Indoor Air Quality: A Growing Concern for Home Buyers

You found the house you love. You’ve made an offer and it’s been accepted. Now, you’re under contract going through the final evaluations and inspection contingencies prior to closing . Does your purchase agreement reflect your concern about environmental air quality for comfort and good health in the family? The following are some key points to consider and things to watch out for when considering a new purchase. Remember, sellers do not like to spend money on issues for a home they are selling. It’s simple human nature.

First and foremost, the most important resources at this evaluation stage are your agent and home inspector. These professionals can be either incredibly invaluable or quite damaging depending on who you get. Are they thorough and detailed? Do they care about you, the client, or are they just completing a transaction? Do they have a quality team of specialists as a resource when questions arise? If so, these are great signs that they will protect you and be your first line of defense. Oftentimes, environmental concerns can be easily overlooked and become costly mistakes that a home buyer can make from a financial and health perspective when your “team” is not what it could be.

Homes are built to hold or energy and therefore will “hold” bad air quality as well. This means holding environmental issues like mold spores, asbestos fibers, and odors of all types, which may increase in severity over time. Oftentimes, we can’t tell bad air quality with a sense of smell. As an example, residual asbestos fibers or excess mold spores in relation to outdoors can be hard to detect, unless sampled because they are invisible. Conversely, if a seller has painted over pet odor or smoke odor without proper remediation, this can become a costly issue if that sealant breaks over time because we cannot contact the waste (source) that is producing the odor (symptom). Whether seller or buyer, it is critical that we resolve these issues at their source, thereby eliminating symptom and future cost concerns to remediate.

Air quality and environmental concerns in the residential real estate market can include pet odor, smoke odors, mold, asbestos, hazardous animal waste, and uncontrolled or unmitigated water issues. Water issues can include roof or soffit damage, negative drainage, water line leaks, and sewer backups.

Remodeling and asbestos. It is critical that you sample for asbestos in the areas you plan to remove IF you are concerned about environmental air quality. Asbestos can be found in drywall, drywall mud, drywall tape, textures, tiles, popcorn ceilings, mastics, insulations, and ducting systems to name a few. Do not assume that asbestos is not present simply because someone says it isn’t, or the home is a certain age such as, “1984.” For peace of mind for health and financial it could be the best $300 you spend with a sampling professional. The sampling professional is trained and has no conflict of interest. If the sampling comes up positive for asbestos it will give you the opportunity to assess costs, write an inspection objection, and/or negotiate with complete information to protect budgets. If the home was freshly remodeled it is important to get that information to make sure the work was done safely otherwise you could be moving into a beautiful home with high volumes of asbestos fibers present.

Mold and Water Damage. The first rule is water control. No water damage or humidity means no mold. Is there separation at baseboards? How does the caulking look in the bathroom shower and tubs? Water leaks or issues like the water line from the refrigerator? Negative drainage? Hail damage? Past insurance claims? These are all good things to look for or ask the seller regarding previous damages. Mold air sampling by a professional is also a quality and quantifiable method to identify issues. As an example, when remediating mold and asbestos it is critical that negative air containment is achieved with a HEPA air scrubber so all airborne particulate goes into the air scrubber instead of dispersing throughout the house. Without this protocol, you could be buying a beautiful house with terrible air quality and not even know it. No different than radon concerns.

Pet and Smoke Odor. The most common technique for these issues is to simply seal or paint over the contaminated area or introducing an alternative fragrance into the property. Are the windows always open? Air fresheners of any sort present? Is there new carpet or paint? Pets on the disclosure forms? These are all signs to ask more questions about why these things are present or to get a specialist in to evaluate further. The problem with painting or fragrances is these techniques are temporary, cost-effective fixes to enable the sale of the property without having to discount for these issues. If a sealant fails it is very challenging to resolve because we cannot contact the source and are oftentimes forced to remove the contaminated flooring or walls, which can be expensive in multiple areas, including being forced to discount for the issue when you eventually sell the property.

These issues and other environmental concerns are important because every human being has a different immune system. Young or elderly can be more susceptible just as pregnancy or certain illnesses and medications can compromise the immune system or heighten our sense of smell. Health issues from bad air quality are normally manifested over time and daily exposure because we spend approximately 60% our time inside the home which can slowly beat down the immune system. At that moment we then have two issues, compromised health and environmental air quality issues causing it.

If you want good environmental air quality or are concerned about it, please do your homework prior to the inspection objection deadline and closing because legitimate issues can be put on the inspection objection, which can become a disclosure issue for the seller, thereby giving you a better negotiating position in a legitimate way while protecting your family and finances.

Bob Hamilton manages various businesses that handle environmental remediation for air and water quality issues. Bob is available for free phone consults. He can be reached by email at, or by phone at (612) 354-4498. Learn more about his businesses at StinkInc.Avir Environmental, Inc.

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