Surprise! The Home You Bought Was a Former Meth Lab
They bought a home in a rather "nice" rural area. The schools were good and the crime statistics are even better than where they moved from. They had a home inspection and a radon test, to be sure that their young family's safety and health weren't at risk. After moving in and just getting used to life in the new home, the wife had a chat with the neighbor as she was leaving for work which gave them something to be concerned about. When she arrived to her office, she immediately Googled "meth lab homes" and her concern quickly turned to complete panic.
Houses and other buildings that have been previously used to manufacture methamphetamine may have some serious health risks for subsequent occupants. Children are at the highest risk of long-term damage. There are some pretty nasty chemicals used to manufacture meth. The residue from the process of "cooking" meth can also seep into floor coverings, walls, and other surfaces. The proper clean up of a contaminated home usually costs well into the tens of thousands as many of the building products need to be removed and replaced. For every pound of meth there is up to seven pounds of chemical wastes that are often dumped on the property, which poses not only additional health concerns, but environmental hazards as well.
Meth Labs: Closer than You Think
In 2004, I began reading about the health concerns of occupants of homes that were previously used as meth labs. I quickly buried that information in the back of my mind as I was quite sure it would never be an issue that would surface around areas that I inspect. As of just a few days ago, I was proved wrong. About four miles from my home, occupants of a house in a very nice rural area, on a nice country road, were just busted for manufacturing meth. This is an area where the crime rate is about one-tenth of a percent of the national average and the median income is much greater than mine.
Some law enforcement officials estimate that for every lab busted, there are at least ten that are unknown. These homes eventually end up on the market and get purchased by unsuspecting, innocent families. No one is disclosing these former labs to new owners. Now there are many foreclosed homes on the market and it seems like the owning banks make an effort to not know anything about the history of a property. A few states have databases, but the databases only contain records for busted labs. The home buying public usually has no warning of not only the health concerns, but what to look for to identify the labs.
Home Inspection and Meth Labs
Although pre-purchase home inspections are common, there's no obligation for an inspector to recognize signs of a former meth lab. There's no required training and no consistent standard for anyone involved in a real estate transaction to discover or disclose. With this serious health concern, it really is buyer beware. There's not much of a barrier to keep home buyers from unwittingly moving into a home where meth was cooked.
There are some Web sites that show and describe some things to look for to help identify a former meth lab. Some states and county health departments may also have some information available. These resources may be helpful, but I think it would be a great idea for all real estate professionals who represent home buyers to get credible training in the recognition of former meth labs.
I will be completing my certification training by the end of this month.
William Kibbel III is a home inspector and restoration consultant specializing in historic residential and commercial buildings. He is vice president of Tri-County Inspection Company, serving Southeastern Pennsylvania and Central New Jersey.