The arena of environmental hazards is fraught with technical interpretations, which change in response to emerging technologies. This overview is intended as just that, an overview, limited to some of the sexier hazards - with links to online resources.
Sellers are required to provide buyers a consumer booklet entitled Environmental Hazards: A Guide for Homeowners, Buyers, Landlords, Tenants. It's generic, but it's very good. In addition to hazards noted below, the booklet includes others, such as Asbestos, Formaldehyde, Hazardous Wastes. With the discussion of each hazard are included Hotlines and resource Publications.
In addition, effective June 1, 1998, California Civil Code 1102.6 provides that sellers and sellers' licensees provide buyers in certain transactions with a form called the Natural Hazard Disclosure [NHD] Statement, disclosing whether homes are located in one or more of six so-called NATURAL HAZARD ZONES. See our list of the covered hazards. While the noted hazards are not yet parcel specific, they are neighborhood specific.
Obviously, the purchase of a home may warrant going beyond such disclosure reports and retaining on-site contractors and engineers. See our checklist of possible home inspectors.
EARTHQUAKES AND LIQUEFACTION
The USGS provides an excellent summary of earthquakes in faq format. Liquefaction is addressed in the section entitled "Earthquake Effects and Experiences".
The Association of Bay Area Governments [ABAG] also provides an interesting overview of earthquake
reports and studies, including other hazards, mitigation techniques, and shaking intensity maps, by city and by fault.
The Homeowner's Guide to earthquake safety pamphlet is a required seller disclosure.
Earthquake insurance coverage is totally distinct from standard homeowner insurance. Consult the California Earthquake Authority site for member insurance companies, rates, premiums.
Whether you should have earthquake protection is something you should discuss with your insurance agent and with your CPA. For example: if your home is worth $800,000 with $300,000 representing land value, and if your equity is $160,000 and if the deductible is 10%, is it worth paying the premium?
No one answer fits all.
UNDERGROUND FUEL TANKS
Companies that provide Natural Hazards Disclosures, such as JCP Geologists, provide a supplemental report dealing with environmental hazards such as underground storage tanks [UST], leaking underground storage tanks [LUST], and the like. This is a sample report.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes A Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction.
Years ago we saw a newer home that was impeccably maintained. But it had been on the market quite a while and was apparently under priced. The answer was hidden from view in a clump of trees behind the rear yard: power poles with large transformers - the dreaded EMF! The local power company had provided the seller with an analysis comparing the emissions from the transformers,
in milligauss (I call them zaps), to emissions from household appliances such as televisions and microwaves.
Of course, at some point the microwave oven shuts off. However, are EMF emissions worse than the ultra violet rays of the sun? Read Carl Sagan's wonderful The Demon-Haunted World.
Online resources include:
*The National Institute of Environmental health Sciences
*The California EMF Program
*Power Lines and Cancer
To protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil, Congress passed the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, also known as Title X. Section 1018 of this law directed HUD and EPA to require the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of most housing built before 1978.
Online sources include the HUD Lead-based paint Disclosure Rule, and, the Protect Your Family From Lead pamphlet, a required seller disclosure.
Perhaps the most intriguing of these hazards.
At one end of the spectrum is Dr. Dean Edell, challenging us to use reason, to not fear molds, as they occur naturally in nature, both inside and outside of homes. The AMA has on online overview of mold allergy.
At the other end of the spectrum is the proliferation of Toxic Mold litigation.
Since so-called toxic mold is waiting for us "behind the walls", it is a real challenge to discover the existence of such mold without dismantling the home. Protocols are being developed.
The issue of flood zones touches upon two concerns: defined zones, and, flood insurance.
The prime resource for flood zone and insurance issues is the FEMA site.
Property in a Special Flood Hazard Area "A" or "V" is subject to flooding in a "100-year rainstorm." Federally connected lenders are required to have homeowners maintain flood insurance in these zones. A 100-year flood occurs on average once every 100 years, but may not occur in 1,000 years or may occur in successive years. In some cases flood insurance way be waived or modified by FEMA.
Zones A, AO, AE, AH, A1-A30: Area of "100-year" flooding - a 1% or greater chance of annual flooding.
Zones V, V1-V30: Area of "100-year" flooding in coastal (shore front) areas subject to wave action.
Zone B: Area of moderate flood risk, between the "100" and "500" year flood-risk levels.
Zone X: Area of moderate to minimal flood risk.
Zones C, D: Not in an area of "100-year" flooding. Zone C is an area of minimal flood hazard, and Zone D is an area of undetermined flood hazard.
Flood insurance for properties in Zones B, C, X or D is available but not required. Of course, a lender may require it as a matter of policy.