How to Protect Your Family from Allergens and Irritants in the Home

Many people know to take precautions outdoors to protect themselves from common allergens like pollen when the seasons change. However, when the weather gets colder and you start spending more time indoors, you are exposing yourself to many indoor allergens like pet dander and dust mites. These are often overlooked, but should be taken seriously to protect the health of you and your family.
Family members spend a lot of time in confined spaces in the home which contribute to significant and chronic health problems. As a result, we must take steps to limit their exposure to mold and other allergy producing irritants. These simple procedures will help to keep your home free of these allergens and irritants:
  • Have heating and air conditioning system serviced regularly.
  • Replace air conditioning filter with small particle or HEPA filter. Make sure that the filter holder is airtight to prevent air bypass.
  • Encase pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust mite proof covers.
  • Spread aquarium gravel over the dirt in plants to help contain mold and be careful not to spill water on the carpet when watering the plants to prevent mold growth in the carpet.
  • Avoid using wood burning fireplaces and make sure that gas fireplaces vent to the exterior.
  • Use the exhaust fan in the bathroom to reduce moisture and mold buildup while bathing and showering. Leave the fan running an hour to two after showering.
  • Don’t allow smoking in the home.
  • Remove shoes prior to entering the home to prevent contamination from mold or lead dust.
  • If home is equipped with a front loading washer, make sure the door gasket is cleaned with bleach frequently to prevent a buildup of mold.
  • Use tapered candles instead of jar candles to prevent spreading soot particles.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to prevent spreading dust particles throughout the home.
  • Avoid running your automobile in the garage for an extended period of time to prevent combustion gases from entering adjacent living spaces.
  • Keep doors and windows closed during warm weather and use air conditioner and dehumidifiers to keep moisture in the home at a minimum.
  • Clean the refrigerator drip tray annually to avoid spreading contaminants that have collected in the tray.
  • Avoid using scented laundry, cleaning and body products which contain chemicals that contribute to allergies.
  • Control pest infestations from cockroaches and mice by utilizing inexpensive traps. Seal any cracks or holes where mice could enter.  Remove allergy triggering insect and mouse residue by thoroughly vacuuming carpet and washing hard surfaces.
By following these suggestions, you should significantly reduce your family’s exposure to allergy causing irritants. To further protect your home from harmful allergens, schedule an appointment with our experienced and certified home inspectors. You can reach us at 800-822-7200 to learn more about our extensive inspection process.

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Reducing risk: 7 important fire safety and prevention tips

Home fires are a significant threat to life and property.  According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, there were 365,500 house fires across the U.S. in the year 2015, causing an estimated $7 billion in total damage. More troubling still is the fact that around 2,650 people as a consequence of house fires in the same year. While the figures are concerning, house fires are easily preventable, and there are a number of strategies that you can implement to protect your family from injury or even death in a house fire. Read on to learn more:

Common causes of house fires
Before an examination of prevention and safety tips, it is helpful to take a closer look at the kinds of things that can cause house fires. According to Reader's Digest, they include:

  • Heaters 
    Space heaters present a notable risk of fire if they are left on to overheat or if they come into close contact with items that could catch alight – think curtains or clothes. Furthermore, faulty furnaces can increase fire risk. Be sure to keep space heaters away from other items and run them in a well ventilated room.
  • Electronics
    Basically anything that uses electricity poses a risk of fire in the home. For example, items such as microwaves or toasters pose a threat if the wiring in the cord is damaged and frayed. Overusing extensive cords with multiple cords can also increase fire risk. If you observe any of these issues, take steps to remedy them.
  • Candles
    Candles can become a threat if they are left unattended and near flammable objects – curtains, for example. 
  • Poor wiring
    Home wiring that has become faulty or ineffective is a common problem in older abodes. This presents a risk not only for fire, but also electric shocks. If you suspect that your home has a wiring problem – maybe your sockets have issues working – be sure to contact a professional.
  • Cigarettes
    Unattended cigarettes and other smoking materials are a major cause of house fires nationwide. Fire can occur, for example, if a homeowner falls asleep and drops their cigarette on a flammable surface, or disposes of a lit cigarette in a trash can filled with flammable items.
Installing smoke alarms throughout your home is an important fire safety strategy.Installing smoke alarms throughout your home is an important fire safety strategy.

