A career in home inspection opens the door for many opportunities. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), 77 percent of all homes sold in the United States and Canada are inspected before they are purchased. Home inspectors have been an important part of real estate since the mid-1970s, but demand for them was growing for several years before that.
As a home inspector, you can be employed or start a home inspection company yourself. It is the kind of job in which you do not sit at a desk in the office all day. You do have to be organized, interested in construction, and able to take initiative. The ASHI provides many resources on home inspection and even the opportunity to attend its own ASHI School of Home Inspection.
In a typical day, a home inspector is on the move inspecting homes, writing reports and speaking with clients and prospective clients, as well as marketing his or her services to real estate agents or directly to consumers. Once a contract is signed, the inspection can begin, which involves examination of the roof and exterior, basement, living spaces and attic. Inspectors will explain findings and recommendations as they go along. Based on the field notes taken during the process, the inspector writes a report, which is usually delivered within 24 hours.
Banned in 1977, asbestos was once a common material for home construction. It was used in paint and patching compounds for wall and ceiling joints. It may be found in old stove-top pads, walls and floors around wood burning stoves, certain floor tiles and especially hot water and steam pipes in old houses. Asbestos insulation is also found in insulation of oil and coal furnaces. Also, asbestos insulation was commonplace in houses built between 1930 and 1950.
While certain jobs, such as firefighter, police officer, or professional football player, come with clear and well-known dangers, we all acknowledge that many jobs present a chance for work-related injuries. Even so, people in America today expect worker safety to be an important concern of employers, overseen by government regulations. In terms of asbestos exposure, however, these expectations were not always met, and even in recent history employees were subjected to conditions that placed their lives at risk.
The Types of Asbestos and Their Effects on Human Health
There are two major kinds of asbestos. Chrysotile, or "white" asbestos, is the only member of the serpentine group and was the kind most commonly used. Usually not associated with asbestos cancer or mesothelioma, this type is a relatively pliable form of the mineral. Irritation to the interior surfaces of the lungs can happen when chrysotile fibers are inhaled, however. This then causes a build-up of scar tissue that can then be a major factor in the development of asbestosis.
Amphibole asbestos is the second classification and is considered deadlier. An unusual, and often lethal, asbestos-related disease called mesothelioma is linked to exposure to asbestos, especially the amphibole varieties. The pleural form of mesothelioma, which affects the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. Exposure to amphibole asbestos is also a causal factor in the development of pericardial or peritoneal mesotheliomas, diseases that affect the lining around the heart and stomach, respectively.
Why Asbestos Was Used
Ironically, asbestos was used in building construction and in many products due to its ability to save lives. In terms of withstanding flames and heat, few things can match asbestos, particularly the serpentine form. In addition, amphibole asbestos possessed other useful qualities. Amosite, sometimes called "brown" asbestos, for instance, is high in iron content, making it resistant to caustic chemicals. "Blue" asbestos, or crocidolite, is a particularly good insulator against electric current and was frequently used whenever high voltage was a concern. ACMs (asbestos-containing materials) that safeguarded people against combustion, extreme temperatures, electrical contact and chemical burns could be made by combining multiple types of fibers.
For the most part, new items made with asbestos or ACMs were considered innocuous if the asbestos particles were trapped in something solid. As these ACMs aged, however, they were prone to becoming friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. Friable asbestos is hazardous because in this state the particles can be readily released in the environment; once they enter the body through inhalation or ingestion, they can cause numerous health problems. Unless effective decontamination protocols, like the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were followed, it was quite possible for workers to bring home asbestos on themselves or their clothing.
The Lurking Danger of Asbestos
Asbestos-related diseases, as opposed to typical workplace injuries, which are readily observed and known about immediately following the incident, may take many, many years to develop. When a former employee begins showing signs such as a chronic cough, difficulty breathing and chest pain, his or her doctor may not at first identify asbestos as a cause, leading to delays in diagnosis. Especially with mesothelioma, the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the odds of survival or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Therefore, if you were employed as home inspector, or spent significant time around someone who was; it is important to tell your physician about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma survival rate usually has been grim, yet early diagnosis and treatments like mesothelioma radiation can improve the prognosis for this disease.
American Society of Home Inspectors - Become a Home Inspector
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Consumer Product Safety Commission - Asbestos in the Home