The Three Dirty Words Of Real Estate Asbestos Lead And Mold

Dated: March 8 2021

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The Three Dirty Words of Real Estate: Asbestos, Lead, and Mold

These three words are some of the most feared in real estate (aside from holding tank, gravity field, and cesspool) but that is a different post. 

I had the wonderful opportunity to learn a bit more about mold, lead, and asbestos from Rose Buckley of US Inspect. At our monthly Women’s Council of Realtors meeting, our guest speaker was a licensed inspector who works in MD, DC, VA, and PA so she has seen a thing or two. She helped us understand how to help our buyers and sellers, identify, understand the effects, and how to treat these risks in homes. 


You’ve heard of it, (let’s face it you have heard that commercial about the lawsuits on at 2 am) you fear it, but what can we do about it. 

Asbestos has a long history of being a miracle mineral that was durable, rat-proof, and fireproof. Sign me up! That was the attitude from the 1930s to the 1960s during the height of its popularity. It was used on the insulation of pipes, ductwork, floor tiles, and acoustic ceiling tiles. Wait! There’s more! It can be found in paint, appliances, roof shingles, and siding…

Ok, Meg, we get it. Asbestos is lurking around every corner in older buildings. Why does it matter? The human health effects from long-term unsafe asbestos exposure are well documented. Asbestos fibers are easily inhaled and carried into the lower regions of the lung where they can cause fibrotic lung disease (asbestosis) and changes in the lining of the chest cavity (pleura).  These diseases can lead to reduced respiratory function and death.  Long-term inhalation of asbestos fibers also increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma. Enlargement of the heart can also occur as an indirect effect from the increased resistance of blood flow through the lungs. 

Ok, now that you are sufficiently rattled, what can be done about asbestos in your older home? According to Rose, if asbestos is suspected you can have the fibers tested by a remediation specialist and have it expertly removed. Though, she did mention that asbestos that is encased is considered “somewhat safe” in inspection circles.’s fixable, on to the next!


Lead is another “four-letter” word that we fear in real estate. Experts tell us that “there is no safe level of lead exposure.” This stuff is just not good for you, especially for developing children and pregnant mothers. The Centers for Disease Control say that even at low levels, lead has been “shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.”

There are several potential sources of lead in your home plumbing that can get into your drinking water:

  1. Service line connecting the water main to your house

  2. Solder in your plumbing

  3. Older brass faucets and valves

Can you tell if your pipes are lead in your home? The drinking water service line coming from the water main into your house is usually in the basement. Or if you don’t have a basement, it would be usually the lowest point in the house—usually in a corner—probably nearest to the road and low to the floor.

  1. The first trick—without even having to touch it or do anything—if you see that the service line is a dark matte gray color, with a large bulb toward the connection, that’s usually a good tip that that is a lead service line.

  2. Next, scrape the service line with a screwdriver, if it is lead, the metal would be soft and turn shiny.

  3. If your supply line turns a brownish, copper color, that means it is a copper supply line.

  4. Aside from lead or copper, you can also have a plastic or galvanized steel service line coming into your house. If it’s steel, a magnet would stick to it. If it’s lead or copper, a magnet would not stick to it.

To know what’s going on, it’s a good idea to have your water tested. You can call your drinking water utility or your county health department to find out how to test your water.

That is not the only risk of lead in an older home. Before 1978, lead was a common ingredient in a lot of paint products. According to Rose of US Inspect, one of the ways to visually identify lead paint in your home is called “alligatoring.” What this means is that the paint as it deteriorates from the surface is breaking up into smaller, square shapes, like that of alligator skin. This lead-based paint requires expert remediation to alleviate the risk. 

Lead pipes and paint are something that older homes tend to have and the best defense is a good offense. Doing your research on the property at the county level can help determine if this is a risk in your home. 


Finally, we come to mold. Rose put it simply, mold is everywhere. What she did tell us is that there are three things that mold needs to colonize and become a problem. 

  1. Mold Spore (readily available floating in the air all around us...Ewww)

  2. Something to eat (pretty much the entire house and the stuff in it will do)

  3. Moisture

Moisture is the biggy. Without it, mold has a hard time growing, colonizing, and devouring your house. Eliminating moisture from a potential leak or grading issue can stop it in its tracks. If you or your client suspects that there may be mold in a home it is recommended that you have it tested to be sure. 

Why is mold such a big deal? The health effects of mold exposure can range dramatically from allergy-type symptoms (sneezing, itchy water eyes, and cough) to neurological difficulties over long-time exposure. 

If mold is found in your home, Rose assured us and therefore I will assure you, it can be fixed. Never fear, bio growth remediation is here! Experts agree that mold under 10 square feet can be safely treated and removed by a homeowner, but anything much larger should be handled by a professional service. As always proper PPE when handling any material exposed to possible mold growth is strongly recommended. 

The moral of this post is that the three scariest words in real estate are things that with the proper mindset, testing, and treatment are reversible. I tend to think they are a tad less scary after being more educated, how about you? 

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Meg Gaulding

Meg Gaulding has been a resident of Frederick county since 2006. She is an alumna of Hood College and fell in love with the area. After a few years of working, she decided to go back to school and rec....

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