The hidden dangers of lead paint in your new home

Whether you’re a landlord or a private home owner, you may be drawn to older style properties for their aesthetic appeal and solidity of construction. However, there are plenty of hidden hazards involved in purchasing older property, not least lead paint.

Since the 1960s, the majority of lead paint has been eliminated from home decor. However, if your property is pre-1960s and shows signs of having original coats of paint, particularly on woodwork or radiators, then there could still be some lead paint around. If the paint coat is particularly thick, or the property has been newly redecorated, the chances are the lead paint has been safely locked away under the other layers.

Am I or my family at risk?

Rather like asbestos, lead paint is not a risk if it’s unlikely to be damaged and thus release lead dust into the air. However, if you have children or animals that like to gnaw or scratch paintwork or if you intend to strip back paintwork that is already peeling, then the chances are there could be contamination. If there are pregnant women or young children in the home, then they’re most at risk.

Making it safe

If your suspected lead paint is in good condition, then simply seal it with a coat of modern paint. If it’s already damaged or flaking, then you’ll need to strip it back with a liquid paint stripper – don’t, under any circumstances, try to sand or scrape away the flaking paint. If you have a hot air gun you can use this to soften the paint, but don’t set it at temperatures above 450C degrees because you’ll melt the paint and release toxic fumes.

When you’ve removed nearly all the paint, you can moisten the surface and rub back with waterproof abrasive paper – never use dry sandpaper. Dispose of all waste safely and securely.

Be protected

It’s sensible always to wear protective clothing when undertaking this kind of work, so make sure you use gloves and a face mask containing a filter that conforms to standard EN143 P2. Store your work clothing in a sealed bag when not in use and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after each session. Finally wash your work clothes separately from others when you’ve finished with them.

Ask the professionals

If you’re uncertain whether your newly acquired property contains lead paint, then get in touch with us today to arrange led paint testing.

asbestos fire risk communal areas

What checks are required for communal areas in blocks of flats?

Whether you rent or own a flat or are a landlord leasing properties within a block of flats, it is important to consider the safety, not just of the individual dwellings, but also of the communal areas in the building. When improvements need to be made to areas such as corridors, foyers and staircases it can often lead to an argument over who is responsible for paying.

It is a legal requirement to complete a fire risk assessment for communal areas in buildings where there are two or more dwellings. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 makes it a requirement for the “responsible person” to evaluate the risk to occupants of fire and take any action necessary to reduce or eliminate this risk. The responsible person is the freeholder of the entire property or their managing agent.

It is possible for the responsible person to recover the cost of surveys and work carried out from the occupants as part of a service charge provision within a lease agreement or a “sweeping up clause” which encompasses any necessary improvements to the building. The wording of the service charge provision must be clear, any costs must be reasonable and the work carried out must be of good professional standard. If the cost will be above £250 for any one occupant there must be a consultation prior to the work being carried out. Occupants can also be required as part of the lease to comply if alternations are necessary, for example, fitting a new fire door on their property.

The responsible person is also obliged to manage the risk from asbestos, according to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. A survey is required to establish whether any asbestos is present in communal areas, where it is and the condition it is in and any measures necessary to manage the risk should be put in place.

Without these surveys and precautions occupants or visitors to the building could be at risk. This could lead to costly litigation, or, worse still, a death or serious injury. Get a quote for an affordable survey now by contacting us.

Every property should have a fire risk assessment

As a landlord, it is important that you carry out a fire risk assessment of your property. One of your landlord responsibilities include that of tenants living in a safe environment, with no risk of fire. Every property should have a fire risk assessment.

The law

It is a requirement of law that landlords conduct a fire risk assessment of all their properties. In doing so, risks can be assessed and action taken to prevent those risks from happening. It is vital that the property has a planned route of escape in case of a fire. When a fire risk assessment survey is conducted by a professional, then a means of escape will be noted if one is present. If a means of escape is not clearly evident, then this matter will need to be addressed.

On the spot checks

The fire service regularly visits properties to ensure that they meet fire safety standards, and to offer free ‘on the spot’ checks. If the property is a shared building, with communal areas in flats, they can ask to see the fire log book and fire risk assessment that has been carried out. If there is no fire risk assessment, or the assessment is somewhat lacking with deficiencies, then the landlord could face prosecution.

Safety comes fist

When you have a fire risk assessment carried out by a professional, then you will have peace of mind knowing that your tenants are safe. If a fire was to break out, they would have a clear and safe means of escape from your building. It is not worth taking the risk of not paying for an assessment when your tenants could be seriously injured or killed due to fire.

