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Navigating the Home Buying Process with Asthma

I have fairly severe allergies (cats, dogs, mold, dust…) and controlled asthma, which is usually only a problem when triggered by my allergies. I am looking to buy my first home. The neighborhood I am looking to buy a house in has mostly old (1930's) homes and while touring one home, I had an allergic reaction like I usually do in old, moldy basements. My questions are the following:

1. When looking for a home, should I only consider homes that do not cause an allergic reaction on the 20 minute tour (so far, most do) or is it possible to figure out what is in the home that I'm allergic to, and have it removed? How would I know if it could be totally removed or not?

2. Are older homes more likely than newer homes to have mold/allergen issues? If so, is it possible to clean an older basement thoroughly enough of mold to live in comfortably? Or will it be a constant battle with my allergies and I would be better off looking at only newer homes?

Any other advice on looking for houses with asthma?

Thanks!

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  • Jen

    Hi Anna,

    Welcome to AAFA's asthma forum.  Great questions!  

    For the dust and pet dander, one thing that would be helpful is to find a home without carpet.  Or…if it has carpet, the price would have to be such that you could afford to replace the carpet with hard flooring prior to moving in.

    I am going to dig through our resources to see if I can find some info on mold for you and anything else that may be helpful.

  • Jen

    Toward the bottom of our , there are some good suggestions for avoiding mold exposure.  While most of those relate to a home you are currently living in, I think some of them could be applicable to a home you are looking to purchase.

    Also, we have a list of .  You can see if some of these items are in the homes you are looking at.  Also…some of them could help to alleviate some of the potential allergy issues in a home.

    Since you're looking in a neighborhood with mostly older houses, it may be helpful to look at those which have done renovations somewhat recently.  Are there any newer houses in this neighborhood?

  • K8sMom2002

    These are great questions, and good luck and on your first home!

    On your first question, can mold and other allergens be removed — the answer, I think, is a qualified yes. 

     has AAFA’s asthma & allergy friendly® Certification and claims to remove as much as 76% of mold and mildew from grout and tile in bathrooms, 96% of household allergens from hardwood, and 94% of household allergens from carpet. I would check with that company to see what their recommendation was on basements.

    Also, there are tests that you can use to check for mold, but I can't say what scientific evidence backs them up. I know that  is rigorous and evidence-based.

    So you can clean and remove allergens. The BIG question is, will that bring it down to a level that you can live with? And can you find and eliminate the source of your allergens — especially mold? Is there a leak in the basement? Is there seepage from ground water into the basement? 

    Old houses vs new houses … each has its pros and cons.

    Old houses are not as air-tight as new houses, so while they're more prone to dust and may need insulation upgrades, they also don't capture and hold allergens like new houses. So if the previous owners had indoor pets, and it's a new house, then there could be a LOT of pet dander.

    New houses may be built with more allergy-friendly materials (for instance, has just announced they have an allergy-friendly insulation), and they ARE newer, so they don't have the years of accumulated dust in the crevices that older houses do. 

    Rather than get tied up in old house vs. new, I'd look at potential homes from another perspective and ask the following questions:

    • Is the price low enough that you can afford a thorough cleaning from someone like Stanley Steemer before you move in? 
    • Is the price low enough that you can add whole house air filtration if you need to?
    • Does the house have carpet in it that will need to be removed?
    • Has there ever been a history of leaks? (You may be able to ask the previous home owners for any insurance claims that have been filed, since water damage is often something that people file insurance claims on. And if there are only one or two plumbers in the area that serve that neighborhood, you could call them and see how many calls they've made to that house.)
    • Does the basement have a nice new coat of paint on it? Nice new ceiling? Could be nothing or it could be someone hiding previous water damage. I'd think it might be easier to judge a basement that was old and dusty so that you could see if there were any signs of water damage.
    • What's the flood stage for the house? Are there any wetlands restrictions on being able to change the way water flows? I knew a guy who bought a house in a dry summer, only to find out that during the wet winter rains, a creek developed in his front yard — and wetland restrictions prevented him from doing anything about it.

    Okay, I've completely taken the fun out of home shopping … but I believe that you'll be able to find the perfect house for you that will work with your allergies and asthma. After all, unless you built the house you're staying in currently from the ground up, you tolerate THAT house, right?