Effective fire safety and prevention tips
The list above is by no means exhaustive. House fires can be caused by any number of things. So what are the most effective ways to reduce your risk of a fire at home and stay safe? Some of the best approaches include:

1. Develop an evacuation plan
It is important to have a plan of action in place, should a fire occur, HGTV explained. An evacuation plan will take into account all viable exits from the home, and will include safe (or safe as possible) ways to escape from each part of the house. It's not effective, however, to have just one escape plan – for example, jumping from the second floor window. An effective evacuation plan will take into account how to exit the building safely in various scenarios. The evacuation plan should also incorporate common sense measures, such as dialing 911 and leaving property behind. 

2. Hold regular drills
Having a fire drill with your family can help to ensure that you and your family are as well-versed as possible on how to respond to a fire emergency. The American Red Cross advised that the drill should be conducted every year, at least two times. 

3. Test smoke alarms regularly
The American Red Cross advised fitting as many smoke alarms as possible, particularly in areas vulnerable to fire such as the kitchen, as well as in bedrooms. Indeed fire alarms are perhaps the most effective tool available when it comes to saving lives in house fires. Certainly, the National Safety Council reported that, thanks to working smoke alarms, your risk of perishing in a house fire can be reduced significantly – by as much as 50 percent. 

"Working fire alarms can reduce risk of death by as much as 50%."

Ensuring that you have smoke alarms is just the first step, however. It is important to ensure that the smoke alarms are in working order. This means conducting routine smoke alarm tests. The source noted that this should be done at least once every month, although it can't hurt to check more than that. When it comes to safety, it is worth the small amount of effort. Most fire alarms cease working when they run out of battery power. If changing the batteries doesn't help, then it's time to buy new smoke alarms.

4. Invest in fire extinguishers
Another line of defense against fire are extinguishers. HGTV noted that it's wise to have more than one fire extinguisher, keeping multiple throughout your home, in places such as bedrooms and hallways. They are especially vital in the kitchen. The source elaborated that, as with smoke alarms, fire extinguishers need to be inspected routinely to ensure that they are in working order. 

5. Don't leave flammable items unattended
As detailed above, house fires are often caused by flammable items, such as candles or cigarettes, being left unattended. If you do opt to burn a candle inside, for example, ensure that you keep an eye on it at all times, keep it on a level surface and away from flammable object and blow it out if you leave the house, Reader's Digest advised. When it comes to smoking, it is better for your safety, and the health of your family, to do so outside. If you must smoke inside, however, it is important to take sensible precautions such as using ashtrays and keeping your cigarettes away from flammable items and surfaces, such as the furniture, Reader's Digest explained.

Consider Alban Inspections
Alban Inspections provide an array of services, including general home inspections, radon testing, home energy efficiency inspections and more. If you're looking to learn more about the safety of your home or are looking to get more information about your property before moving, contact Alban Inspections today. To learn more, click here

Water testing: What homebuyers need to know

Millions of Americans live in homes connected to private wells. Whether they're for bathing, drinking or the plumbing, these wells are key components of the property. Therefore, it's equally important – if not more so – that the water is tested to ensure safety and quality.

However, many homebuyers overlook this critical step when in the market for a new home, simply because it's not a problem for every listing – only those that are hooked up to private wells. If you're interested in a home that fits this description, here's what you need to know about water testing:

Why test the water quality?
If you're asking why you should test the water in a private well, the answer is simple: your family's health and safety.

Contaminated wells can contain:

  • Bacteria
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • Lead

Many more extensive tests also look for chlorine, clarity of water, iron and even the pH level. All this is done to ensure that the quality is safe not just for toilets, but also for bathing and drinking. 

Water quality is important, which is why testing your private well is a must.Water quality is important, which is why testing your private well is a must.

How can bad water affect a home sale?
While the health and safety of the residents is paramount, there's another reason why testing the water is a must before buying a home. A damaged well – or a well with low-quality water – could lead to delays in closing and even impact the property's overall value.

This water supply is integral to homes connected to private wells, and any problem, even a minor one, affects the livability of the house. If the buyer finds that the well is contaminated, he or she could either request a lower purchase price or walk away completely. In many cases, it would at least lead to a delay in closing. 