No fire risk assessment – no tradesmen

Having an up to date fire risk assessment can help with the smooth running of your property and the many jobs that need to be done. Without documentation, many tradesmen will refuse to carry out work, due to the unsafe environment.

To learn more about our fire risk assessment service, please do get in touch with us today.

Asbestos surveys – what you need to know

If you work in an industry such as construction, it’s vital that you always remember the importance of carrying out an asbestos survey. These surveys help ensure that the duty holders’, clients’ and employers’ legal responsibilities are fulfilled with regards to managing asbestos risks.

With large amounts of materials which contained asbestos still in use up until 1999, if you’re planning on carrying out a renovation project on a building built before that year, it’s essential to get a survey carried out. Even in some newer builds, asbestos has been found. Whilst it’s unlikely that an undisturbed building will present a risk, if you work in construction, then it’s highly probable that you will disturb the fabric of buildings, even if you’re only carrying out a small repair or conducting maintenance. Even installation can expose you and the building’s residents to asbestos unknowingly, but having an asbestos survey carried out can help prevent that.

Asbestos surveys

An asbestos survey is undertaken so that those responsible for preparing a management plan, risk assessment and asbestos register have enough information at their disposal. The asbestos register then has to be made available to those who intend to carry out work on the property before any work begins. When it comes to asbestos surveys, they can usually be classified into two different types: a management survey and a refurbishment and demolition survey.

Management survey – Used to be call a type 1 or type 2 survey

Management surveys are required during normal occupation or use of a building in order to make sure that the known asbestos-containing materials are continually managed. The goals of a management survey are to ensure nobody within the building is harmed by the presence of asbestos materials and that nobody disturbs the asbestos materials accidentally. The survey will also locate any materials that contain asbestos which could be potentially damaged in the future by activities such as maintenance and the installation of new equipment such as pipes and cabling.

Refurbishment/demolition survey – Used to be called a type 3 asbestos survey

If a building containing asbestos is to be refurbished, upgraded or demolished, then a refurbishment/demolition survey is essential. The goals of this type of survey are to determine whether or not anybody will be harmed by the work being carried out on materials or equipment containing asbestos and to ensure the work is carried out by the right contractor in the correct manner. In order for the survey to be carried out properly, then it has to identify all the materials containing asbestos before any structural work gets underway. The area also has to be vacated whilst the survey is taking place; in order for workers to use the area again, it must be certified as being ‘fit for reoccupation’.

If you’re in need of an asbestos survey, contact us at Contrast Surveys today on 0800 635 8265

What are your responsibilities as a landlord?

Taking on a house to rent out can seem like a business-savvy decision, and indeed it can often be an investment that pays off well. However, once you have got tenants in situ, there are additional responsibilities that you hold as a landlord beyond just owning the property. This includes ensuring the property is in good running order and maintained to a quality standard. This is important in keeping your tenants satisfied, as they can move out if they’re unhappy with the property, and empty houses can be costly to you. However, it’s also key for ensuring your property is kept to a good level of care and attention. This can encourage tenants to treat it well, but can also help you establish if they cause any damage.

One of the key landlord responsibilities you hold is to assess any fire risks, and to put in place procedures to help prevent these from escalating into a problem. This might mean moving soft furnishings away from naked flames, fixing broken electricity sockets, removing highly flammable materials from the building of the house if they pose a risk, installing a smoke detector alarm and carbon monoxide alarm, ensuring there is a fire extinguisher at the property, and installing fire doors and fire escape lights.

Other key responsibilities you hold include repairing garden paths, fences, walls and gates, and replacing wheelie bins every few years if necessary. It is also key that you maintain any communal areas in flats, unless the council or another body is responsible for them. You will also be in charge of any outside repair work, particularly to structural areas such as walls, doors, chimneys, guttering, and drains. If the exterior needs painting, this will also be something you need to do, unless it is managed by flat management services.

Inside, the level of decoration and furnishing is very much at your discretion. This will play a key part in making your property liveable and rent-worthy. However, once it is to a good standard, it is the tenants responsibility to keep the interior in reasonable decorative order. If there are any electrical wiring and appliance issues, particularly with fires and heaters, these will be for the landlord to check and repair. Likewise, landlords must install NIHE-approved cookers and stoves, conduct annual services of heating appliances, and ensure all safety checks have been undertaken. They are also responsible for any issues with plumbing such as blocked sewers and drains, and waste pipes, and fixing broken boilers.

