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Guidelines for Buying or Renting a Home

Home for SaleWhat should we look for when buying or renting a home? How can we choose a safe environment and avoid hazardous water damage that can lead to serious health issues?

The following 10 guidelines are based in part on the book The Homeowner's Guide to Mold by Michael Pugliese.

  1. Look for a low permeability rating (minimal chance of unwanted moisture entering the home). The building lot should have a high enough water table and be away from underground springs. The slope of the land is a key factor to avoid water running toward the house.
  2. Check crawl spaces to make sure there is no moisture. Crawl spaces tend to be damp and are therefore a challenge for mold avoidance.
  3. Does this home have a basement? Is it finished or unfinished? If it is unfinished, make sure the dirt is dry. Consider adding a vapor barrier before finishing. If it is finished, look for history of water damage. Carpeting is a potential problem.
  4. Check the drainage of the home. The roof should have overhangs to help carry drainage farther away from the structure. Check the flashing (a thin sheet used to prevent water intrusion). Improper flashing is a common cause of roof leaks. Ask about any history of roof leaks. Shingles at the eaves should project beyond the edge of the roof framing. Check gutters and downspouts to see that they are properly installed.

    After your move, consider adding inexpensive splash blocks to help carry water away from the home.
    Splash Block
  5. Be sure wood siding stops well above the ground to avoid stain and rot.
  6. Make sure windows are installed right side up so the weep holes drain properly.
  7. Avoid central humidification systems, if possible.
  8. Check to see that drip pans for cooling coils are draining properly.
  9. Check the locations of the closets. If a closet runs along an outside wall, the cold wall can meet the heated inside air and form condensation. Good quality construction will allow for proper insulation of these closets.
  10. If the home appears safe and has no history of water damage, consider testing the home:
    • An ERMI mold test can rule out the presence of toxic mold. This can be done by collecting a sample of dust and submitting it to a lab for analysis. It is important to rule out the presence of stachybotrys and other toxic molds. If you have experienced a prior mold exposure, look for a home with an ERMI value of 2 or less.
    • A thermal inspection of the home can reveal hidden moisture. To learn more about thermal imaging, visit the Thermal Moisture Imaging website.

For those with chemical sensitivities, it is best to avoid homes with air fresheners, recent pesticide treatments, and a history of smoking.

For more suggestions on choosing or creating a healthy home environment, see the informative Building Biology Institute website or the excellent resource Prescriptions for a Healthy House.

If health is an issue and you are renting a home or apartment, consider adding this Health Addendum to the lease agreement:

Management releases Resident from lease agreement if Resident's health is affected by environmental factors associated with chemical sensitivity and/or mold issues.

Following these guidelines can help you avoid health issues and financial loss. Be mindful of the current residents' health and be sure to listen to your gut instinct overall. Choosing your next living environment wisely has the potential to benefit you and your family's health for years to come.


"I'm new at this, but today I cleaned my bathroom with baking soda and vinegar. It's much better not having those strong chemical smells afterwards."

– Anonymous

"My daughter started having digestive problems... heart palpitations... coughing episodes... muscle/joint pain... asthma/allergies... Her doctor finally advised me to check for mold in our home."

– Anonymous

"I knew it was mold, but doctors kept telling me I had anxiety. I was sitting in my office and could not remember who I was talking to, or what we were talking about."

– Brenda

"We had some water leaks in our home... we never thought we needed to clean out and remove the floor, the ceiling, or the drywall... my two small children and I have remained constantly sick for years in this home."

– Mia

"I've been living in a mold-infested home for 13 months... I was going CRAZY! Finally figured it out... Just a few days of recovering in a mold-free home and I feel AMAZING!!!"

– Lauren

"We all suffered from headaches, hormonal body temperature fluctuations, brain fog, fatigue, difficulty breathing, thrush, rashes, and yeast infections... we vacated our home two weeks ago."

– Anonymous

"My symptoms persisted and eventually turned into lethargy and depression. At the age of 26, I required a nap every evening after work."

– Jennifer

"Both of my sons went downhill quickly and coughed for months... They both lost their ability to read, had profound vision disturbances, and had phenomenal gastric issues."

– Lee

"I was skeptical at first that these (natural cleaning) products would work, but they work better than the stuff I buy at the store! We will soon be moving to the personal care products as well!"

– Jennifer

"I had been struggling with headaches, head fog, breathing difficulties (unable to get a full breath), constant scalp tingling, migraines, nausea, feeling spacey/detached, and severe itchy skin."

– Anonymous

"Our family has been out of our home for 9 months due to mold... I am so scared and weak from all of this. We have lost friends; family members don't understand."

– Anonymous

" age 35 or 36 I started to become allergic to everything, and I got asthma at age 36... I went to doctor after doctor after doctor and was desperate for help, but nobody could help me."

– Mia

"We were having a lot of health problems and had been to the doctor countless times... we had large circles of slimy greenish-black mold on the bathroom ceiling, where it had caved in a few months before."

– C.

"The ERMI mold test as well as your helpful articles and Toxic Talk Tuesday programs have helped us avoid a terrible mistake in purchasing a new home."

– Angela

"I have been sick for almost 6 months now and doctors were not able to figure out why. I finally put it all together after going away for vacation for a week and suddenly my symptoms were going away."

– Anonymous

"I started finding myself sitting on the floor in rooms of my house and not remembering how I got there, what I was doing before, or how long I had been there."

– Brenda

"My daughter has had many blood samples taken to test for everything imaginable and her doctor just seems puzzled. Everything comes back normal."

– Anonymous

"The entire time we lived in our (mold-infested) house the kitchen sponge would get musty smelling within 3-4 days. It was so strange. I had to buy a pack of sponges nearly every week."

– Anonymous

"In my moldy home if I left the wet clothes in the washer they would get musty very quickly and I'd have to re-wash... Sometimes I'd run a load, go to work, and they'd be musty when I returned that evening."

– Anonymous

This site is dedicated to a true friend and mother — Barbara Dell Kessel (1929-2009)