In fact, low-quality water can be leverage for smart buyers. They'll now have the upper hand on the seller and can negotiate more concessions out of the deal. Fixing a damaged well can cost thousands of dollars, while cleaning the water could be slightly more affordable, depending on the contaminants. 

Finally, the loan itself could be contingent on a well inspection and a passing grade, another wrinkle that could delay a purchase.

What can be done to prepare?
If a home has a private well, it must be inspected by a trusted professional. At Alban Inspections, we are qualified to perform water testing for private wells, including inspecting the well itself for damage. 

We will collect the water and work with laboratories in the area to test for all of the contaminants listed above. Furthermore, it is recommended that homeowners test their private wells once per year for any potential problems. 

If you have a need for water testing, please give us a call today!

Montgomery Country legislators pass new radon testing regulations

In November of last year, local legislators in Montgomery County, Maryland passed legislation requiring homesellers to test for radon and make the results available before putting property on the market, The Washington Post reported. Montgomery County is the first local government in the U.S. to enact such a law.

The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors protested the legislation, arguing that it served little purpose, as most buyers make radon testing a condition upon sale. The organization also contended that current state legislation, which mandates that sellers disclose radon problems to buyers, effectively addressed the issue.

Legislators, along with officials at the Montgomery County attorney's office, asserted that buyers needed further protections.

"We are just asking people to test," Councilman Craig Rice, the bill's sponsor, explained in an interview with American University Radio. "Just to make sure that they know what may be lurking in their homes unknown that might be a silent, deadly killer."

"Legislators in Montgomery County, passed legislation requiring homesellers to test for radon."

Radon is an invisible, tasteless and odorless radioactive gas that forms in soil and groundwater deposits, according to the Environment Protection Agency. The gas usually invades homes through cracks in their foundation and can cause lung cancer in adults and children. In fact, an estimated 21,000 people die each year as a result of radon-related lung cancer.

Radon is an especially serious problem in Montgomery County, as it's centered on an area that exhibits higher than average radon levels, Bethesda Magazine reported. Indeed, the EPA considers the municipality a Zone 1 risk, meaning local radon levels exceed 4 picocuries per liter. Most public health authorities, including the EPA and World Health Organization, consider readings above 2.7 Pci/l unsafe.

The new legislation goes into affect October 16.

Radon testing kits cost as little as $15 a piece. However, most experts advise homeowners to schedule radon testing with a local home inspection company.  

How to remove lead paint

Lead paint can be a serious health hazard for homeowners, especially those with children. It's is the leading cause of lead poisoning in the U.S., according to the Mayo Clinic. Yet, many American homes are still covered in the poisonous material. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 37 million houses have lead paint.

If you suspect that your home is one of them, you should take steps to mitigate its toxicity, or better yet, remove the paint altogether. To get started, review these important tips:

Schedule lead paint testing
Before you begin contacting contractors or gathering supplies for a do-it-yourself job, call up a local home inspection company and schedule lead paint testing. The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978. If your home was constructed prior to this embargo, there's a good chance it will test positive.

You can perform the assessment on your own with a store-bought kit sanctioned by the Environment Protection Agency. However, its better if you leave this duty to professionals, as simply performing such a test can be dangerous, Better Homes and Gardens reported.

Before beginning your lead paint-removal project, be sure to pick up the proper equipment.Before beginning your lead paint-removal project, be sure to pick up the proper equipment.

Try the DIY method
When it comes to actually executing your lead paint-removal project, you have three options: encapsulation, enclosure or removal. The first method involves covering a preexisting lead-painted surface with water-tight sealant, the National Association of Realtors reported. This is by far the most cost-effective solution, as encapsulation mixes roll on like paint and cost about $35 per gallon. Enclosure is a more elaborate process in which lead-laden walls are enclosed by brand new drywall. With removal, you'll be required to actually get rid of your lead paint and swap if for a healthy alternative. Though many consider this to be the ideal solution, removal is an involved process that requires planning and special equipment. 

