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Troubled Houses - A Home Owner's Resourcesm - Indoor Environment

We see many interesting adverse conditions during our inspections, partly because of the unlimited number of ways people can mess up a house, but also because we do a thorough inspection to reveal these adverse conditions. We hope these stories help home owners avoid these costly conditions by learning about causes, preventions, and remedies. A home purchase can create opportunities for the new owner to improve the home, possibly increasing its value, durability, and usefulness.

This site does NOT encourage or discourage the purchase of any individual house, or style, age, location, or condition of house.  Conditions shown and/or described in the following articles may have been remedied at the house where these conditions were found.  These conditions typically can be remedied by qualified contractors. The presence of these conditions in any house is comparable to any other real estate consideration such as price, size, or location.  Consult a qualified home inspector before purchasing any house, and consult a qualified real estate agent for more information on how to handle a real estate transaction where adverse conditions are reported in a home inspection.   This site does not describe any house by address or knowingly show a readily identifiable exterior image.  Further, no home actively listed for sale  will be described on these pages at the time the article is posted.

THANK YOU for visiting   Learn more about our services, which now include IR Thermography, radon testing, and carbon monoxide tests. All photos copyright Roger Hankey. All rights reserved. Licenses to use these copyrighted images can be arranged by contacting

"Troubled Houses - A Home Owner's Resource" is a SERVICE MARK of Hankey & Brown Inspection Service Inc.  List of topics and all articles in this resource.

Indoor Environment articles
    Lead In The Home
    Hidden Danger - Asbestos Emberizing fibers
    Radon Information
    Low levels of Carbon Monoxide: A common source
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Caution! These conditions increase the potential for ill health!

Window sill lead paint test, photo by Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Inspector in Winter Park, CO

Prior to 1978, paints and other products containing lead were widely used in homes and offices. Chipping, pealing, and weathered paint can expose occupants to this hazardous material.  In certain areas, high concentrations of lead can even be found in the ground soil. (often from paint chips)

Lead exposure causes a number of health-related problems. In children this can include growth and learning disabilities, headaches and even brain damage. Adults are not immune either. High levels of lead have been tied to problem pregnancies, high-blood pressure and digestive problems.

Before you buy or sell an older home, you need to know what potential hazards may exist. If selling, federal law stipulates that you must disclose any lead-based paint in the home. If you're buying, you want to know what potential hazards may be present  If you suspect that a house contains high levels of lead, contact a qualified professional to do an inspection. These tradesmen use a range of tools from the well-trained eye to complex, specialized equipment to detect lead levels and recommend appropriate solutions. The National Lead Information Center ( can help you find a resource. Lead paint tests are beyond the scope of ASHI┬« inspections.  Click HERE for a link to the EPA list of Lead-Safe contractors.

Remedies exist for cleaning up lead concentrations. Depending upon your situation, you may find one of these an adequate solution. Removing lead-based paint, can be costly and difficult. First, just the act of stripping the paint from the walls is likely to create dust and debris which is more likely to be ingested. Given these hazards, you should consult a certified contractor to complete this kind of work. Short of removing the paint, you may be able to get by with covering the old, lead-based paint with a coat of sealant specifically designed for this purpose. A certified contractor will be able to recommend an appropriate solution.  Strict new rules imposed by the US EPA went into effect in April 2010 and while designed to reduce the potential for lead exposure, the rules are likely to significantly increase repair costs for any job where the lead painted surface area is greater than six square feet. (6 SF). For more information see the new EPA brochure Renovate Right.

Homes likely to have lead paint, by age

Peeling deteriorated paint in homes built before 1978, often contains lead, as shown above in the south facing window of this 1969 built home in a Twin Cities suburb.  Paint dust blown in at open windows is often a source of lead in small children playing or crawling on a floor. The paint dust gets on their hands, and is often transferred into their mouths.   We recommend you ask any repair contractor for proof of certification under the new rules before any work involving painted surfaces in older homes.  Also see our article on exterior lead paint.

Old Gas fireplace with hidden adverse condition

     Gas fireplace covered Troubled Houses Minnesota Home Inspection Photo by Roger Hankey

Removing the cover of the fireplace reveals asbestos emberizing fibers on the grill over the abandoned gas burner.  Client advised to consult an asbestos abatement firm.   These fireplaces were popular in 1900 to 1920 era apartment buildings and homes.  If you see one do NOT disturb the asbestos. Click here to learn more about our services.

   Asbestos Fibers in old gas fireplace Troubled Houses Minnesota Home Inspection by Roger Hankey

Unhealthy Low Levels of Carbon Monoxide: A Common Source

Some better quality carbon monoxide alarms have a memory feature and digital display of the peak level of carbon monoxide sensed by the alarm since the last time it was reset.  These alarms have two buttons below the display:  Test and Peak Level.  Whenever we encounter this type of alarm we check the alarm's memory by pressing the Peak Level button.  Often we find that that peak level was elevated, and occasionally we find that the peak level was very high! See the photo below.

                    (C) 2013 Carbon Monoxide alarm indicating a Peak Level reading of 158 ppm CO. Photo by Roger Hankey Certified ASHI Inspector, Winter Park, CO

In this case, the reading of 158 ppm CO was a significant concern. Our testing of the gas fired equipment in the house did not indicate any current source of carbon monoxide. This led us to contact the home seller to inquire about their operation of this 1997 built home.  We asked if they had ever warmed up a vehicle in the attached garage.  The answer was "Sure, we do that often in winter, of course we have the overhead door open."

Unfortunately this alarm and all those which meet the UL listing to comply with the Minnesota law which requires CO alarms in homes, will NOT sound an alarm unless the level of carbon monoxide is HIGH and SUSTAINED.  These alarms will not warn of low levels of CO or high levels of CO for short periods of time.  Low level CO monitors are available and recommended for homes occupied by new born children, persons with weakened respiratory systems or other ill health conditions.    

The phenomenon of high carbon monoxide in homes with attached garages was carefully studied for the local Minneapolis gas utility in 1996.  50 houses were selected at random from a list of homes where the utility had made a service call to investigate elevated carbon monoxide levels, but had not found a source of the problem.  The study found that the most common source of elevated carbon monoxide (over 70%) was the leakage of carbon monoxide from an attached garage to the home. 

The typical chain of events includes starting a cold vehicle in the garage with the overhead door open, idling the vehicle in the garage for several minutes, the vehicle then departs and the overhead door is promptly closed.  The study showed that high levels of carbon monoxide were trapped in the garage and that over the course of the next few hours, the carbon monoxide leaked into the home.  Depending on the vehicle, duration of operation in the garage, and the leakiness of the garage-house walls and ceilings, small to large concentrations of carbon monoxide were found in the home.

The study proved that home owners with attached garages must NOT warm up vehicles in the garage, even with the overhead door open.  If the car is to be warmed before traveling, the warmup must be COMPLETELY OUTSIDE the garage and the door closed to prevent carbon monoxide from being blown into the garage by winter winds.  

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