Over the centuries, homebuilders have used a variety of materials that were later discovered to be unsafe. These poisonous elements can not only represent a health hazard for homeowners, but they are also bound to come up during a home inspection. In addition to halting the sale of a house, these materials can make home renovation projects difficult or dangerous. Here is a guide to some of the most common materials found in older homes and basic guidelines on how to cope with the issues they introduce:


Many people have heard about asbestos, but it is less common to know what this substance is and the danger it presents to people in a home. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, but its natural origins don't make it safe for humans. In nature, asbestos is a mineral fiber. These small fibers can easily be inhaled, and prolonged exposure to asbestos can lead to a litany of health issues. The Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered that asbestos exposure is linked lung cancer, though the affected individuals had worked with asbestos over a long period of time. 

A wide range of building materials used asbestos because of it's incredible heat resistance, which made it useful as a fire retardant and insulation material. Through the 1970s, insulation and a variety of other building supplies used asbestos, so older homes are likely to contain some asbestos in the walls or surrounding pipes and ductwork. 

Because asbestos can only harm humans if it is inhaled, you can avoid exposure by leaving any areas that you suspect might contain asbestos undisturbed. Generally, the asbestos fibers will not become airborne unless the material they are contained in is cut or broken apart. To avoid accidentally exposing yourself to asbestos particles, take particular care before working on an attic or basement in an older home. It can be difficult to identify asbestos-containing materials, so contact a professional to evaluate any potential risks. 


Lead is a very useful metal, but it is also known to be dangerous if consumed. Eating lead can have severe side effects, including brain damage in adults and stunted physical and mental development in children. Despite these effects, home construction used lead through the 1970s. While it may seem simple to avoid eating lead, it is often present in areas that require special care be taken to limit exposure.

Lead-based paint is a well known source of poisoning in children.  Home interiors and exteriors used lead-based paint for much of the last century and becomes dangerous when it chips into easily ingested chunks. This is a particular danger for children, who are not only more susceptible to the effects of lead poisoning, but also much more likely to accidentally eat paint chips that have fallen to the ground. 

Just like asbestos, lead-based paint becomes more dangerous when it has been broken apart. For this reason, amateur attempts to remove paint that contains lead can actually increase the risk to people in the home. These efforts can break the paint up into smaller pieces that are easy to accidentally ingest. 

Lead is also present in the plumbing of many homes and apartment buildings.Pipes are often joined together with lead-based solder, and that material can leach into drinking water if homeowners are not careful. While complete replacement of a home's plumbing system is ideal, you can limit your exposure to poisonous metal by using cold water from the tap and allowing your faucets to run for some time before you consume any water. Complete lead removal will require the help of a professional. If you are at all concerned about the possibility of lead in your home, get your water tested.