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Greg Johns WIN Cookeville

Upgrading My Inspection Lungs


The holidays are supposed to be a time to rejoice and cheer. However, the holidays tend to be that time of year when I step back and re-assess variables and choices tied to my business. This includes current tools used and new tools I decide I want to acquire. It's not exactly holly-jolly stuff. After 11-years, I finally decided to make a change for one of the most overly-exposed organs in my line of work – my lungs.

Insufficient Industry Practices

The home inspection industry does a very poor job of spending time addressing home inspector safety. Yes, there are ample courses about ladder usage, eyewear, and shoes, but there really isn’t much more. As home inspectors, we are constantly exposed to potential airborne contaminants, many of which we are oblivious to, or simply overlook due to the normalcy of environmental exposure. We can talk simple, like dust and mite-related particles we come across in homes. We can go deeper – volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds that pervade these homes from what gets put in them (especially new homes that haven’t had a chance to off-gas a majority of their emissions yet). We can go more typical – the particles and contaminants in attics, crawlspaces, or basements. And, then there’s radon.

Our industry does a very poor job of stressing the importance of inspectors paying attention to indoor air quality and lung protection. For years I’ve been trying to find a radon dose exposure badge that I could use over time to “see” how much exposure I am experiencing in homes over any one 30-day period. I can’t find a single product for it.

Old and New

For many years, I have been wearing basic N95 masks (waaaaay before they were popularized by that global pandemic that shan’t be named…) in attics and crawlspaces. When I first started, I wore a half-face respirator that was given to me – I did not like it, found it bulky, and didn’t like cleaning it. So, I rarely wore it.

Well, as 2022 ends, and I am getting older in this industry and in life, AND my kids are starting to become active little people, I have again decided to change my lung filtration. Now, trust me, there’s nothing sexy about lung filtration, nor comfortable. But, lung filtration shouldn’t be about comfort, it should be about protecting lungs for prolonged function with reduced potential for disease or cancer from environmental exposures.

The Goods

So, what have I decided and purchased heading into 2023? Well, I bought a half-face one click respirator from 3M .

Below and to the left is said half-face respirator and safety glasses talked about further down

A 3M respirator and 3M safety glasses sit in foreground of a white surface and off-white wallWith these, I bought an avalanche of 3M Secure Click P100 particulate filters. These I will wear in crawlspaces that I deem unfit for human presence without adequate protection. For overly accessible crawlspaces (hands and knee traversing, or crouched traversing, or newly encapsulated spaces), I’ll wear the N95 masks linked two sentences below. Every once in a while, I’ll likely wear the half-face respirator in a basement space or attic that presents as unhospitable for unprotected lungs. Most of the time, I’ll be wearing my upgraded N95 masks that I’ve found fit better around the bridge of my nose/cheeks and afford for a better seal under my jaw line. This last detail is really important for those of us who have facial hair. In reality, it isn’t a seal if you have facial hair, but these do a much better job than the “normal” variant of N95 face masks (image below and to the right shows one of these masks more aptly fit for hairy faces). 

An inspector stands with eyes closed and close-up of the 3M face mask fitted around facial hair and nose bridge

Now, with my initial half-face respirator more than a decade ago, fogging and fit were big issues (as was talking and moisture accumulation). The newly purchased mask (see above photo) has a button that helps you create a negative pressure within the mask and “seal/suction” it to your face if properly fit. Doing so helps limit air leakage out the bridge and cheek area which affords me to wear my safety glasses sans fogging (I cannot tell you how often I curse at myself in crawlspaces because something gets in one of my eyes). And, this particular respirator has been designed to better manage exhaled air which should significantly reduce the moisture build-up in the mask itself. The filters “click” into place, making changing out a breeze and ensuring proper connection/seal.

Now, as an aside – here are the safety glasses I just purchased and are shown above. And, yes, they are 3M, too (hmmm, should have reached out to them for stock options, or at least an affiliate link…). These are anti-fog, anti-scratch lenses and have a secondary gasket that “helps” with pressure points and, I’m hoping, acts partially as a secondary filter/gasket against particles floating behind the glasses and into my eyeballs. That really makes me grumble.

I know of inspectors who wear full-face respirators and/or half-face respirators in every attic or crawlspace. Good for them. I have been battling, over time, balancing lung protection with mobility, line of sight, and discomfort of prolonged use (I tend to be in nasty places longer than many inspectors based on circumstantial references I have gathered over time). Full-face respirators just eat into my time too much and bother me in regard to field of view. This new half-respirator is a smaller profile intended to reduce such issues. AAAAAAAAAAAAAnd then there’s this thing called cleaning/servicing the respirator.

Did you know that most manufacturers specify proper cleaning of a reusable respirator after each use? It’s in that giant folded document that comes with the respirator. Taking any one of these contraptions apart to clean, sanitize, dry, and reassemble likely involves more time than any inspector will spend – particularly after a long-day of inspections. So, do you buy 5 respirators and wear a new one each day, then take it home and clean/wash it at night? I bet, if we took a poll of our industry, most of us don’t clean our coveralls every day. You get my drift.

The accordion-folded instructions for a half-face respirator are tiny font and longer than a 1980s wall poster

The font for this respirator instruction is tiny, as long as a James Joyce novel, and likely not read by most

In The End

So, while it may seem as if this article has been a subtle message to buy 3M products, as well as not wear respirators because they are annoying and difficult to use properly and keep clean (seriously though, a dirty respirator could be worse for your health than going into that crappy crawlspace with no respirator), it’s not. 3M has their hand in many industries and is not hurting for money. Trust me. You should take time to invest in protecting your health. At a minimum, N95 filters for most inhospitable places – if you wouldn’t want to have a picnic there with your family or friends, you probably should wear one. Half and full-face respirators are a big step up in function and cost (the filters are not cheap and require their own upkeep/replacement), but can do a much better job keeping our lungs safe in the environments where we often spend too much time.

Also, an upcoming article will talk about radon and lung filtration. This is yet another concept I can find nothing about in our industry. There is soft-science (I’ll explain) reasoning that says there are ways we, as inspectors, could be protecting ourselves from excessive radon exposure while on site. That should be coming by February’s blog post. Hang tight!

Until the next slurry of words I digitally cast your way, enjoy the holidays and be at peace. And, if you can, be mindful of choosing kindness and caring toward humans – not just neighbors and family. Let’s make this world better one example at a time!