When securely attached to the wall, lead paint poses few problems. However, if disturbed, the stuff gives off toxic dust that, if inhaled, can cause lead poisoning in adults and children. Obviously, if you plan to remove the lead paint from your walls on your own, you must prepare for the clouds of harmful debris that will likely fill your home.

First, remove everything in the vicinity of the painted area, including clothing, decorative fixtures, food and furniture. Anything you can't remove should be securely wrapped in plastic. Basically, there can be no crevices in which toxic lead-paint dust can linger, according to the EPA. If you're taking up a large amount of lead-based paint at one time, you might even need to build a makeshift airlock. Again, you can use plastic sheets to do this.

Next, you should acquire some key protective gear. A disposable respirator will be necessary. You want to purchase an N-100 model equipped with a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health-certified, high-efficiency particulate air filter. Goggles and gloves are also must-haves.

Of course, you'll need tools for taking up the paint. Wet sanding is commonly used technique. You can use a heat gun or hand scraper as well. But no matter which method you choose, be sure to properly prepare your home. Removing lead paint is dangerous work. 

Call a contractor
If you live in a state that bans individuals without lead poisoning training from undertaking lead abatement projects or simply aren't interested in doing the work yourself, calling in a contractor is your only other option. Most charge between $8 and $15 per square foot for lead paint removal. Just be sure that the contractor you ultimately hire has been certified through the EPA's Renovation, Repair and Painting Program.

The importance of lead paint testing [Video]

With the recent controversy in Flint, Michigan, the issue of lead contamination has come to the fore in a big way. Americans are now testing their children for lead poisoning and submitting enquiries to local governments in an effort to assess tap water metal levels. Unfortunately, most are paying little attention to another household feature that sometimes contains toxic lead deposits: paint.

According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, most homes constructed before 1978 have lead-based paint. This paint, if ingested or inhaled, can cause kidney and reproductive problems in adults and cognitive issues in children. Lead also impacts pregnant women and can cause birth defects or premature births. 

Homeowners whose houses have lead paint must organize a test immediately and consider making renovations to correct the issue. Alban Inspections employs lead surveyors certified in Washington D.C., Maryland and Pennsylvania. So, if you think your home might have lead-based paint, don’t hesitate to reach out.          

Check out these home spring cleaning tips

Winter's frigid grip is finally loosening, which means many homeowners will soon shut off the heat, cast open the windows and clean out the nooks and crannies left neglected during the colder months. In fact, spring cleaning is an annual ritual for most in the U.S. Approximately 72 percent of Americans engage in the activity every year, according to the American Cleaning Institute.

If you too plan to conduct a post-winter clean sweep, make sure to keep a few salient strategies in mind.

Formulate a plan
You simply cannot kick off an intense spring cleaning session without a solid scrubbing scheme. Planning can cut your cleaning time in half and produce better results, reported Popular Mechanics. Professional speed cleaners approach each situation with a plan. They usually working room-by-room and finish each space where they started so as to maintain uniform cleaning quality. Using a similarly methodical approach, you can tackle your entire house in a matter of hours and produce a whole-home shine that will last for months.

Get the proper tools
Most households store their cleaning supplies in infrequently accessed cabinets and pantries. These spaces inevitably gather dust and grime and render some cleaning tools useless. If you fall into this category, invest in some new, quality equipment before taking on winter crud. Professionals sport carpenter belts stuffed with specialized cleaners and brushes that can fit into the tinniest spaces. You don't have to go this far. Purchasing a new broom, a feather duster and maybe a solid bucket should be enough. If you want to try out something besides a store-bought cleaner, use a lemon. The acid contained within these citrus fruits can dissolve outdoor rust stains and cut through carpet spots. According to Apartment Therapy, you can also add Kool-Aid to your cleaning tool kit. The lemon and orange varieties of the drink make toilet rings disappear and, unlike Coke, another beverage often employed by cleaning innovators, it doesn't leave behind sugary deposits and is eco-friendly.

