Asbestos in Homes

Asbestos in homes is something no one wants to hear in relation to a real estate transaction. The truth is that if you are involved in the sale or purchase of a home built before 1980, asbestos could be a reality you need to deal with. If this is the case you need to understand your responsibilities as a home seller and your risks or home buyer.

What is Asbestos?

Understanding what asbestos is can help you understand how, why and where it was used. As well as how to deal with it during a home sale.

Asbestos is the commercial name given to any of six different types of naturally occurring minerals. These minerals are mined because they possess very useful properties like thermal insulation, chemical, and thermal stability as well as high tensile strength.

Asbestos in Homes

These characteristics made asbestos a very attractive material for home construction. Eventually asbestos made its way into a vast number of different building materials.

Here is a list of Asbestos Containing Materials ACM’s

Acoustical plasterFire Doors
Adhesives and MasticsFireproofing Materials
Flooring Backing on Asphalt Floor TileFloor Backing
Base FlashingHeating and Electrical Ducts
Blown-In InsulationHigh Temperature Gaskets
Boiler InsulationHigh Temp Paper Products
Breaching InsulationHVAC Duct Insulation
Carpet BackingsJoint Compounds
Ceiling Tiles and Lay-in PanelsLaboratory Gloves
Cement PipesLaboratory hoods/Table tops
Cement SidingPacking Materials(for wall penetrations)
Cement WallboardPipe Insulation
ChalkboardsRoofing Felt
Construction MasticsRoofing Shingles
Cooling TowersSiding
Decorative PlasterSpackling Compounds
Ductwork Flex Fabric ConnectionsSpray Applied Insulations
Electric Wiring InsulationTextured Paints/Coatings
Electrical ClothThermal Paper Products
Electrical Panel PartitionsThermal Taping Compounds
Elevator Brake ShoesVinyl Floor Tile
Elevator Equipment PanelsVinyl Sheet Flooring
Fire BlanketsVinyl Wall Coverings
Fire CurtainsWallboard

As this list shows, from the 1950’ through the 1970’s it was hard to find an aspect of the homebuilding process that didn’t use some form of asbestos.

Asbestos in Homes

What are the Health Concerns about Asbestos?

Asbestos fibers are light and when disturbed, can remain airborne for up to 72 hours. These tiny fibers are easily inhaled and once in the lungs, these fibers can move into the lower portion of the lungs where they can cause problems.

Asbestos inhalation can lead to these major types of lung disease.

  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural disease
  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung Cancer

These problems don’t occur immediately is a matter of fact you can take years for health issues from asbestos exposure to manifest. Latency is the time it takes to develop problems from asbestos exposure. This period can be as short as 5 to as long as 40 years.

The first documented death from pulmonary failure of an asbestos worker was recorded in 1906. The worker initially visited Dr. Montague Murray at London’s Charing Cross Hospital for what appeared to be bronchitis. After the worker mentioned that nine other men he worked with had perished from this condition, the Dr. began to suspect a connection. The subsequent autopsy of the 33-year old victim found a large number of asbestos fibers in the lower portion of the patient’s lungs.

It wasn’t until the late part of the 1970s that the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission placed a ban on the use of asbestos in things like wallboard, gas fireplaces and patching compounds. This ban occurred because asbestos fibers from these products could potentially be released into the air during use.

As awareness grew as to the dangers of asbestos, pressure also grew to make both homes and the environment safer.

Asbestos Pipe Insulation

When is Asbestos Dangerous?

There are essentially two categories that asbestos-containing materials (ACM) fall into. Friable and non-friable. Asbestos is dangerous only if inhaled or ingested, in order for this to happen the asbestos needs to be in a state named friable.

Friable means that the dry asbestos can easily be reduced to a powder by hand. This state allows the fibers to become airborne when disturbed and possibly inhaled. Friable asbestos refers to things like pipe insulation, sprayed insulation, Popcorn ceilings and the backing material for vinyl sheet flooring.

Non-friable asbestos is sometimes called bonded asbestos. This refers to asbestos-containing materials where the asbestos is firmly bound together into the structure of the material. This refers to products like cement tiles that contain asbestos, floor tiles, wallboard, shingles, siding and fire doors.

Non-friable ACM’s will not release fibers unless they are damaged or disturbed. This can occur by cutting, sanding, or accidentally breaking the items. This kind of damage can lead to deterioration of the ACM’s and ultimately friability.

This is an important distinction to remember especially when looking at asbestos found in homes. During the inspection phase of a home sale, It’s difficult to negotiate asbestos abatement for non-friable instances of asbestos. Even the EPA recommends leaving non-friable asbestos alone if found.

When was asbestos used in homes?

The use of asbestos can be traced back to Ancient Roman times but these minerals became especially popular during the Industrial Age. Industrial use of asbestos started in the 1800s and the “Industrial Revolution” fueled the growth of the asbestos industry.

