• Environmental 101 for Homeowners -part 1

  • By Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA
    As environmental consultants we rarely conduct Phase One Environmental Assessments (ESA) for residential dwellings. Generally speaking, ESA's are completed to assess environmental risk when purchasing commercial and industrial sites and larger multi-unit residential buildings, mainly due the need to obtain bank financing. That doesn't mean there aren't risks with single family homes, simply that these risks are rarely investigated. Here then, are a few of the more significant environmental concerns that home-owners and potential purchasers should consider. Some of these items can be evaluated by the owner or purchaser; other more significant concerns may require the services of an experienced professional.
    Location, location, location - what's in your neighbourhood?
    With a few exceptions you don't often see significant contamination issues originating from a residential house; more often they would be associated with industrial or commercial properties. However, contamination doesn't respect property boundaries, and contaminants originating from off-Site source(s) could migrate to your property via air dispersion, groundwater or surface water movement, overland flow, wind or mechanical transport. Other times industrial contamination can be so widespread that it becomes a regional issue. A properly conducted Phase One ESA should identify such concerns, but the costs can be prohibitive for the average home. There are due diligence research items you can do yourself to increase your peace of mind. Look around your neighbourhood - if you are adjacent or near to a current or former gas station, dry cleaner or industrial site there could be potential issues. Perhaps that nice little urban park, green space or golf course was historically a landfill? Reviewing historical maps, fire insurance plans, and street directories at the local library; conducting online historical research, or interviewing long-time residents can also uncover hidden environmental issues.
    How is the building heated?
    Perhaps the most common environmental concern for residences is the heating source. If the home is currently or was historically heated by an oil-fired furnace or boiler, there would need to be a storage tank for heating oil. Above-grade tanks are easy to spot, and leaks or spills can be more noticeable. However an above ground tank failure that occurs when nobody is home could go undetected and lead to serious and expensive problems. Underground tanks can leak for an extended period of time and these discharges could go unnoticed. In some cases, the home may have been converted to natural gas heating, and the original fuel tank was never removed, or improperly removed - possibly leading to residual or undiscovered fuel oil contamination. This type of situation is too complex for the average homeowner to address as a DIY project, and if fuel use and/or discharges are confirmed or suspected, you should consider retaining a qualified professional.

    In my next blog I will discuss some of the potential environmental concerns and hidden dangers a homeowner may encounter during maintenance or renovations

    About the Author:

    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA

    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca