A Guide For House-Hunting With Allergies or Asthma

Photo: Getty

Apartment Search? Then think about these allergy triggers. Learn what to look for, what can be fixed – and when to shorten your shortlist.

When Jennifer Moss was looking for a new home, she followed her nose. Like many others who wanted to move, the creative writing teacher and podcast producer wanted all the usual advantages for herself and her family – a place with character and charm, enough space for her growing children, a nice garden and a good neighborhood. But because of an allergy, Moss had another must-have: a home that was essentially mold-free.

“I would go into a house and the real estate agent would talk about the features – how many bathrooms, what type of floors – and if there was mold in the basement I would know in about 30 seconds. I would just say, “No, I couldn’t live here,” says Moss, a Vancouver resident.

“At some point, I thought I might be renting myself out to potential home buyers as a kind of bloodhound for powdery mildew,” she adds, laughing.

Michaela Smith knows this feeling only too well. The 29-year-old moved from Colorado Springs to Denver and needed to find a room in a shared home that was clean, pet-free, smoke-free, and where her roommates would not use perfumes, chemical cleaners, and other products that would trigger her symptoms.

“I thought it would be really easy to find a place, but I’ve probably contacted more than a hundred places,” she recalls. Many of the houses sounded promising, but when she got there she smelled irritants like incense or marijuana and had to leave. One point seemed to fit perfectly, but shortly after stepping through the door she began to react.

“I had really, really itchy eyes. The woman said, “What do you think?” And I said, “I just need a minute to see what’s going on,” says Smith, who kept finding that he had to explain their allergies to potential roommates. “To be in this situation is just very uncomfortable and on many levels.”

On the hunt

Hand points to the shape in the corner of the window.Photo: Getty Watch out for mold problems,
even musty smells.

Because of the many possible triggers, finding a home can be especially difficult for people with allergies and asthma, says Dr. Jay Portnoy, child allergy sufferer at Children’s Mercy Kansas City and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

When people decide to buy a new house or apartment, they can be significantly degassed by volatile organic compounds in new carpets, cabinets, paint, adhesives, insulation, and other building materials – and these VOCs are notorious respiratory irritants. Resale homes are associated with a number of potential allergenic hazards, including mold, dust mites, rodent droppings, cigarette smoke, and VOCs from renovation work.

One of the most problematic and stubborn are pets: if the previous owner or renter had had a cat or dog, they might have left a hefty dose of dander behind. “Cat allergens in particular can persist for a long time. It doesn’t break down spontaneously very quickly, ”explains Portnoy. “It can take up to six months for half of its effectiveness to decrease.”

The nose knows

The real estate open houses are full of distractions, from chatty realtors to fancy new facilities. Portnoy therefore recommends creating a checklist of possible triggers before the visits and then going through them carefully on site.

Pay close attention to signs of structural problems or water ingress, such as stains on ceilings or walls, bulging drywall, leaking faucets, or musty smells, as moisture issues can encourage mold growth, insect and rodent infestations, and other allergy-causing problems.

“If you see any signs of leakage, you need to ask about it. When did that happen? What was done to fix it? Has the leak been fixed? “says Portnoy, who strongly recommends hiring a house inspector, ideally one who is trained to spot mold. House hunters like Moss and Smith are also wise to use their own senses.

“You should use your nose. If you walk into a house and it smells like mold, there is a mold problem somewhere and I would think twice about buying it, ”he says. “In the summer, many basements smell mildly of mold, usually from condensation, and a dehumidifier often takes care of that so that a house doesn’t necessarily get disqualified. But if you’re upstairs in the living room and it smells like mold, that’s a sign that something is wrong. “

Pets and pests

Man cleaning air ducts in the house.Photo: Getty Sewer cleaning can reduce allergens in pets.

Household pet hair isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for people with pet allergies, Portnoy says, but the new owner or tenant should be ready to do a major cleanup, which includes washing walls, carefully vacuuming or ideally removing carpets and changing them Furnace includes and air conditioning filters and professional cleaning of the air ducts. (Houses with radiant heat get bonus points because they don’t have allergens with air bubbles.)