  • Allison

    Welcome Anna! 

    As the owner of a nearly 100 year old home, I will tell you that whatever you consider, make sure you get a very good home inspector!

    If they do find mold, I would run – I have heard that is expensive to deal with….

  • Kathy P

    I live in CA – we don't have basements, so can't help you there. But when we bought our house, it had carpets and the previous owners had a cat! OMG, within the first week, I was miserable and could not breathe! We couldn't afford to have the carpet ripped out at that point (we have since), but it was steam cleaned. That did not help w/ the cat issue. I bought a spray product that would neutralize the allergens and hit the room I'd set up as my office (the main room the cat had been in) and our bedroom with the stuff. It helped a LOT! I got rid of anything fabric (they left some of the curtains) and washed down walls, molding, etc. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Kathy P, what was the spray product that you used? And how long after all your work did it take for things to turn around?

  • Kathy P

    I don't remember the brand – it was 20 years ago! The main ingredient to look for is tannic acid. I think I did 2 or 3 applications on the carpet over a week or 2 and after that, I was fine being in the room. I'd recommend using a mask or having someone who is not allergic do it.

  • Anna P
    K8sMom2002 posted:

    Anna, were any of our suggestions helpful for you?

    Yes! Thank you all! I'm more hopeful than when I started.

  • Serene

    For me asthma triggers are new carpet, mold, dust, smoke and paint! It is a hard because a place can't be too new- or too old. 

    I want a place with no carpets if I am actually buying a second time.  All wood. I probably will have it painted with low voc paint and the flooring replaced before I move in. I will have to let it gas off for at least a few months before moving in.

    Another consideration to me is chimney smoke. Smoke is a trigger so I don't want to live near neighbors who have a chimney with smoke that could invade my home or who have a communal wall where smoke odors and second hand smoke permeates.  Many new homes are really close together, and if a chimney is involved or second hand smoke might permeate from pot, tobacco, incense whatever, I avoid.

    Any home I buy will have to have enough space around it so the neighbor's habits won't impact me too much.

  • K8sMom2002

    Serene, good point about the smoke … that is an issue for lots of folks. Another issue for me would be how close it is to a main highway. Car exhaust tears me up. 

    The buffer zone is ALWAYS a good idea!

  • Serene

    yeah, freeway is another one, even a high traffic street. Farm fields where pesticide may be dumped, dust from fields being plowed,  groves of trees or fields with plants you are allergic too.

    pesticide is a big one in my area. We live in farming country, and it is regularly dropped nearby on fields.

    They've only recently instituted a law it can't be dropped near schools, but the rest of us are fair game. Even if you aren't right near a field, the wind willl blow it around.

  • K8sMom2002

    Serene, good point — I remember when I was little, my grandparents lived across the road from a tobacco field. Ugh … the oppressive smell of tobacco plus the pesticides … not fun.

  • K8sMom2002

    @Anna P, have you found a house? Are you under a time limit as far as how quickly you have to find a new home?

    Serene, what sort of crops are grown around your home? Cotton is big around here, and it has a reputation for having lots of pesticides. 

  • Anna P

    Good news! We found a house! We close at the end of the month. Our realtor has been great and took us on a "basement tour" prior to finding this house so that I could get a feel for what basements were like in the area where we were looking so we could have a better idea of what we were looking for. After we made an offer we had a mold inspection to make sure the basement was ok and everything checked out great. (If you are in the Midwest we highly recommend Moldman. They were thorough but very honest and realistic about what tests were needed, what an acceptable level of mold is and how to get rid of the tiny amount we did find. And we got results back quickly!) 

    Our next big undertaking is cleaning all the pet dander out of the house. The current owners have three cats and two dogs, all of which I am very allergic to :/ 

    Now for update #2. I found out a few weeks ago that I am pregnant! Yay!!  We are so excited but also very anxious about getting the house allergy-free. Obviously the stakes are much, much higher now.

    That said, does anyone have any tips for getting dog and cat dander out of the house (all while using cleaning products that are safe to use during pregnancy)?

    The current plan is:

    1. Replace the HVAC filter with a HEPA filter.

    2. Install dehumidifier with filter.

    3. Rip out existing carpet (there's only a bit in the basement, the rest of the house is hardwood) Remove existing curtains.

