Every day there's another frightening headline about dangerous substances in our homes.
Cancer-causing radon seeping up through the floorboards. Deadly asbestos fibers in ceilings. Toxic lead in and around our homes. Poisonous carbon monoxide gas spewing from gas stoves.
How much of a threat are these hazards? And what should we do about them? Many people simply bury their heads. And why not?
If you know you have a problem, you either have to spend big bucks to fix it or disclose it when you sell the house. And if you aren't sick, why test your home?
Ignorance can be bliss. Or at least it used to be. Today homeowners who are selling or leasing a dwelling built before 1978 must inform prospective buyers or tenants about known or potential asbestos and other hazards in the building.
Which begets the obvious questions: Which substances are dangerous? And what should be done about them, if anything? The information below can help you decide what's best for your home and family when it comes to dealing with - or not - the asbestos in your home.
There are stringent national standards for asbestos inspection in schools. School boards across the country have spent millions eliminating it from classrooms. Asbestos awareness at home is just as important.
As a result of this attention, many homeowners are understandably concerned about what to do with asbestos used as insulation around furnaces, steam pipes, heater ducts, fuse boxes and boilers. Diseases associated with asbestos include lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
But these diseases usually afflict people whose exposure to asbestos dust is in greater quantities than a person would face in a home setting. Experts rate it as a small risk for homeowners - if left alone. Let this sleeping dog lie.
After all, it's not going to jump out and bite you. And unless it's in crumbling condition, it's not that big a problem. If it stays in place, it won't harm you.
It's not necessary to rip it out. Instead, just have asbestos awareness (you know it's there and monitor the areas of your home that have asbestos in it) and keep an eye on its condition. If it begins to crumble or flake, it's time to consider taking action.
Chances are, if your home was built before 1980, there is probably some asbestos in it. Asbestos-containing materials were used from the early 1900s through 1978, when the EPA banned its manufacture and sale.
However, materials installed after 1978 aren't necessarily free of asbestos, as contractors with inventories of asbestos-containing products were still free to install them. At one time, asbestos was mixed with acoustical material and sprayed onto ceilings as a cottage-cheeselike coating.
The ceiling finishes sprayed on between 1945 and the late 1970s contained asbestos in a particularly fragile matrix.
This matrix can be easily disturbed while cleaning, hanging a plant, when people walk on the floor above or when the ceiling is exposed to moisture from a leak.
As long as the asbestos remains intact and undisturbed, experts consider living with it quite safe. But if the asbestos is in poor condition or crumbling, removal may be necessary.
If you're uncertain whether the materials in your home contain asbestos, the most inexpensive way to find out is to have a lab test them. The cost is usually less than $100 per sample. As long as your mindset remains on asbestos awareness, don't pull the trigger on expensive, potentially dangerous repairs until there is a very real threat to your family.