Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Healthy Home: Minimizing Household Health Risks

Indoors is where Americans spend 90 percent of their lives – 25 percent at work and 65 percent at home, and the latter is increasing as home offices become more common. So it's important to take a look at how healthy the home environment is.

Mold is one concern that has gotten a good deal of attention recently, involving possible problems with allergies, the brain and the circulatory system. Wherever there is a leak, condensation or flooding inside a house, causing housing material to stay damp for more than a few days, mold begins to grow. So it's important to clean and repair roof gutters regularly, grade your land away from the house foundation to keep water from running toward the house, keep air-conditioning pans clean, and keep household humidity low.

Radon is another naturally-occurring challenge that has become a common concern of potential homeowners. Radon is a gas that can cause lung cancer; it is present in soil and rock and can enter a home through basement walls and floors. Some states are more at risk than others, but the only way to be sure about levels of this colorless, odorless gas is to get a qualified radon inspection. When you have set this up (and decided with the current homeowner who will pay for the inspection and any abatement), make sure the test is conducted without interference, and that systems to disperse the gas from a high-radon house – such as a pipe-and-fan apparatus that can vent the gas before it enters the home – are arranged for before you move in.

Proper ventilation in general is important for any home – an adequate exchange of air from within and without, to minimize humidity and disperse possible toxins, is needed even in the most energy-efficient of structures. And you should always make sure that fireplaces, stoves, furnaces and dryers are not venting any particles, gases or other unhealthy substances into your house.

You should also be careful of everyday materials which can contain toxins (such as formaldehyde in carpets, to which alternatives are increasing), and, if your current or new home gets its water from a well, be sure to have it tested regularly. Consult a local real estate professional for help in honing in on how to make the house you seek the safest one for you.

It's only natural for buying a home to be a stressful prospect at first. But you shouldn't have to feel anything but confidence once you are living there. With a qualified real estate professional and the right advice, both phases of homeownership can be cause for celebration rather than concern.