Swap to Safer – Testing Your Home For Harmful Substances


Everyone wants to create a happy and healthy home for their family. What everyone doesn’t know, however, is that many odorless and invisible substances may be causing harm to your family, without your knowledge of them! Real estate disclosure forms are a helpful starting point, but they are limited in their ability to shine a light on any problems that might exist in your home as they rely on self-reporting by the sellers. A seller may not know problems existed, and some of the tests below are NOT required in Ohio – but they should be!

1. Radon

Radon is a colorless, odorless, inert gas that naturally occurs on Earth. Inhalation of radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, right behind smoking. Personally, I had never heard of radon gas in homes until a 40-something, healthy mom in my neighborhood passed away from lung cancer, leaving behind her husband and young daughter. That really shook me to my core. The more I researched, the more shocked I was to learn Ohio doesn’t require radon testing during real estate transactions, yet Northwest Ohio has high concentrations of radon.

Radon exists outdoors, but disperses quickly enough that it isn’t typically troubling. The trouble comes from inhalation in enclosed spaces – like your home. It can seep through cracks and fissures in the foundation (basement or first floor, whichever sits lowest on the ground). You might not be able to see these cracks visibly, so it is important to test anyway.

The level of radon gas in your house fluctuates naturally due to humidity, soil water levels, temperature, etc., so I would personally recommend testing at least once a year to determine if there is action required to remediate the radon. The “actionable” level is 4 pCi/L (4 picocuries per liter). The first time we tested, with a simple charcoal test, we got a reading of 2 pCi/L. When we tested just 8 months later, we got readings of 6 pCi/L and 8 pCi/L!

Radon mitigation is usually simple and not entirely expensive (usually under $1000 for straightforward systems). In my basement, due to a foundational wall, we had to have 2 extraction points installed, that connect with a single fan and exhaust pipe on the side of the house. The mitigation system vents 10 feet above the ground to dissipate the gas.

2. Lead

Lead is a heavy metal that can exist in paint or water. Lead is a contaminate that can bio-accumulate to higher levels. Exposure to lead can lead to anemia, memory issues, weakness, kidney damage, brain damage, and even death. Lead is a contaminate that can cross the placental barrier, causing harm to a fetus, and has detrimental effects on a developing child brain. So it’s definitely not something you want in your home!

Lead based paint was banned in 1978, so many houses may still have some lead paint. As long as the paint isn’t flaking or chipping, it can likely be encapsulated. Though lead based paint must be disclosed on real estate transaction, it’s only required to disclose if it’s known. So, a seller might not know because they didn’t test for it. High levels of lead might also be present in your drinking water.

Lead tests are available from a home hardware stores, Amazon, etc. Encapsulating lead paint is often an effective option, but professional remediation may be necessary. Water filters (pitchers, taps, or whole-house systems) are very effective at removing lead.

3. Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas. It is dangerous because it is better at binding with oxygen than the iron (hemoglobin) in your blood, essentially causing chemical asphyxiation. Carbon monoxide comes from incomplete combustion of fuel sources, so the usual culprits are cars and furnaces.

Carbon monoxide detectors are better than a single-test for CO. Since carbon monoxide mixes easily with air, a detector should be installed approximately 5 feet above the ground. It shouldn’t be placed above a fireplace or similar structure, but you should have one installed in the room that shares a door with your attached garage (if applicable) and the room adjacent with your furnace.

It is easy to spend too much money, time, and concern testing for phantom substances, falling down the “rabbit hole” of dangerous things. However, by testing for the three substances above, I believe you will have enough knowledge and power to confidently make safe decisions for your family, to keep your home safe.



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