    4. Vacuum and mop and/or steam floors

    5. Vacuum all closets and crevices

    6. Wipe down walls and baseboards

    I should mention that this will all be done by family and friends and I'm banning myself from the house for the first week or so. Any other tips?

  • K8sMom2002

    Oh, wow! I'm so excited for you — and with a baby on the way, it's great that you will have a new home to settle into. 

    It sounds like you have all the basics covered. I did notice on your list that steam cleaning was optional … but I'm thinking that if it were me, I'd definitely use a steam cleaner. You can also buy/rent steam cleaners that can help clean the walls and baseboards.

    Are you going to be doing any re-painting? 

  • Pljohns

    WWAHHOOOO-So excited for you on two fronts!  Sounds like you have it covered and props to you for having family/friends do it while you stay away!

  • Shea

    Congratulations on the pregnancu and the new home!

    Yikes about the cats and dogs!.. I am highly allergic too. I have read it takes 6 months for the dander to clear out after the pet is removed and house cleaned. But, I think it is good you are ripping out carpet and replacing all upholstered items first… then purifying the air with the HVAC, and then once things are cleaned and purifued moving your belongings in… I would think that would speed the process up aLOT. What is your transiaLOT time period between having to move out of your current residence to moving into the new one? 

  • Kathy P

    Congrats on the house and the pregnancy! I found out I was pregnant right when we put an offer on the house we are in how! I had similar issues with there being a cat in the house.

    Your list list great! One think you might add is having the vents cleaned. I'm not sure if that is reasonable as DIY but I know around here, it's a fairly inexpensive service. I will say that I've never had it done though, so I'm not sure how effective it is, but there is potentially a lot of sticky dander in there that could blow around the whole house when you turn on the system.

  • Anna P

    Thanks everyone! @K8sMom2002, we are planning on painting the entire house eventually, and at least a few essential rooms before we move in. In your experience is steam cleaning better at removing dander allergens than normal mopping?@Shea, we have a week to work on the house before we move all our stuff in. Luckily, we told our landlord we wouldn't be out of our apartment for a month after moving day so we have a back up plan for a few weeks in case I can't breathe! @Kathy P, good to know someone else has been in the same boat! I wondered if having the vents cleaned would be worth the money. I asked around to see if I could find a ballpark figure of how much it would cost and the only person we found that had looked into it had a house not much bigger than ours had gotten a quote for about $800, so that's not really feasible for us at this point. Fortunately, it's our understanding that the previous owners were extremely conservative with using the central heat and air, so we might be ok.

    One other thing I was going to ask about is an air purifier. I've seen them mentioned a few times online. Are they worth the investment? How well do they work with pulling pet dander out of the air?

  • K8sMom2002

    You sound like you have a great plan in place! 

    I'm not sure if steam cleaning is better at removing pet dander, but I know in my own personal experience that a steam mop cleans floors (even stuck on residue and pet accidents) without chemicals. That's why I like steam cleaning — gets it clean without odors or perfumes or fumes! My dad knew mechanics who would steam clean car engine blocks in order to get rid of oil and grease, and I knew painters who would insist on steam cleaning kitchens before they began painting. They said that it made the paint stick better because it cleaned the wood surfaces.

    Plus, includes steam-cleaning carpet. If it works on carpet, I imagine it would work well on walls, too.

    You asked about air cleaners, and you said you were re-painting, both good strategies, IMHO. The asthma & allergy friendly™ Certification Program, administered by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) in partnership with the international research organization, Allergy Standards Limited (ASL), is an independent program created to scientifically test and identify consumer products that are more suitable for people with asthma and allergies. You can find certified products and services including paint and air cleaners at . 

    I'm so excited for you guys! A new home is the beginning of a new chapter!

  • Jen

    @Anna P Glad to hear you have that cushion of time between moving day and "must be out of the apartment" day.    

    AAFA has a resource on  that you may find helpful.  I also think it would be great for you to start a new thread on the forums about asthma during pregnancy.

  • Jen

    If you have allergies and you're interested in participating in allergy research, be sure to check out .

  • K8sMom2002

    @Anna P, how goes the house moving preparations? Have you guys got through all the stacks and stacks of papers that you have to sign during closing? I felt like I was signing my life away!

  • Jen

    Anna – How is all of the moving and new house prep going?  Have you been able to manage your asthma ok?