)
Luckily, states sometimes offer financial aid to replace aged tanks.
3. The villain: Radon
Why it matters: Radon is a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that emerges from the ground, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s information site. You can’t see, smell or taste it, but it kills about 20,000 people annually in the U.S., the EPA says.
How to know if you have a problem: Radon naturally dissipates into the atmosphere; every home that sits on or in the ground has it, but some homes trap it too well.
Homes with a radon level of 4 pCi/L (that’s picocuries per liter) need to be fixed, the government says.
How do you know your home’s level? Test. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that every homeowner test his or her home for radon.
The test kits are cheap and easily available. Here are a few things that can increase the odds of radon in a home, says Marianne Saulsbury, co-owner of Pittsburgh-based Saulsbury Environmental Consultants:
- A lot of the ground floor is underground. (This is often true of homes in the Northeast, she says.)
- “Any crawl spaces with dirt or gravel floors or porous surfaces; those are potential entry points.”
- If the lowest level of the home has double-paned (i.e. well-sealed) windows, or no way for radon to escape the home.
What to do: Get a reading slightly over 4 pCi/l? You might want to do a long-term test through a pro before deciding whether to fix the home, Saulsbury says. If the measurement is a lot over that mark, the home needs to be fixed quickly.
One part of a solution usually involves sealing cracks in the foundation. Also typical is a “radon reduction system” — a pipe-and-fan venting system from the basement floor out through a wall. (Check out the EPA’s Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction.)
The cost: A home-test kit often costs only about $20. A pro will charge between $125 and $150 for a test, Saulsbury says. Mitigation costs can vary widely; depending on the severity of the radon problem, a few pipes might be needed. Expect the cost of a fix to be $800 to $3,000, according to the EPA.
lead can cause criminality as these children mature
Yes, we were all exposed to the same paint, but it wasn't as deteriorated, and we had better diets then. There wasn't fast food restaurants on every corner until the 1980s where I grew up, so we ate home cooked meals. Fatty foods will accelerate lead absorption into the body. And, like I mentioned, lead is sweet - it was an ingredient in ancient Rome, sapa, to sweeten wine.
Lead paint was advertised as THE paint of choice, and as one commenter said, they do swear by the coverage. Lead is still used in government structures - water towers, bridges, marine; it's only been banned for residential use since 1978 US (1971 NJ). And, the lead manufacturers are more than willing to spend millions of dollars defending their product, instead of using it to help educate everyone on the dangers of lead.
So as a parent who is living the nightmare, a word of caution to all those couples who are buying fixer-uppers during this economy. Lead paint is extremely dangerous to remove - google Lead Abatement to see what all is REALLY involved. It is worth the extra $500 to have the house assessed so you know where the hazards are, and the older the house, the greater the hazards.
Lead, along with mercury, arsenic and asbestos, is extremely
harmful to children. Back when lead was a primary ingredient in paint and
gas, the government failed to protect the public, siding on Big Lead's
side. Lead is a highly toxic element that should never be in the human
body. Lead can cause sterility, low sperm count, impotency, miscarriages
in adults. Lead crosses the placenta and passes through breast
milk. Why is it a problem now? Some of this lead paint has been
breaking down for up to 100 years - it was designed to chalk - that white dust
on your finger when you rub the paint? It's sweet (don't taste it) and just
the powder or dust gets on small children's hands. Any parent with a
teething baby will agree, infants will and do put everything in their mouths,
and lead dust is on the floor, perhaps tracked in from the soil outside, where
the paint has been weathering for decades. Do not plant any edibles
around your drip line if you live in an older home!!! Green leafy
vegetables absorb the most lead. Lead paint is disclosed on Title X forms
for house sales or property rentals, but not levels of lead in soil (a concern
for newer home developments that used to be farming lands - lead pesticides
remain in the soils), or lead in water ( how many communities cannot use their
tap water due to lead contamination - Washington DC is just the latest in the
My son was lead poisoned, and he is not your "stereotypical" child - my husband & I were renovating our 200-year-old home (they have SO much more character!) with a hot air gun and sander, removing up to a dozen layers of old paint. Since neither of us lived in an inner-city, neither of us had ever heard about lead paint. Our house had toxic levels of lead in every room, inside and outside the house, with toxic soil, and since we were homeowners, we had no recourse. The old painted wooden windows rubbed the paint, forming lead dust on the window sill that would blow onto the floor during a breeze. We replaced windows immediately, but our homeowners insurance refused to cover it (like the toxic dry wall of today).
How serious is lead poisoning? My son appeared visually healthy as an infant, but had levels over 4 times what the CDC considers elevated. He went through two rounds of oral chelation, which removes the lead that deposited in his developing bones - lead is similar to calcium and iron in structure. Unfortunately, one decade later, we are now dealing with the effects of lead while he struggles in middle school. The areas of his brain that were developing when he had toxic lead levels are part of the upper-brain functions, which are impaired now that education requires him to develop these areas. IEP, CST - those who know, understand. Unfortunately, ignorance within the education system abounds, and Special Education rates are steadily increasing every single year.
Now, stop and think - how many of your children were tested for lead, ever? If you don't live in the inner-cities, what the government considers to be "at-risk" areas, chances are they probably weren't tested (excluding Rhode Island and Iowa, where ALL children are tested). The CDC considers levels of 10 to be the threshold for lead, yet the most brain damage/loss of IQ points, occurs between 2.5 and 5. During the 1960s, the threshold was 60, and the threshold has been lowered until 1991, it reached 10. There is no safe level of lead in the human body, and yet the CDC opposes lowering the level to zero - there are lead industry sympathizers on the Lead Advisory Committee making decisions on the health and well being of OUR children.
Now, look at society today. ADD. ADHD. Autism. Aspergers. Oppositional Defiant. Nonverbal Learning Disorder. Something is neurologically impacting another generation of children. How many children are on Strattera, Ritalin, Focalin ZR, Adderol for concentration issues in our schools today? Violent crimes, unexplained violent outbursts, school shootings, what if lead exposure is the common element here? Studies indicate that lea
The older homes are well worth the investment. They're not a "cookie cutter" to the house two doors down. The craftsmanship in them is far above anything you can get today. Craftsmen use to take pride in their work. The asbestos from the shingles is not going to be in the air your breathing, unless your on the roof sniffing them. Get real folks. If you're in a home that has not been maintained and still has lead pipes, get ready. You're going to have major plumbing problems in the near future. Nothing lasts forever. Maintain your home and use some common sense.
ok..........................???????????????????????????????????????????????????? eut eves....not my house not my problem!!!!
Even if you think you’re pretty smart or have a good memory, your brain is begging you to work it to its full potential. Getting stuck in the same routine, never exercising and eating junk food are all brain killers that decrease good cognitive function and increase your chances of memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s. But with these 50 tips and ideas for flexing your brain power, you’ll be able to boost performance right now and in the future.
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There is very little if any lead to found in the piping used on water wells. True, some of the brass fittings COULD have a lead content. However, unless you have very aggressive water the minimal amount of lead in the brass will not be a problem. You are far more likely to have lead in the copper joints and / or plumbing fixtures.
As per federal law, ALL new well pumps made since the mid 1990's are 100% lead free. The best pumps such as Grundfos, Goulds, and others are all stainless steel, the cheaper pumps are made with plastic.
Im not some guy with a lot of time on my hands, Im a water well professional...