This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Health & Happiness UP Magazine.

As the days get longer and the deep freeze begins to lift (we hope, at least!), it’s time to welcome the inevitable signs of spring in the UP: shrinking snowbanks, sandy floors, and a new crop of “For Sale” signs springing up in front of homes all over the region.

While home health and safety isn’t always top of mind during the “Big Home Search,” it should be! Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran homebuyer, the home you choose will affect the health and wellbeing of your family for years to come. Here are five top home safety issues to be aware of if you’re in the market for a new home in the U.P.

1. Moisture Intrusion and Mold

Bacteria in water
Mold of any color can be damaging to health.

Mold growing in the home can contribute to a slew of health conditions, including asthma, allergies, lung infections, flu-like symptoms, and skin rash. While “black mold” is popularly known as toxic, mold of any color can be damaging to health.

Mold needs moisture to grow, so keep a sharp eye out for any signs of water intrusion in the building. Keep in mind that moisture can cause home health issues quite a distance from the source of a leak. I recently inspected a home in which water had seeped from behind the siding all the way around a window and was dripping unnoticed into the basement. While the entire area was soaked, it was completely invisible from the home’s living area. If you are unsure whether there is mold growing in the home, conducting a simple mold test before you buy can quickly reveal mold issues that may not be visible.

2. Furnace Maintenance

Speaking of indoor air quality, another often-overlooked issue is furnace maintenance. If a forced-air furnace hasn’t been maintained and the filters haven’t been cleaned, it can blow dirty air – including mold spores, pet dander, bacteria, viruses, and particulates – all over your new home.

If you are serious about purchasing a home with forced air heat, be sure to ask to see the furnace maintenance history. It’s also not a bad idea to have the furnace serviced once you move in. Keeping your furnace on a regular maintenance schedule will ensure good home health for years to come.

3. Electrical Safety

The beauty and character of the antique homes in the Upper Peninsula are a cornerstone of our shared identity, tying us to our regional heritage. But the potential dangers of overloaded breakers, outdated electrical panels, and aging wires cannot be overlooked. Red flags to look for include the absence of GFCI outlets, 2 prong outlets, cloth wiring, knob and tube wiring, glass fuse breaker boxes, and many more.

A drop of water falling onto the surface of water.
Always ask: “When has the water last been tested for contaminants?”

4. Water Quality

Most municipalities regularly test their water supplies for human health and safety. However, water quality issues can originate from the lateral line and/or from within the plumbing system itself (for instance, from dirty water filters).

Potential home water quality issues include coliform bacteria, E. coli, nitrates, arsenic, lead, chloride, copper, fluoride, hardness, Ph, iron, sodium, and sulfates. If you’re concerned about the quality of the water you drink and bathe in—especially if it is a rural property with a well—ask if the water has been tested.

5. Radon

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that’s naturally present in the ground in many areas. It can enter your home through the foundation or through well water, and can concentrate in the air and/or drinking water once there. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

Nationwide, nearly one in 15 homes is estimated to have high radon levels, according to the CDC. In certain central and western U.P. counties, the percentage is much higher (25% or more.) It’s a good idea to have a home tested for radon even if neighboring homes are known not to have it, because it doesn’t always show up consistently from home to home in a neighborhood.

Keys to Home Health and Safety: Due Diligence and Proper Maintenance

While it may feel scary to read about these issues, don’t let them deter you from buying the home of your dreams. They don’t all have to be deal breakers. Knowing about them in advance may help you negotiate a better deal, as well as keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe!