Articles & FAQs

Should I get a CLUE Report?

CLUE is an acronym for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which is like an insurance industry clearing house that reports on the claims histories of people and houses. Insurance statistics state that about 90% of all claims are reported by insurers to CLUEs. Insurance companies also check CLUEs when deciding to issue a new policy to a home buyer. The typical report costs about $35 dollars and shows what claims have been lodged against a property in the last five years. Whether buying or selling a home, the CLUE report can work to your advantage.

If you're buying a home, new construction or existing, consider making your offer to purchase contingent upon both a satisfactory home inspection and a CLUE report. If the CLUE database indicates the home your buying has been involved in more than 1 or 2 claims in the past 5 years, you may have to pay much higher premiums for coverage or you may be denied coverage. In most cases, insurance is required before a mortgage loan is granted and if a home owners policy can't be obtained, it will be very difficult to get a loan.

If you're selling a home and an insurance claim has not been filed for several years, pay for the CLUE report so you can show copies to the prospective buyers. A clean report can increase buyer confidence, knowing that no major problems from issues like mold or clean up from flooding has occurred, which sometime create health and construction issues even after the repairs have been made. A clean report, included with the Disclosure Statement may help you sell your home faster, with more confidence and possibly for more money..

Top Ten Defects

Most people strive to keep their properties well maintained and trouble free, however we usually find issues with every property we inspect, even brand new homes.  Many problems are minor, some are more significant.  After conducting thousands of property inspections, we have compiled the following list of what we consider the ten most common property deficiencies.

10. Plumbing issues such as old galvanized pipes, waste pipes and hot water tanks can be the cause of sudden, expensive repairs. During the inspection a flood test is conducted to simulate a real world scenario of how the plumbing system high water flow.

9. Tree limbs and vegetation growth too close to the roof line or building. Trees, shrubs, vines or any other growth near or on the building can cause excessive moisture infiltration, deposit debris on the roof surface and serve as a direct pathway to the interior for pests. Trim tree limbs and vegetation back from the building.  Never allow vines to grow on exterior cladding.

8. Chimney deterioration. Many chimneys are neglected which can cause mortar gaps, broken brick work and flue damage. If a new gas furnace is retro-fitted into an older home that vents through a masonry chimney, a metal liner must be installed. It's important to maintain the brick work on chimneys. A qualified mason can provide repair and maintenance. The installation of rain caps will help prevent moisture and pests infiltrating the flues. Have chimneys cleaned by a reputable chimney sweep.

7. Exterior window frames. It is imperative that exterior window frames be well maintained. Water infiltration into window cavities will cause costly damage. If you have wood window frames, make sure that the frames and sills remain properly painted and caulked.

6. Indoor environment. From radon gas to water purity, indoor environmental issues are more important to our clients then ever. Radon gas is a by-product of decaying uranium and is found in every building. The EPA reports that indoor air can be far more polluted than outdoor air. We offer low cost testing for radon gas, mold spores, allergy testing, lead based paint, water purity and more.

5. Mold growth. We estimate that 40% of the properties we inspect have some type of active mold growth.

4. Foundation & structure. Modern building practices have eliminated the potential for many foundation problems. However, the biggest threats to foundations are age, water, trees and improper additions to original structures. Structural defects typically call for specialized professional involvement and can make a property prohibitively expensive.

3. Heating & cooling systems. Most buildings are heated and cooled with forced air systems. These systems have a life span of 20 - 25 years if properly maintained. These systems are fundamental components to a home and are costly replacement items. Excessive corrosion within the heat exchanger, improper flue connections, leaking condensation pipes all lead to an unstable heating and cooling system. 

2. Roofing system. A typical roof has a life span of 20 years. Applying new material over an existing material reduces the life span of the top layer by 50%. Although most municipalities allow 2 layers of shingles, it's always best to strip the existing layer "to-the-boards", before recovering. Proper ventilation, drainage, insulation, ice shielding and flashing play an important part of the overall roof system. 

1. Water infiltration. Water infiltration is the biggest problem in homes and buildings. Material damage, mold growth, even mechanical failure is attributed to water infiltration.

Look back over this list, many of the issues have water directly involved. Check downspouts, do they move rain water at least 5' from the foundation? Low lying grade areas at the perimeter of the building? 95% of water infiltration issues to a foundation are a direct result of improper waste water drainage.

Is My Water Safe to Drink?

There are two main sources of water: surface water and groundwater. Surface water is visible, found in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Ground water lies under the surface of the land, out of sight, in wells, cisterns, and springs.

Consumers receive their water from one of two sources: their own private well, or a community water system that has been pre-treated, also referred to as "potable" or "city water".