Get in touch with us today to carry out a professional fire risk assessment in your property.

Three unusual places to find asbestos in your home

When people think about where asbestos might be found in the home, they think of the obvious places: insulation around pipes or furnaces, or in the loft or attic; in roof tiles or roofing materials; or perhaps in tiles used for flooring or sound proofing. Unfortunately for our health, asbestos was widely used before the dangers were realised. Here is a list of some of the more unusual places you might find it.

Plastics, paints and adhesives

The fire-retardant and insulating properties of asbestos meant that it was included in many products. Alongside lead paint testing, it may be worth checking your paint for asbestos. It was added to paint in concentrations of 5-10%, enough to cause harmful side effects to those exposed to it. Since the health risks were identified in the 1980s, asbestos is no longer included in paint, however, properties that were decorated before that time may include it. Asbestos was also included in plastic manufacture, most famously in bakelite, where its insulating properties helped enhance the safety of electrical items. The risk to health is smaller in plastic, where the asbestos is contained in another substance, but care should be taken with damaged items.

Outdoor toilets

There are still properties which have an outdoor toilet, although they have often been repurposed as sheds or outbuildings. Because these facilities were built at the same time as the main house, they are likely to have been built from the same materials, so it’s worth having them checked for asbestos. The same holds true for dog kennels, coal stores and any other outbuildings which were put together before the 1980s.

Meter boxes

Asbestos was put into the boards which electric meters were attached to. Its fire-retardant properties made it perfect for preventing fire and insulating the electrical connections that ran to and from the meter. If you haven’t had your meter checked, then it’s worth having that done.

Asbestos surveys offer a comprehensive way of checking your property for the presence of this harmful substance. If you are unsure whether your property might be affected, please contact us today and discuss your concerns with a member of our team.

Radon gas – what you should know when buying a home

Radon gas is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the UK. Breathing in this deadly gas results in up to 2,000 fatal cancers every year. However, measuring the levels of radon gas in the home or workplace is simple and cheap and any high levels are relatively easy to address.

What is radon gas?

Radon is a radioactive gas which comes from uranium and occurs naturally in many soils and rocks. The gas seeps out from the ground and builds up in enclosed spaces, such as houses and offices. The highest concentrations tend to be found in underground spaces such as basements and caves, as well as ground floor buildings where the gas enters through gaps and cracks in the floor.

Do I live in a radon affected area?

Just about every building and home will contain radon, but this is usually at a very low level and is nothing to worry about. The chances of a higher level of gas will depend on the type of ground in the area. Public Health England (http://www.ukradon.org/information/ukmaps) publishes a very informative interactive map which shows whether you are likely to be living in a high radon gas area.

Buying a new property

Building regulations now require that all new build homes in radon affected areas are built with the appropriate safeguards in place (full or basic), such as a modified damp proof membrane or a radon-proof barrier across the ground floor with a radon sump.

Buying a used home

When buying a used property, it’s advisable to check with the current owners to see if they have carried out a radon check and request a copy of the report. If there is no report, speak to your solicitor to arrange for a retention (a sum of money set aside for any remedial work, if necessary for a period of months) and then arrange for a test to be carried out when you move in.

Breathing in radon gas is a serious risk, which is easily preventable. Contrast Surveys can test your property to establish to establish the levels of gas in your property and if required, have the expertise to carry out appropriate repairs to ensure you and your family are kept safe and sound.

Issues your homebuyers survey may not find

Homebuyers reports are the standard and most popular type of survey taken out by property purchasers. They will provide analysis of the home you will be looking to buy, finding faults throughout the property.

However, while these reports provide good detail for most properties, they may often miss some key health and safety issues that will affect your home. Because your surveyor will not look behind walls or under floorboards, your potential new home may have some secret safety issues.

This guide from Contrast Asbestos Surveys reveals the safety issues that a homebuyers report might not pick up on.

Asbestos

Asbestos has not been used in new build homes since 2000, but may still exist in homes built before its ban in the UK.

The insulation fibre can be particularly bad for your respiratory system if breathed in and can be highly toxic in the event of a fire. As a homebuyer surveyor will not check behind walls, they will most likely not reveal asbestos in your report.

If your potential home was built between 1930 and 1999, it is likely that asbestos may be present somewhere in your property. If you have concerns, contact an asbestos surveying company to take a look at the property and highlight any asbestos issues with your property.