Start at the top
Even the most committed neat freaks neglect their ceiling fans and allow residue to collect in hidden, ceiling-facing dust deposits. However, during spring cleaning, most leave no surface untouched and gladly cleanse dusty ceiling fan blades. This task is often saved until the last minute. Side tables, couches and other easy-to-reach surfaces always seem to come first. Unfortunately, the majority of fan-cleaning finales leave recently wiped coffee tables covered in dust. The moral of the story: clean from ceiling to floor. Use a vacuum cleaner to suck up stubborn cobwebs. As for the infamous ceiling fan blades, Real Simple suggested using a homemade cleaning solution made from water and distilled white vinegar. Also, as you clean up top, be sure to look for mold. If you encounter some, call a home inspection company and schedule professional mold testing.

The real danger of lead in the home

If you're in the market for a new home, there are many factors to consider before making a final selection. Besides location, price and amenities, potential buyers must also consider the safety of the home.

Although many buyers will search for outward signs of trouble, such as a degrading foundation or pests, a less thought of issue is also important: the presence of lead paint.

Lead is a naturally occurring element, one that can be found in air, water and soil, as well as inside the home. Lead is toxic and prolonged exposure can cause serious issues for children and adults. Some of these issues include cardiovascular disease and hypertension, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.

Lead paint is often found in older homes, those built before 1978 in particular. Maryland law requires all multi-family and single-family dwellings built before 1978 to test for lead paint. In addition, federal law requires the disclosure of lead-based paint in all property that is sold or leased.

Paint that contains lead can cause serious health risks for those who live in the home. When chipping or deteriorating paint occurs, lead paint dust is the most common result, which can float to other areas of the home.

As part of Alban Inspections lead paint testing, our employees offer:

  • Lead risk assessment.
  • Lead free certification.
  • Lead dust pre-occupancy testing.
  • Visual compliance inspections.
  • Free consultation services.
  • Clearing house for information.

Lead paint is a serious issue, one that must be taken care of right away in order to ensure the health of your family and the stability of your home.

Schedule a lead paint inspection today to learn more.

The real risk of radon

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer if left untreated. Radon is invisible to the human eye, odorless, and it is not tangible. Radon testing is the only way to ensure there is no radon inside or near your home.

As radon is a radioactive gas, it often moves from the ground to the air through cracks in the foundation or even in the siding of a home. Although it is easy for radon to enter the home, it can be difficult to eliminate, especially in winter. 

During the colder months, homeowners generally keep their windows shut, sealing any entryways and ensuring there are no openings to the outside that may let out the heat. This traps the radon inside as well. Some homeowners believe that because their home is new or recently constructed it won't suffer from radon issues, but it can seep into any building.

Radon most often comes from the soil, but it can also enter the home through a water source. Though radon poses less of a health risk when it is in water, as opposed to airborne radon, it can still adversely affect the health of those who drink it. It also contributes to elevated indoor radon levels.

If you are an owner of a private well that your family uses as a water source, or you suspect your home water has been contaminated with radon, schedule an audit right away.

If left untreated, radon can negatively impact quality of life and the overall safety of your home. Schedule an audit today with Alban Inspections or visit our website.

Realtor safety remains hot button issue

One year after Arkansas realtor Beverly Carter was kidnapped and murdered while showing a home, the National Association of Realtors is again relaying the importance of realtor safety.

For autumn, what should you, as a realtor, keep in mind in terms of safety?

A new application has been developed in her memory, called the Bev Score, set to be released soon. The app uses GPS technology to verify who you say you are, as well as tracking your general location. It also allows users to rate others based on personality traits such as aggression or politeness. 

In addition to safety apps, there are some tips that real estate agents can follow in order to keep themselves safe when showing homes.

These include:

  • Avoid meeting strangers alone: Before showing potential buyers the home, be sure to meet them first in a public space such as an office or coffee shop. Getting a feel for them is essential for your safety.
  • Consider creating a distress code: Having a coded distress signal among coworkers may be best for those who work alone frequently or run intro trouble.
  • Trust your gut: Often, if you have a suspicious feeling or are unsure of potential buyers, chances are there is a reason why you feel that way. If this occurs, stop the showing right away and leave out the nearest exit. 
  • Use an ID form for prospects: Before showing a property, have potential buyers fill out a form detailing their name, address, make of their car and driver's license information, as well as anything else you feel is pertinent. Be sure they know someone else has seen this information and can relay it if necessary.

For more realtor safety tips, visit our website. If you're selling your home, consider an energy audit to determine energy efficiency for a stronger selling point.