We always assume that our homes are a safe place; we chose to live there, we spend huge amounts of time there and might even raise a family in them, but houses often have a long, hidden history to them. Sometimes it’s as grizzly as a death or two, sometimes it’s as mysterious as finding a box of keepsakes in the attic, and sometimes it’s design problems that could cause you a nasty health issue.
But how can the stuff our homes are built from affect our health? What do we need to look out for? And how can we make them safe? Here are the top four hidden problems your house could be hiding and what can be done about them:
Mould can be a very visible issue, or it can hide away behind furniture and curtains. However this insidious little problem appears, you’ll want to sort it out; mould can cause chest infections and make asthma worse. Mould will be caused by a damp environment in your home which might be due to rising damp because the foundations of your home aren’t properly sealed, bad ventilation so moisture can’t escape or a sneaky hidden leak somewhere in your house. All of these problems can be fixed and it’s definitely worth doing for the sake of your respiratory health.
Do you live in an old house? Does it have lots of original features? Including some beautiful old taps? Then you might be running the risk of lead piping. Lead is a scary thing to find in your home as it can cause fatigue, weight loss, stomach pain and even vomiting in adults. For children, it can cause these symptoms as well as delayed development and learning difficulties.
The best way to spot lead is to look at the age of the plumbing in your house – do you still have a water tank in the attic? Is the house itself an antique? Then be sure and get someone to check your water system over and drink bottled water in the meantime.
Hidden in a myriad of places in houses, asbestos is a material that takes a long time to impact your health (between 20 and 50 years) but when it does it can be devastating. Asbestos is carcinogenic, which means it can cause cancer, and is well known for causing lung cancer and a very deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world have been exposed to asbestos, most during the course of their work, leading to them to sue their employers – asbestos exposure is that serious.
Asbestos is usually found in homes as a type of fibre board, commonly called Artex, for walls or ceilings but is also often found as cement sheeting used for roofing and sometimes garages or sheds. Unfortunately, from the 1930s to the 1980s, the world was rather enamoured with asbestos as a cheap building material so you might find it in tiles, adhesives, sealants, insulation and fake fireplaces. If the décor of a home is rather dated, then best get an asbestos survey done.
Known as a silent killer, you can’t see, smell or taste it in the air, but you will get symptoms similar to the flu (headaches, nausea, breathlessness, and dizziness) and, if you don’t manage to sort the issue, it can eventually lead to brain damage or death. CO poisoning is caused by ill-fitted or poorly maintained natural gas appliances, such as stoves, releasing the gas into the air. Blocked flues and chimneys if you have a wood burner or fireplace can have the same effect. Unlike some other home hazards, carbon monoxide can get very serious, very quickly but the health consequences can be permanent.
Spotting a CO leak is mainly about noticing symptoms you and your family are exhibiting, but damage to gas appliances or vents could indicate a problem. Getting a carbon monoxide alarm fitted (and maintaining it) is the best way to prevent this hazard, and if you suspect CO poisoning, then open windows immediately, leave the house, seek medical attention and call in a gas engineer to discover where the problem is and fix it.