this it the weirdest graphic I’ve even made. I didn’t want to search for “meth icons” so I just made it pretty- lol!
Last week, I shared the cute historic home that we’re under contract for. The house is perfect for our family- under budget, the right amount of bedrooms and bathrooms, lots of character, in a good neighborhood, big backyard. and tons of potential. But its old (built in 1905) so we paid a ton of money to get it inspected and tested for everything in the hopes that we’d know what we were getting ourselves into.
The test results started rolling in- everything looked great! The sewer, lead, radon- they all came back looking good. Sure, there were cosmetic issues, but the house was safe! So I posted about the home and figured I’d just have to wait 2 weeks and we could move in. And then a big test result came in- the house tested positive for meth. Yikes, right?! I definitely freaked out when I got that email.
what to do when your house tests positive for meth
So I did the only thing I could- I got educated. I called the inspector to understand the report. He gave me the best news possible in this scenario- the home wasn’t used to cook meth, the levels are low (though still not ideal) and so it sounds like meth was smoked in the home.
Cleaning it out to a safe level is possible– and according to Utah’s laws the current owner is in charge of the cost to do so. But it does add 2-3 weeks to our move in date. We’re currently staying with my in-laws and are so grateful for their generosity.
I am itching to have my own space though. I really, really miss my routines and being able to create a home for my family and me. Frequently on here, I talk about the importance of having a home that you design for you. And let me tell you, not having one, I believe in the importance of home more than ever.
Since getting the bad news last Friday, I’ve read every article on meth being smoked in a home that I can (fun, right?!). When faced with a stressful situation, really knowing what I am dealing with helps me so I can make educated decisions.
the goal- a safe home
Obviously, my number one goal is to have a home that is safe– especially for my 3 year old- who is the most vulnerable to the chemicals that are left behind. According to my research, with the proper cleaning, a safe level is possible (and a health inspector from the state will have to do the final testing to ensure that it is).
why are you talking about this?
So, why am I sharing this? First off, sadly, meth use in the US is on the rise while meth labs are going down (it’s more likely now to be cooked over the border according to this New York Times article). So lots of people will be facing this issue- possibly up to 1 in 10 homes where meth is popular! I haven’t been able to find personal accounts of people buying a “meth house” and sharing what they learned so I thought I’d compile my insights.
Lastly, I know buying a house where meth has been used in is stigmatized against. But it can be cleaned up so I want to share some hope that a positive meth test doesn’t mean you can’t safely live in a house where its been smoked in.
As a side note, our home is in Utah and so my numbers/data will pertain specifically to the state of Utah. Each state will have different regulations and things may change. Please check with your county health department for specific details for your home. I do hope this gives you a good point of reference though.
why is meth in a house a big deal?
When meth has been smoked or cooked in a house, the chemicals from the smoke stay in the house. These can result in short term health risks. The most common side effects are headaches, nausea, vomiting, and eye irritation. I’ve also read of people reporting bloody noses, being more susceptible to colds, developing asthma, and short term memory loss. Long-term effects are unclear, but children are particularly vulnerable. (information via)
I’m sure the house I’m buying isn’t a meth house. Should I still test it?
Yes! Definitely! The biggest reason is the health risks to your family if you end up living with meth chemicals. The second reason is that if there is meth in the house and you don’t test, you’ll be responsible for the expensive clean up later down the road.
You can buy your own meth test for around $30. Or you can have your inspector add it on to his tests. It cost us $100 for our inspector to do the test. I liked having someone who knew what they were doing perform the test (plus we were in Florida when the inspection took place).’
Since we tested before we own the property, our realtor found us a certified remediation company and is coordinating with the current owner that the property is properly cleaned up.
For the inspection, our house was tested in two places. The first one came back clean and the second one came back at 5.2 µg/100cm² (read as one microgram of methamphetamine per 100 square centimeters of surface area). They averaged those out and determined that our house had 2.6 µg/100cm². The current standard for decontamination in Utah is 1.0 µg/100cm² (info via).
Our inspector told me that if meth had been cooked on the property, the rates would have been between 50-100µg/100cm² (aka, much higher).
how were these standards set?
One of the big issues with meth residue in a home is that it hasn’t really been studied. Because of that, Utah used ‘national wisdom’ in 2005, when the it first adopted a standard of 0.1 µg/100cm². The justification of that standard was because that is the lowest value a lab can detect- so the idea was that a safe level, was no level (or below detection).
In 2010, the standard went up to 1.0 µg/100cm². This is because a scientific paper was found where meth was tested on monkeys. That paper had an actual amount with the lowest observable adverse effect on monkeys (0.00025 mg/kg-day). That amount was computed and adjusted for a no-effect level in humans.
Infants are highly considered with these ratings since they are the ones touching the surfaces where the meth residue may be and then putting their hands in their mouth. The dose an infant experiences if the surface is contaminated at 1.0 µg/100cm² is 0.00024 mg/kg-day. That dose is just below the reference dose and is considered safe.
Children and adults have an even lower dose level when exposed to 1.0 µg/100cm². Thus the 1.0 µg/100cm² is the best modeled level for establishing the decontamination standard for infants. It meets the requirements for using best practices and is the least burdensome on the public. (info via)
meth lab or personal use?