Japanese knotweed

This invasive weed is a nightmare to get out. Surveyors will only check the exterior of the property on sight, and will not dig below the surface. Prior to your survey, a homeowner may get rid of any above-ground evidence of knotweed. However, the plants roots grow at a fast rate and can still exist underground.

It is not illegal for Japanese knotweed to grow in a garden, but a homeowner may be heavily fined and could even face jail time if the weed enters the threshold of a neighbouring garden.

Lead-based paint

Lead-based paint is another highly toxic substance that was used on older properties. Surveyors may offer advice on certain paints if the property is old enough, but this type of paint is not always easily recognisable at face value.

Contact Contrast Surveys for lead paint testing to ensure that your health won’t be at risk in your new home. We take a sample of paint from the property and test it for traces of lead. We also carry out asbestos checks and fire risk assessments, so contact us today for more information.

5 asbestos myths you need to know about

Nowadays, we’re all aware of the serious risks asbestos can pose, and why it’s important that proper asbestos surveying and removal are undertaken by the experts. But myths remain, which is why you need to be able to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the silent killer. Here are 5 asbestos myths that you need to know about.

1. New homes are asbestos free

False. Until as recent as 2000, asbestos was still being legally used in new buildings. Because an office or investment property is relatively modern does not mean that it’s asbestos free, and it should be checked accordingly.

2. Open a window and you won’t be affected by asbestos dust

False. And the same goes for the myth that drinking water after exposure to asbestos will protect you from asbestosis. The only certain means of protecting yourself when handling asbestos is to follow strict guidelines regarding protective gear and the use of face masks and sealants, or better still, leave the job to the professionals.

3. If you find asbestos, it must be removed immediately

False. In fact, panicking and ripping out asbestos often causes more harm than good as undamaged asbestos poses no immediate health risk. If you’re concerned about the risk of asbestos in a property, have a proper asbestos survey done.

4. Wearing a mask offers complete protection

False. Specialist contractors wear masks with inbuilt filtration which are not available to the general public. Wearing a mask from the local DIY superstore will not provide adequate levels of protection against the fibres responsible for causing mesothelioma.

5. You can catch mesothelioma from an affected person

False. The disease is not contagious. However, if you live with someone who works around asbestos, make sure they are following safety guidelines to the letter, particularly concerning items they may bring into the home that are contaminated with asbestos fibres.

At Contrast Surveys, we’re experts in surveying for, and removing asbestos from, your home or rental property. If you need clarification on an issue that’s been highlighted in a survey, or have landlord responsibilities for the maintenance of a building, then call us now on 0800 635 8265 to book a complete asbestos survey.

Landlords – are your fire extinguishers safe?

Managing fire risk for your tenants is an important part of your landlord responsibilities. With this in mind, you should have all your properties fire risk assessed every year. In addition, it’s also important that you give all extinguishers a monthly visual check to ensure that they are in good condition.

Fire extinguisher safety check guide

All your extinguishers should have securely fitted wall brackets or floor stands. There should also be clearly visible signage next to the extinguishers giving details on their operation in the event of a fire. Insecure fittings should be repaired and damaged or missing signage replaced.

If a fire extinguisher is fitted with a pressure gauge, the needle should be resting in the green zone. A red zone indicator means that the pressure inside the extinguisher is too low and, therefore, needs servicing or replacing immediately.

Your fire extinguishers should be fitted with safety seals in the form of metal pins and secured with a tamper-proof seal. Make sure that these seals are undamaged and intact, and arrange for replacement extinguishers if necessary.

In order for the appliance to work efficiently, it’s important that the gauge, nozzle and valve are all clean and free from dust and grease. If necessary, gently clean the extinguisher using a clean, damp cloth and consider using fire extinguisher covers in particularly dirty environments, such as garages.

The fire extinguisher’s cylinder should be free from dents, rust spotting or signs of leakage. Damaged fire extinguishers are potentially highly explosive and should be removed and replaced immediately, ideally by a professional appliance services company which is trained in safe removal practices.

All the labelling on your fire extinguishers should be clear to read. If the labelling has become too dirty or faded to be legible, you’ll need to ask your appliance services company for a replacement label.

Over time, the powder in powder extinguishers can settle into a solid cake, meaning that the extinguisher won’t work properly in the event of an emergency. In the case of small appliances, you can check this by holding the extinguisher upside down and listening for the falling powder. If the powder is caked, shake the extinguisher gently to disturb it. Large, heavy extinguishers should be checked by a professional.

At Contrast Surveys, we carry out risk assessments to manage the fire risk in commercial and residential buildings, so that you don’t have to. Contact us today to find out more.