Private well owners are solely responsible for the safety of the water. Private wells are not subject to federal regulations, and are generally regulated on a very limited basis by states. Therefore, it is important to know what poses a threat to the well and the groundwater. A variety of sources can cause well water to become contaminated, including those that occur in nature. They include bacteria, viruses, uranium, radium, arsenic, and fluoride. Many of these contaminants are naturally present in rock formations, and consequently end up in the water supply.

Lead and copper can leach into your water supply from the plumbing fixtures that are made with lead and copper materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead and copper pipes, fixtures and solder. However, new homes are also at risk. So called “lead-free” plumbing, by law, may contain up to 8 percent lead. The most common problem is with brass or chrome plated brass faucets and fixtures which can leach significant amounts of lead into the water, especially on the hot water side. Almost 20 percent of the exposure to lead and copper comes from impure drinking water. Exposure to lead and copper may cause health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage. All homeowners should monitor their drinking water quality. The EPA action level for lead is 15 ppb (parts per billion) and copper 1.3 ppm (parts per million). If the measurements exceed these values, the water quality must be improved. 

To determine if your well water meets minimum drinking water standards, 4 basic tests are required. The 4 tests identify coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, nitrates and nitrites. Additionally, we can test for other common impurities like lead and copper(especially important if there are children in the home), sodium (since water softeners add salt to the water and people are concerned about salt intake), and arsenic (which is found in high levels in certain areas and has been proven to cause cancer) and turbidity.

For city water, we suggest testing for lead, copper, fluoride and chlorine. Copper will leach into the water from copper pipes, especially if the water is corrosive. Chlorine is added to water to kill bacteria. Many people are concerned about chlorine levels and sometimes the municipality goes overboard and you can smell the chlorine in the water.

The only way to know if your drinking water is safe is to have it tested. Contact Safe & Sound for more information on water purity testing.

What is Thermography?

Thermography is the use of specialized infrared cameras to see differences in temperature. Because infrared radiation increases with temperature, the cameras are able to produce a thermogram (a heat signature-based image) showing relative areas of coolness and warmth in a room, on an object or even inside the walls of a building. Thus, the colors in a thermogram, from black for cold to white for hot, provide a clear image of heat distribution and dispersal.

First developed in the early 1960s for industrial equipment evaluations, advances in the technology have made today's small, handheld infrared cameras accessible for a variety of professional applications.

A complete thermographic evaluation conducted at the time of a home inspection will reveal areas of concern that a conventional inspection simply cannot evaluate. These include:

  • Moisture inside walls and in ceilings
  • Missing or inadequate insulation
  • Short circuits, bad wiring and other areas of high electrical resistance
  • Areas of substantial heat loss such as old or improperly installed windows and door seals
  • Leaks in pipes and A/C ductwork
  • Moisture behind EIFS synthetic stucco or vinyl siding
  • Detect nests of pests such as mice and termites

Correctives may include additional thermostats, heating vents, humidifiers in key areas, new windows or moisture correction. Regardless, it's best to know about problems before you try to buy or sell a property. For this reason, many home buyers now insist upon a clause requiring a thermographic scan as part of their home inspection.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to many products to strengthen them and provide fire resistance and heat insulation. If disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers which can be inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos material that crumbles easily if handled or which has been scraped, sawed, or sanded into a powder is more likely to create a health hazard. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of lining of chest and abdominal cavity), and asbestosis (lungs scarred with the tissue). Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos insulation. Most of today's products do not contain asbestos. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged or you plan changes that might disturb it, you require a professional for repair and removal. Before home remodeling, find out if asbestos is present.

From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.

Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease.

Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.

Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos.

Common products that may have been made with asbestos include insulation, soundproofing, decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings, hot water and steam pipes, and furnace ducts.

If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic! Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone, since material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs.

If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed.

Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos.

The federal government has training courses for asbestos professionals around the country. Some state and local governments also have or require training or certification courses. Ask asbestos professionals to document their completion of federal or state-approved training. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of EPA-approved training. State and local health departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed professionals in your area.

For more information, see the EPA's Asbestos Information Resources

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

Why is Lead in Some Homes?

Lead is a highly toxic metal used for many years in products in and around homes. Lead's adverse health effects range from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Because their bodies are growing quickly, children age 6 and under are at greatest risk. Primary sources of lead exposure for children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust, and lead-contaminated residential soil. Lead might be present in any home built up until the 1940s. Rarely found in source water, lead can enter tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, joints, and solder.

New homes are also at risk: even legally "lead-free" pipes can contain up to 8 percent lead and leave significant amounts of lead in the water for the first several months after installation. Since the 1980s, EPA and its federal partners have banned or limited lead used in consumer products, including residential paint. Federal regulations limiting the amount of lead in paint sold for residential use started in 1978. If your property was built before 1978 or you are considering remodeling, renovating, or repair, you may wish to think about lead inspection. Water quality can be compromised by such other trace elements as iron, excess acidity, manganese, calcium, magnesium, mineral salts, hydrogen sulfide, selenium, chromium, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.

