Keeping Your Home Safe and Healthy

Most of us vacuum our carpets and dust our shelves fairly regularly to make sure our home is a comfortable place to live. We also take care of obvious safety hazards like poorly functioning appliances or broken plumbing. But sometimes, dangers are invisible. They lurk in mattresses, walls or in the air. Here are some tips to bring those problems into the light, and what to do to take care of them.

Houses have always been built according to the standards of their time. As we learn new construction techniques or gain awareness of what’s safe and healthy, standards change. Many houses built before 1978, for example, were built using asbestos and lead paint. Both materials have since been outlawed, but those houses still stand and people still live in them.

If your house was built before 1978, chances are you are perfectly safe unless you decide to remodel. Asbestos is not a health threat unless it becomes airborne (friable), so although you may have asbestos floor tiles, roof shingles, pipe insulation or popcorn ceilings, as long as they are in good repair, the asbestos remains encapsulated (sealed and safe). If asbestos is friable, it can lead to mesothelioma, a kind of cancer people talk about in hushed tones because it is so deadly. The moral of the story is this: if your house was built prior to 1978, hire a professional contractor to remodel. This way, you’ll live long enough to enjoy your new features.

The other health threat still present in homes built before 1978 is lead paint. Once again, as long as it is encapsulated (painted over so none of it can turn to dust or be inhaled or touched), it is safe. While exposure to lead is dangerous for adults, it is catastrophic for children because it causes permanent brain damage. In older homes, the paint around windows can get worn and old layers can become exposed. Even if your home was built after 1978, if your kids spend significant time in an old school building or church or other facility built before 1978, please do a little research to make sure it is safe.

While newer homes and buildings constructed to meet higher safety standards shouldn’t have any asbestos or lead, they may have another health threat: mold. In the Ukiah Valley, we are lucky not to deal with humid weather, because humidity is mold’s best buddy. However, most of us create humid environments in our home every day (in the bathroom when we shower and in the kitchen when we boil water). Mold is particularly hard on those with asthma and other respiratory problems.

To combat mold, open bathroom and kitchen windows if you have them, and use the exhaust fans. Also, be sure to replace your heating and air conditioning filters every few months and have your ducting cleaned once in a while. Doing this will reduce dust and mold, and make your heating and air conditioning systems run more efficiently.

As you head outside, you can make your home safer by creating a fire perimeter (knock down vegetation and limb trees six feet off the ground. If you use pesticides, rat poison, paint, or any other hazardous materials, be sure to keep the materials in their original, well-labeled containers that seal properly and are out of reach of children (locked cabinets are best). Children are curious and capable. They did a study with M&Ms in “childproof” medicine bottles. Want to guess how quickly those kids were enjoying the candy?

These are just some of the ways you can keep your house safe and healthy. As I think of more tips, I’ll be sure to pass them on.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.



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