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Sometimes houses have a history.

The median age of owner-occupied homes in the U.S. is a surprising 37 years old. In that time, any number of toxins could build up in a home. On top of that, older homes sometimes were built with materials that contained toxins—for example, asbestos or lead-based paints.

How do buyers protect themselves from buying a house with toxic problems? Do sellers have a duty to disclose toxins in the home?

Keep reading to find out. 

Types of Toxins in the Home

There are several types of toxins that can be present in a home. Many of them won’t be readily visible to home buyers when they do a walk-through. Some hidden toxins won’t even be readily apparent to a home inspector when they do an inspection.

However, a good inspector will know what signs to watch for or recommend tests that should be performed to ensure a particular home is a safe place for people to live.

Here are some common toxins that you should be on the lookout for.

Lead-Based Paint

Breathing the dust from lead-based paint poses a hazard to human health. However, up until 1978, when it was outlawed, it was commonly used in residential homes. 

This hazard is so concerning that federal law requires sellers to disclose any knowledge of lead-based paint on the property. Information about lead-based paint must be given to any buyer looking at a home built before 1978. 


Asbestos is a carcinogen that often appears in insulation in homes built before about 1975. It also appears in a few other materials, such as vinyl or tile floors, up until 1981. Asbestos fibers are dangerous to breathe, and damaged insulation that may contain asbestos should be removed and disposed of by professionals. 

Because of the danger, you may wonder if it is legal to sell a house with asbestos. It is, but the appropriate paperwork must accompany the sale. 


How do people who don’t smoke get lung cancer? One of the ways is from breathing radon gas. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind cigarette smoke.

When naturally-occurring radioactive metals like uranium, radium, or thorium break down, they give off the radioactive radon gas. You can be exposed to radon anywhere, and if you have high levels of it in your home and are continually breathing it, your health could be at risk. 

Radon gas testing is the only way to find out the gas levels in a home you’re looking to buy. 

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a gas given off by burning fuels that can displace the oxygen in the body. This leads to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly if the person doesn’t get to fresh air quickly.

What makes carbon monoxide so dangerous is that it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. In other words, the first indications that you are breathing carbon monoxide is when you start to feel the effects of the poisoning.

Common sources of carbon monoxide in the home are:

  • Water heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Boilers
  • Wood stoves
  • Fireplaces
  • Grills
  • Power tools

Cars are a significant source of carbon monoxide. If you have an attached garage, avoid running vehicles in it to prevent carbon monoxide building up in the home.

The best way to protect from carbon monoxide poisoning is to install carbon monoxide detectors in the home.


Mold is a huge problem in many areas of the country, but particularly in the most humid sections.

Any time a home is damp, whether it be from a leak or an ongoing moisture problem, mold can grow. Breathing molds spores leads to allergy-like symptoms for some people. It can also contribute to young children developing asthma.

Toxic black mold can be particularly problematic for people with allergies.

Do Sellers Have a Duty to Disclose?

Now that we’ve gone over some of the hazards that may be present in a potential home, do sellers have a duty to disclose them?

It depends.

All states require sellers to disclose certain defects or toxins in the home. However, the rules vary from state to state. You should be familiar with the regulations in your state, so you know which questions to ask. Some states don’t require sellers to disclose information voluntarily but must answer truthfully when asked. 

For example, some states require sellers to disclose whether somebody has died on the property due to a violent crime. Others don’t have this requirement, but if the buyer asks explicitly, the seller must respond truthfully. It’s also a good idea for sellers to volunteer information even if they aren’t legally required. Buyers may find out through some other means and start to wonder if the seller is hiding anything else.

Many states have requirements to disclose most of the hazards we’ve already mentioned. Sellers may also have to disclose if the property was ever used as a methamphetamine lab, has ever had water damage, or there is an active pest infestation. Some states also require sellers to list any repairs they’ve made to the property. 

Changes made without permits, drainage problems, easements, and boundary disputes are a few other common things that must be disclosed. 

Finding Out Your Potential New Home’s History

No home will be 100% perfect. Even newer homes can have problems that can have a significant effect on your health or your pocketbook.

As a buyer, you need to be aware of whatever problems you may be taking on. Sellers have a duty to disclose toxins in the home, but sometimes there may be problems they don’t know about.

Ordering a professional home inspection before signing on the dotted line is the best way to protect yourself as a buyer. A home inspector will not only be looking for things that need to be repaired, but also any hazards that are present in the home.

Don’t ever spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new home without knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Contact us to schedule a home inspection for your potential purchase today!