Common environmental hazards to homes are an important topic for anyone looking to purchase. Some may be unfamiliar with specific potential problems if they are new to an area. For example, many new residents may not realize that hail damage is very common in Colorado. I recently addressed non-environmental issues, such as looking for signs of a grow house, in a post regarding common issues found among homes in our area. In that article, I included a brief mention of potential environmental problems, however, the importance of environmental hazards to homes are important enough to delve into a bit further since these are nearly always specific to the area in which one lives or is looking to purchase and can have a profound impact later on if one is not aware of these issues.
One of the biggest surprises to new residents of Colorado are the summer hail storms. According to cocorahs.org, Colorado is one of the most hail-prone states with the front range earning the nickname “hail alley”. What starts out as a perfect summer day turns into a few minutes of absolute destruction. Without warning, a heavy hail storm can wreck your car, your garden, and most costly: your roof and siding.
Hail is inevitable and some homeowners end up replacing their roof every few years. Lessen the hassle of a damaged roof by investing in top-quality roofing, such as:
- Coated steel
- Concrete tile
- Metal or certain synthetic shingles
Check with your insurance company to see what they recommend and if they offer discounts on your insurance with certain types of roofing materials. (Clay tile roofs and asphalt shingles are not recommended for hail-prone areas.) Also, make sure you have the proper underlayment – that can be just as important.
Before purchasing a home have the roof inspected for any damage. If it is an asphalt roof, look for shingles that are missing granules. This could be a sign of hail damage and without the protective coating, the underlying shingle will quickly deteriorate from sun damage. Clay tile roofs are beautiful and popular in our area even though they are prone to cracking during a hail storm. The good news is that it can be easy and inexpensive to replace cracked tiles. However, if there is extensive damage to tiles then you may have a more serious problem with your roof and potential leaks in the house.
Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas as a result of the breakdown of uranium-bearing granite in the soil. Every state has some radon emitting through the soil, however, Colorado has relatively high levels of radon and approximately 50% of homes in our state have radon levels higher than the EPA recommends. Radon has been linked to lung cancer but the good news is that it is easy to test for and inexpensive to remedy.
Radon comes up from the soil into the air. Gasses in soil naturally move to areas that are warmer and have lower air pressure, i.e. inside of your home. Typically it enters your home through:
- Spaces between basement walls and the slab
- Crack in the foundation
- Opening around drains
- Crawl spaces
- Well water
The highest concentration of radon will be in the lowest part of the home. Inexpensive short-term tests, such as this one through Colorado.gov (only $15), will give you an idea if further testing needs to be done. The best testing is long-term testing and takes 3 months to a year. This test will give an accurate indication of levels of radon during normal lived-in conditions.
If high levels of radon are found there is no reason to panic. Radon levels are normal for our area and it’s presence is no reason to move or not purchase a home. Solutions are easy and inexpensive. The expense to mitigate radon averages about $1200 for the system, lasts around 11 years, and involves a fan and venting system. For an excellent report provided by the State of Colorado regarding radon in the home, the remedies, and costs to reduce the levels of the gas, click here.
- Resource for radon information can be found here.
- Suggested Blog Post: Do you have radon in your home?
Most of us have not heard of expansive soil, yet it is one of the top reasons for foundation damage. Simply put, expansive soil contains uneven moisture content. In the Colorado Front Range, this swelling soil can absorb large amounts of water and expand nearly 10%, exerting an enormous amount of pressure on the foundation of a home. On the other extreme, during our driest months, the soil contracts. These great variances in water content in the soil wreak havoc on our foundations, sidewalks, driveways, and patios. Proper grading and drainage are critical. Most Colorado homes need to be built on a floating foundation to maintain consistent moisture. Uneven moisture content around the foundation is what causes cracks in the walls and is usually the reason for hard-to-close doors and windows. Also important are:
- Proper slope
- Sprinklers that are not too close to the house
- Trees that are at least 15 feet from the house
- Gutters and downspouts are properly installed.
Be aware that testing for expansive soil is not part of a normal home inspection and should be requested on your own if you are concerned.
Did you know that Colorado Springs has a landslide zone greater in size than Manhattan and covers 34 square miles? Landslide danger is undetectable by the naked eye, but geologists have been well aware of the risks for many years. Unfortunately, the city has continued to allow building on and around it not believing it would ever be an issue. Now that we have experienced severe weather in the last few years, the effects of living in a landslide zone are coming into play. Damage from land movement is uninsurable and current homeowners are hoping for federal grants to bail them out in certain areas. Some of the most beautiful and sought-after neighborhoods in the Springs are located in the landslide zone. While the likelihood of a landslide in some of these areas is slim, you must be aware as a buyer of the potential risks and understand that your homeowner’s insurance will not cover damage and loss due to land movement. If you are searching for a home in southwestern Colorado Springs, or closer to the mountains, consult with a knowledgeable realtor or local zoning maps to determine a home’s risk.
Who knew that when you live in the high-desert that you could also live in a flood plain? Colorado Springs residents realized this very real possibility in the summer of 2014 when we received torrential rains after a devasting wildfire. The rain over the burn scar ran off with incredible force and destroyed several homes. Actually, flash flooding is the most damaging environmental hazard in Colorado Springs. Flood damage is not included in a homeowner’s policy but can be obtained. All flood insurance is underwritten by FEMA. Some suggestions when preparing your home if you live in a flood-prone area are (courtesy of the city of Colorado Springs):
- Elevate and reinforce your residence if you live or plan to build in a flood prone area.
- Elevate the furnace, water heater, and electric panel if your residence or business is susceptible to flooding.
- Install backflow valves in piping to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your residence.
- Seal the walls in your basement with waterproofing compounds to avoid seepage.
How bad can it be? We don’t have hurricanes…..these past few weeks ( 01/2017) have taught us differently. We get quite some wind whenever the weather changes and lately our winds have been impressive. Especially, the last winds. Cheyenne Mountain clocked gusts up to 101 mph with sustained winds of a Hurricane Level 1 ! Needless to say, lots of trees fell over, roof shingles were blown off and lots of other damage was caused by this.
The mountains don’t have tornadoes but you’ll find them in east Colorado, so please watch out.
All of these environmental hazards are a great reminder to be prepared in the event of an emergency. This Spring I focused on the natural disasters prone to our area and how to prepare for them in my blog post, Emergency Preparedness. It would be a great article to follow up with.
Environmental hazards exist in every city and should not be a reason to fear the purchase of a home; however, being aware of potential issues makes you an informed and wise buyer. My goal is to keep potential clients educated and prepared whether they are buying, selling, or wanting to know the best way to maintain their home. I would love the opportunity to meet with you if you have more questions or concerns, or are looking to move to Colorado Springs. I am your Colorado Agent!