What's Under the Sink?

Residential Environmental Services

Residential environmental problems are nothing new – we’ve been aware of many of them for at least two decades.  But they may be new to you, as a homeowner or prospective buyer, and they can be frightening.  We understand that fright, and we’re here to help you determine the nature and extent of the problem and recommend a solution that based on best practices in the industry.  Our job is to help remove the fear, so you can solve the problem and move on with your life.

Some of the things that homeowners need to be aware of are as simple as keeping toxic household chemicals, like cleaning fluids and pesticides, in a safe place, where they can’t contaminate food or cooking utensils, or be reached by young children.  Likewise, combustibles and/or flammables like gasoline and kerosene should be stored outside and away from heat sources.  Their vapors can be hazardous to your health, too, so it is important that their containers are tightly sealed.

Other residential hazards can be more complex.  Mold, for example, is common in this part of the country, and almost all houses in the Piedmont of North Carolina experience some mold.  Occasionally, there is enough mold to cause a musty odor, and some people claim a sensitivity to mold.   The underlying fix for mold problems sounds simple enough: Stop the moisture.  However, that may be easier said than done, especially if you have a wet crawl space, or a foundation that leaks during heavy rains. 

The first step is to assess the extent of the problem.  We can do that by collecting samples, having them tested, and reporting back to you about what and how much is there.  With the advantage of that information, we can recommend a solution that will deal with your problem as effectively and practically as possible.

Radon gas is another concern for many homeowners in the North Carolina Piedmont.  Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive by-product of the breakdown of crystalline rocks like those found here.  Radon has a has a half-life of 3.8 days, and it degrades first to Polonium and later to Lead.  Radon is most prevalent in poorly ventilated areas below ground level, like basements, or in extremely insulated single story dwellings built on grade.


While there is no regulatory standard for Radon, the US Environmental Protection Agency recommends that levels above 4 picocuries (pCi) per liter of air be reduced through foundation venting or increasing ventilation through the affected space.  This is not a lot of radiation, but even small amounts can result in chronic, low-level exposure over long periods of time.

The test for Radon gas is simple, and can usually be performed and reported within a week or two, depending on whether a short or long-duration test is used.  We have done dozens of these tests, and we can point you to the right contractors to help you alleviate the problem if the test indicates that Radon gas is present in your basement or home above the action levels.

Probably the most serious residential environmental concern is a potentially leaking underground storage tank.  These buried tanks are a part of many residential heating systems that burn heating oil.  Today, few people are converting to heating oil furnaces, so most of the problems seem to lie with older systems.  The problem can be made worse by the fact that many of the older tanks were installed right next to foundations.  When these tanks leak, the fuel can run down the foundation wall and under the footings of the house, creating a mess that is difficult to clean up.   If you suspect that you are using too much fuel, or detect odors that smell like diesel fuel, it is a good idea to contact a licensed environmental consultant, like Northwest Geoscience, to help you determine whether you have a problem.

There are other potential concerns, too, like poorly designed drainage that directs water toward your home instead of away from it, rust-colored tap water coming from your kitchen faucet, or severe cracks in your walls that may indicate a problem with the ability of the soils under your home to support the structure’s weight.   We’ve seen all of these conditions before, and we’d be happy to assist you in finding a solution.