  • Paint-The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, but homes built before this time may have used lead paint.
  • Dust-Household dust can be contaminated with lead from paint, as can the soil around a house whose exterior was painted with lead paint.
  • Drinking water-Your home might have plumbing with lead or lead solder.

If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.

Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.

You can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention.

To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead abatement contractor. Abatement methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials.

Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems -- someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government. Contact the National Lead Information Center for help with locating certified contractors in your area and to see if financial assistance is available.

For more information, see the EPA's Lead Information Resources.

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

What Do I Need to Know About Mold?

Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.

Mold (fungi) is present everywhere, indoors and outdoors. There are more than 100,000 species of mold, at least 1,000 of which are common in America. Species of Cladosporium, Penicillium, and Aspergillus are some of the most commonly found species. Mold most likely grows in bathrooms, basements, and anywhere else where there is dampness or water. Many types of mold routinely encountered aren't hazardous to healthy individuals. Too much exposure to mold may cause a worsening of such conditions as asthma, hay fever, or other allergies. Fevers and breathing problems in a vulnerable individual are possible but unusual. When moldy material becomes damaged or disturbed, spores, which are reproductive bodies similar to seeds, can be released into the air. Exposure can occur if people inhale the spores, directly handle moldy material, or accidentally ingest the spores. Since all molds need water to grow, mold can grow almost anywhere where there is high humidity, dampness, or water damage. Most often molds are confined to areas near the water source. Removing the source of moisture through repairs or dehumidification is crucial in preventing mold growth. Correcting underlying water damage and cleaning the affected area is the best way to treat mold. If mold contamination is extensive, a professional abatement company may be needed.

Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances.

Allergic reactions to mold are common and include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.

It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors, but indoor mold growth can be controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and also fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but don't fix the water problem, the mold problem most likely will return.

If the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet, you can probably handle the job yourself. However:

If there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet, consult the EPA's Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document is applicable to other building types.

If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations in EPA's Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, or the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

If you suspect that the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold, consult the EPA's Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned? before taking further action. Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold - it could spread mold throughout your home.

If the water and/or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, then call in a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.

If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.

For more information, read the EPA's A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

1. As a rule, the extent of symptoms depends on the sensitivity of the exposed person. Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposures include:

  • Allergic reactions are the most common, and typically include chronic clogged throat, wheezing and difficulty breathing, nasal and sinus congestion, burning/watery, reddened eyes or blurry vision, sore throat, dry cough, nose/throat irritation, shortness of breath, nausea, and skin irritation.
  • Other less common effects are nervous system problems (headaches, memory loss and moodiness), aches/pains and fever.
  • If you have any of these symptoms, and they are reduced or completely gone when you leave the suspect area, chances are you have been exposed to mold.

2. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment. The only way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.

3. If mold is a problem in your home, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.

4. Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth.

5. Reduce indoor humidity to 30-50% and stop the opportunity for mold growth by venting bathrooms, clothes dryers and other moisture generating sources to the outdoors. Use air conditioners and dehumidifiers. Increasing ventilation and use exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.

6. Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.

7. Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent, and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as carpeting and ceiling tiles should be replaced, if moldy.

8. Prevent condensation. Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors) by adding insulation and sealing all drafts.

9. In areas where there is a high moisture levels, do not install carpeting (i.e., kitchens, near sinks, or on basement concrete floors).

10. Molds can be found almost anywhere. Mold can grow on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on ceramic, stone, wood, paper, carpet, and foods.

What is Radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soils, rock, and water throughout the U.S. Radon causes lung cancer, and is a threat to health because it tends to collect in homes, sometimes to very high concentrations.

Almost all risk from radon comes from breathing air with radon and its decay products. Radon decay products cause lung cancer.

There is no safe level of radon -- any exposure poses some risk of cancer. In two 1999 reports, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded after an exhaustive review that radon in indoor air is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoking. The NAS estimated that 15,000-22,000 Americans die every year from radon-related lung cancer.

You cannot see, feel, smell, or taste radon. Testing your home is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing for radon in all rooms below the third floor.

The first step is to test your home for radon, and have it fixed if it is at or above EPA's Action Level of 4 picocuries per liter. You may want to take action if the levels are in the range of 2-4 picocuries per liter. Generally, levels can be brought below 2 pCi/l fairly simply.

The best method for reducing radon in your home will depend on how radon enters your home and the design of your home. For example, sealing cracks in floors and walls may help to reduce radon. There are also systems that remove radon from the crawl space or from beneath the concrete floor or basement slab that are effective at keeping radon from entering your home. These systems are simple and don't require major changes to your home. Other methods may be necessary.

People who have private wells should test their well water to ensure that radon levels meet EPA's most recently proposed standard.

For more information, read the EPA's A Citizen's Guide to Radon and How to Find a Qualified Radon Service Professional in Your Area.

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

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