It’s also important to distinguish between meth labs and meth use. This is because the amount of meth chemicals left in the house are much more prevalent (and harder to clean) when meth is cooked. Some homes where a meth lab was present will get torn down because the cost to clean them or the damage is too high. However, decontamination companies have gotten better in the last 5 years so clean up is possible with most labs (info via).
signs of a meth house
When looking at houses to buy, there are some things you can keep your eye out for that might be a sign that you’re in a meth house-
- Rental House. If the house has been rented, it is WAY (6-7 times) more likely to be a meth house.
- Signs of aggression (damaged doors, damaged door frames, damaged sheet rock).
- Yellow discoloration on walls, drains, sinks and showers.
- Blue discoloration on valves of propane tanks and fire extinguishers.
- Fire detectors that are removed–or taped off.
- Burning in your eyes, itchy throat, a metallic taste in your mouth, or breathing problems when in the home.
- Glass cookware or frying pans containing a powdery residue.
- An unusually large number of cans of camp fuel, paint thinner, acetone, or starter fluid.
- An unusually large number of containers of lye or drain cleaners.
- Large amounts of lithium batteries, especially ones that have been stripped.
- Soft silver or gray metallic ribbons (in chunk form) stored in oil or kerosene.
- Propane tanks with brass fittings that have turned blue.
- A strong smell of urine or other unusual chemical smells like ammonia, acetone or ether.
You can also check this website to see the average number of residents in each state that has been treated for Meth. The higher the number, the more likely you’ll encounter a meth house in your neighborhood. The states with the highest numbers are California, Hawaii, Iowa, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
remediation- what it entails
First off, in the state of Utah there are companies who are certified to clean meth from a home. Technically, a home owner can clean the house themselves, but they must comply with the same regulations as a specialist. Since its a complicated and laborious process, its probably more efficient to hire a certified specialist (info via).
The specialist will first create a written work plan that must be approved, then get permits from the state, close the home to entry (a card may be placed on the front door by the County Health Department), and then their team enters the house to decontaminate it.
Meth just sits where its been smoked- a house could have been contaminated 30 years ago and it can still be in a home (meth was popular in the 90’s too). The decontamination is how the meth is removed it from the house. Anything porous in the home needs to be removed- carpet, carpet pad, insulated duct work, dropped ceilings, and curtains.
All hard surfaces need to be decontaminated- walls, duct work, hardwood floors, mirrors, and ceilings. This is done with a solution that is scrubbed on and rinsed off at least 3 times. The heating and intake vent registers, light fixtures, and closet doors may be removed so the county can inspect everywhere.
After the decontamination is complete, they do post testing (with a health inspector). Our house will have 15 tests done in various spots. Once the results of the tests are back, they get clearance that the house is move-in ready with the health department inspector from our county.
who pays for it?
According to Utah state law, the current owner of the home is responsible for making sure the home is at safe meth levels (info via). So if you’re buying a house and it tests positive for meth, the seller is responsible for the expense. This is why it is SO important to get a test before you buy a house!
I’ll be honest, I’m hoping one day to own a home that we rent out for income. The whole meth thing has made me super concerned about that because the renter who smoked/cooked meth in the house isn’t responsible for the clean up which will be much more expensive than a deposit. This is something to take into account if you’re a land lord.
what does remediation cost?
The bigger the house, the more it will cost. Ours remediation cost came to $4,600 (for reference, the house is 1800 square feet and doesn’t have any carpet). I’ve heard up to $20,000 before for an apartment building where multiple units are connected by duct work where the meth has spread. It is an expensive procedure.
do the tenants have to move out?
In Utah, once a property has been confirmed by law enforcement as being above the legal meth limit, the property will be placed on the local health department’s “Contaminated Properties List.” That means that the tenant/renter/current resident needs to move out ASAP since the home will be closed to everyone besides the person doing the decontamination. (info via)
how long does it take?
This will depend on the size of the house, when the remediation company can start, and how quickly test results can come back. For us, it is estimated that it will add 2-3 weeks to our move in date (I’ll update this when I have a final date). We also have the option to pay extra to rush the lab tests, so you can check on that too if you’re in a hurry.
is there too much hysteria surrounding meth houses?
Possibly. For me, I’m taking the clean up process in the house we’re buying super seriously. However, I have read a few articles that meth use in a house is blown out of proportion a bit and possibly isn’t harmful at all.
There’s also the concern that decontamination companies are “opportunists.” Especially when Utah started regulating homes against meth and certifying companies in 2005, a few popped up that weren’t well trained and over priced (source). I’d just caution against someone testing your house who will be doing the cleaning. There’s a lot of money at stake and sadly, that can result in fraud.
Bonus points if you’ve made it to the end! This was a super dense blog post, but I really hope that it is helpful if you find yourself in my shoes. You can still buy a house where meth has been used, and with the proper clean-up, it should be safe. We are planning on going forward with our home purchase even with meth being found in the home after it has been determined clean. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!
**Update- this blog post is the number one post I receive emails. And I totally get it- that notification about buying a meth house is scary. I wrote an update on how our house is and FAQ here.
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