“Even after these aggressive movements, a house where cats live will not be cat-free for a few months after the cat has left. However, these measures can speed up the rate at which the cat allergen is removed. “Explains Portnoy. While dog dander can be equally problematic for some, he says it’s not as stubborn as cat allergens. “And since animal allergens stay in the air for a long time, it may be necessary to use an air filter unit.”

Also, watch out for signs of rodent or insect infestation when checking out locations, advises Portnoy. Not only do they make uncomfortable roommates, their droppings are also a strong allergen. Check the corners along the window sills and under the sinks for any signs of rodent droppings or cockroach damage, which looks like fine dirt, and keep an eye out for mouse or insect traps – a tell-tale sign that there might still be a problem.

“You might want to ask if there has been an infestation in the past and you could have your own exterminator check it out,” he says. “If you see a lot of insecticides under the sink or materials that kill rats, there’s a reason they’re there. Ask, “Why are there mousetraps? Did they serve their purpose? ‘”

A new dilemma

New homes and condos can be tempting as buyers can avoid issues like dander and mold that previous residents leave behind. However, if you notice a “new home smell,” it’s likely the chemicals that are degassing paint, adhesives, carpets, and cabinets.

Ask the agent or property manager for a list of the materials used and determine if they are VOC-free or low-VOC materials. If not, think twice before signing on the dotted line, especially if you or a family member has chemical-induced asthma. However, if you’re taking the plunge, Portnoy recommends using the home’s air system, as well as kitchen and bathroom fans, to keep fresh air out and VOCs out.

Watch out for the quick fix

Photo: Getty Remove old carpets to give up dust mites and too
Dander the Heave-Ho.

Dr. Kanao Otsu, assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver, agrees that structural problems and large moisture issues are the leading causes of home allergic hunters – unless they’re ready to face a major problem put Reno. (However, if it’s just a musty old rug, this is a relatively easy fix.)

Switching from one view to the next can be dangerous in itself, she notes. Therefore, taking an antihistamine beforehand can be a good idea to keep reactions in check.

For asthma and pet allergies, Otsu recommends pretreatment with your inhaler. “Before entering the house, you can take two puffs of the rescue inhaler to prevent an asthma attack.”

If you’re looking in an apartment or condo building that has people living in close proximity, find out about the vent if there’s a pet next door. Also ask if there were any installation problems or malware problems and if they have been completely resolved. “Ask if they have been fixed or if there have been relapses. These are the harder things to control because when you’re in a shared building, you can’t control other people’s behavior that could affect your health, ”she explains.

For things like plumbing repairs, “Make sure it’s not just a cosmetic repair, but that a stain on the wall isn’t just covered in paint to make it look pretty,” she adds. “I would ask the broker and get these answers before I commit.”

Home Sweet Home

It took a lot of sniffing and sniffing, but in the end, both Moss and Smith found homes they love. Moss and her family settled in a historic 1937 Vancouver home – one that has a lot of charm and no signs of moisture ingress or cracks in the foundation.

Smith moved in with a senior who respects her health concerns and does not use products that trigger her symptoms. “I’m grateful every day,” she says. “It is wonderful.”

She recommends asking lots of questions and, in the case of shared apartments, not being afraid to make your needs clear, as downplaying problems can lead to problems later. When you buy, also let your agent and home inspector know about your allergies or asthma so they can help you find the most suitable place.

Before Moss and her family moved into their home, they replaced the shaggy carpet with hardwood and covered the walls with non-toxic paint with non-toxic paint. (“I was allergic to the paint,” she quips.) They also had the vents cleaned and swapped curtains for hard-surfaced blinds.

“We made the right choice, even though it wasn’t really a choice. If you feel like your throat is closing, you are not living there. It boils down to this, ”says Moss, who took extra care to avoid places that showed signs of moisture.

“I mean, if you’re a building contractor and you think you have the chutzpah to dig out the basement, pour new foundation, put it in all new windows, and replace the drywall, okay,” she says with a laugh. “But if you’re not that person, then don’t buy this house.”

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