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Early warning signs: Contamination and what to look out for in properties

23/11/20Early warning signs: Contamination and what to look out for in properties

When you are buying a house there are so many aspects of buildings and their components that need to be taken into account, when looking at the condition and value of properties. Many are invisible to the casual observer but can cause major problems if you want to renovate or alter the property at a later date.


An invisible threat

Contaminants can be found in all kinds of locations and it’s important to be aware of the many different types. A good example of this is radon gas. This is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that in the long-term has the potential to cause lung cancer. It’s a component of our atmosphere and when outdoors it disperses, so has little impact on human health. But indoors, it doesn’t disperse in the same way. Radon is inert, colourless and odourless and can be present in homes, schools and workplaces. Radon gas becomes trapped indoors, once it has entered the building from the ground, through cracks and other holes in the foundations, cavities and floors. The levels of indoor radon can be controlled and managed with specialist help, such as deploying an underground ventilation system, or by increasing existing airflow and ventilation. If you suspect there may be radon present in your property, it’s probably worth inviting a qualified surveyor to carry out a test, to ascertain levels.


In the pipeline

A potential problem in pre-1970s properties is the use of lead pipework in plumbing. Pipes were largely replaced by copper and have since been superseded by plastic in many cases – but for many years lead was the norm. Lead poisoning is caused by a toxic build-up in the body and takes place over a number of years. Lead used to be used in certain types of paint, but that’s not as harmful as water ingested after it has passed through lead pipes. It’s particularly dangerous for young children and babies, as the levels are far higher in proportion to their size and they absorb more, as they are still growing. Lead pipes are easy to spot – they’re grey, rather than the orange of copper – and are often the pipe that brings the mains to your property. They make a dull thud rather than a ringing sound when they’re tapped with a metal tool. Specialist checks can be carried out, to see if there is a lead contaminant present in the water and if necessary, replacement can be carried out to upgrade the pipework.


Hidden dangers

One of the biggest problems you may encounter in older properties is the use of asbestos. This can be contained in a wide range of building materials, from sheet roofing, to plaster and paint. When materials containing asbestos are disturbed, fibres are released into the air, which can be inhaled. Over time they can cause serious respiratory diseases. For many years little was known about the substance. Its presence in properties now requires costly, specialist removal. It can cause a major addition to construction budgets when it is found. Once located, a surveyor will be able to identify the presence of asbestos and advise on how to get rid of it safely.  


If you are buying a house, it is essential that you know the condition of the property before you make the purchase. An RICS Home buyers survey is a detailed ‘health check’ that will alert you to previously undisclosed issues to enable you to negotiate a fair price for the property. Contact us at our Shropshire or Staffordshire offices to find out more.


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