The widespread use of asbestos in residential properties began as early as the mid-1940s and continued to be prevalent until the late 1970s.

As asbestos gained in popularity so did public awareness of the negative health effects associated with the product. Finally, in 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos; uses established prior to 1989 were still allowed. This ban was overturned in 1991 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, the 1989 asbestos regulation only bans new uses of asbestos in products that would be initiated for the first time after 1989.

So if you own or are buying a home built prior to 1989, you should be aware of the potential ACM’s in your home.

How to Detect Asbestos

Specifically detecting and identifying asbestos is difficult, in general, you won’t know if something in your home contains asbestos unless of course it is labeled. The only way to know for sure if asbestos is present is to test for it. Unless the item is friable, the EPA and asbestos contractors recommend leaving the item alone.

Essentially you will be considering the age of your home in conjunction with the items in the Asbestos-containing materials list (see above). If your home is in the right age range and has what appears to be friable asbestos-containing materials, you should have them tested.

Although you can collect and send these items off to be tested, the EPA recommends using a professional asbestos inspection company for collection and testing.

Another time to test is in the event of a remodeling project. Demolition can disturb friable as well as non-friable asbestos creating a dangerous for both workers and residents. Many states are requiring an asbestos inspection by a licensed inspector prior to commencing with any remodeling projects.

Do you have to disclose asbestos when selling a house?

Most states have laws about disclosure when selling a home. This includes laws about hazardous environmental conditions that require disclosure during the sale of the home.

The problem with disclosing the existence of asbestos in a home is that unless you’ve actually tested for it you don’t truly know if it’s asbestos. If you have tested and the test was positive for asbestos, you are required to disclose this knowledge to any potential home buyer. Additionally, as the homeowner, if the existence of asbestos was disclosed to you by the previous owner, you have knowledge of the existence of asbestos and are required to disclose to any potential buyer.

This creates a dilema for many home sellers. If the home was built prior to 1989 and there are items in the home that have a high potential of containing ACM’s should the owner say something? Or on the other hand, is the burden on the home buyers to discover asbestos during their inspections?

Do home inspections check for asbestos?

Although home inspectors can also be certified to inspect for asbestos, this is not common. In most cases, the best you can expect from the inspector would be to point out that something might be asbestos and that you should seek further evaluation by a licensed asbestos inspector.

It’s important to note that certified home inspectors are considered generalists, not specialists. Your general physician would bring attention to a potentially dangerous condition involving your heart but they would most likely send you to a Cardiologist for further evaluation. This is the role of the home inspector as well. rendering an opinion on something that falls out of their scope of work opens them up to potential legal action down the road.

This doesn’t mean your inspector is clueless about asbestos it simply means they’re not willing to stick their neck out. A good inspector will address your concerns about things like asbestos by pointing out potentially friable asbestos and advising further evaluation.

Home Buyer Asbestos Inspections

Most real estate contracts provide for an inspection contingency. This, of course, would be the appropriate time to inspect for asbestos. During a real estate, transaction any type of inspection requires the cooperation of the homeowner or seller.

Some homeowners resist this type of inspection because in the event asbestos is found, once the seller is notified they now have knowledge of asbestos in their house and should disclose this fact moving forward. If the property fails to close and the property goes back on the market, this seller would need to amend the Sellers Property Disclosure to account for the asbestos discovery.

For this reason, asbestos inspections can be a very touchy subject with homeowners. It is important as a home seller to understand the costs and consequences of asbestos disclosure and remediation. The best time to do this is before putting your home on the market. This way if a problem arises, you won’t be surprised.

Testing and Removing Asbestos

You should hire an asbestos assessment professional to conduct an asbestos inspection. They should take samples of any suspected materials, assess the condition, and you advise as to what actions should be taken moving forward. The company that does this inspection should also be able to advise you as to what companies to use for any required remediation.

Remember that any material that is still in good condition does not need to be sampled unless it is likely to be disturbed at some point in the future.

Residential asbestos testing starts at around $350 and goes up depending on the number of areas or samples taken. It’s important to use separate contractors for testing and any subsequent abetment. This removes the question of any kind of conflict of interest.

Asbestos Abatement

According to HomeAdvisor: The national average cost for asbestos removal is $1,861. The average homeowner typically pays between $1,075 and $2,657. Extensive, whole-house remediation can run anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 or more. Pricing depends heavily on setup. Sealing off the area is the largest expense, composing about 60 to 70 percent of the final bill. Professionals figure $75 to $200 per hour for labor.

In Conclusion

Asbestos is a hazardous material and if you are buying or selling an older home (pre-1989) you need to understand what asbestos is and how to deal with it. Disclosure and discovery are the two best ways to stay out of court and out of the hospital.

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