6 Potential Health and Safety Hazards to Avoid When Buying a House

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett
Updated January 25, 2022
For Sale sign in front of Residence
Photo: Raymond Forbes Photography / Stocksy / Adobe Stock

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Buying a home is one of the most significant financial and emotional investments you’ll ever make. While it’s easy to be wowed by architecture and interior design, potential health and safety hazards like cracks, mold, faulty electrical work, and infestations can lurk beneath the surface, behind the walls, or in the attic. Safeguard your financial commitment by recognizing six potential hazards to avoid when buying a house. 

1. Cracks and Structural Integrity

Real estate investors who flip houses for profit may make cosmetic changes throughout the interior to conceal problematic structural issues, like cracks in exterior walls, bricks, or the foundation. For example, cracks in the ceiling might be harmless settling—but they could also indicate structural damage. If you see cracks on the interior in the same place as the exterior, you could be looking at structural failure that could be a safety concern.

2. Electrical Hazards

Electrical hazards can be costly, even deadly. They can also be easy to fix. When buying a house, avoid these hazards by having a home electrical inspection. Depending on the age of the house, an inspection might reveal poor wiring, corrosion around wire insulation, or fire hazards. Some older homes lack proper ground wiring, a project that can cost as little as $75. A light switch or outlet that is warm to the touch could signal serious issues with the electrical system. 

3. Rodent or Insect Infestation

Rodents and insects are more than a nuisance. They can cause health issues and spread disease. A home inspector will check in attics and basements for signs of infestation, such as chewed wires and plumbing. Most people tour homes during the day, but rodents are nocturnal. You can hire a local pest inspector to look for droppings, holes in baseboards and behind walls to uncover insect, termite, or rodent infestations.

4. Mold and Mildew

It’s easy to spot mold and mildew in bathrooms or on baseboards. However, just because you don’t see the mold doesn’t mean it’s not there. Other signs of mold include standing water, musty smells, and watermarks on walls and ceilings. If you’re a buyer, beware of mold in a foreclosed property. To protect yourself, you can ask the homeowner to disclose any mold or water damage. Once revealed, you can factor the cost of eliminating the mold into the final price of the house. 

5. Asbestos 

Asbestos is a hazardous mineral that can cause cancer or respiratory problem. Asbestos exists in building materials in homes built before 1980. Be sure the home inspector you hire is qualified to detect asbestos in your house. A home inspector will also be aware of other hazardous building products and their threat to the homeowner. 

6. Dangerous Gases 

Harmful gases such as radon and volatile organic compounds (VOC) are invisible but can cause serious health issues. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. You can purchase a radon detection kit or hire a home inspector to perform a test. If your home has dangerous radon levels, you can buy a radon mitigation system for between $1,000 and $3,000. An inspector can also test for VOCs found in some paints or cleaning supplies used during construction. High levels of VOC can cause allergies and chronic headaches. 

DIY Home Inspection vs. Hiring a Pro

Home inspectors have different areas of expertise and levels of training and certification. When hiring a home inspector, consider their license and experience. An independent inspector, certified, and trained is the best bet for unearthing issues. 

Additional Questions on Potential Home Hazards

What if a home inspection uncovers a hazard?

If the home inspector uncovers a hazard, they will include the information in their final report. Potential buyers can weigh the extent of the damage versus their interest in the home. Your mortgage lender may require you to fix the hazards as a condition for the loan. It’s common for a contract to have an inspection contingency. 

Should I attend the home inspection? 

You’re not required to be present for a home inspection. Some home inspectors might prefer potential buyers not shadow them while they work. However, if a home inspector unearths hazardous materials, you may want to have them show you exactly what they’ve found so you can make a decision on whether to proceed with the purchase.  

As a homebuyer, should I be worried about potential hazards?

Yes. Newly constructed homes can have structural issues, or poor wiring or plumbing. Even if the local building inspector signs off on new construction, a professional home inspector might still uncover hazards lurking in a house. Sometimes, building codes are minimum standards and vary from state to state. Check with your realtor about local laws governing disclosures on real estate sales contracts. 

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