For everything we hear about outdoor air quality, few homebuyers seem to be overly concerned about the air they may breathe inside the home they’ve just submitted a purchase offer. Most Americans will spend at least one-third of their time every day inside their house. So if the air they breathe during that huge chunk of their lives is unhealthy, it has the potential to be a really big deal.
According to a Redfin article by Dylan Clark, many indoor air quality problems are difficult to inspect for or gauge accurately because they lack easily definable metrics. “This leaves uncertainty regarding things like mold, formaldehyde, pets, rodents and other peculiar odors, he says. “One indoor air quality question that comes up a lot on older homes, which is a bit more precise to measure, is asbestos.” That means if you're a homebuyer, homeowner or remodeler, it’s wise to learn all there is to know about asbestos.
Asbestos is a mineral that naturally occurs in the earth. Because it contains properties that make it an excellent and inexpensive fire retardant, it was added to a number of building products back in the 1940s all the way through the 1970s, including insulation, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, heating duct tape, boiler pipes, cement siding, textured ceilings, and even the glue used under flooring.
The reason you hear remodelers on HGTV shows shriek with horror when they find asbestos materials during a house renovation, however, is because it can not only be toxic when the abrasive fibers get inhaled into the lungs causing damage to lung tissue, but remediation can also be a big hit to their renovation budgets.
So how do you determine if asbestos is present in your house? For one, you can hire an industrial hygienist or an environmental lab to perform an evaluation of the house, according to Clark. “These contractors should follow a thorough testing protocol and will often take more than a dozen samples from the building. Once you have the results, you should know what materials contain asbestos, and most labs will also provide a protocol for remediating (safely removing) these materials. You now have data.”
Then there question of what to do. In older homes many of the materials that contain asbestos are already encapsulated and can’t become airborne, so you can rest easy — nothing needs to be done. “The biggest risk posed by asbestos in buildings is during a remodel or renovation to an old house,” says Clark. “This is when the asbestos-containing materials get damaged and aerosolized and people working or living in the house are at risk of exposure.”
State laws often mandate that homeowners and their contractors test for asbestos before any construction or renovation project if a house was built prior to 1977, when the substance became banned for public health reasons. Remediation must be done by licensed abatement contractors before starting demolition work.
Homebuyers tend not to test for asbestos as part of their due diligence when buying a house for a number of reasons, including no immediate plans for renovations. If there are no real plans to potentially disturb the asbestos products a house may contain, you may to test the house later when you have work done. But if you are the new owner of an older home who instantly plans to take down interior walls, rip out old drywall, lath, and plaster, you need to plan a budget for lead and asbestos identification and remediation. “If you have time to do this evaluation before buying the house, that is great,” says Clark. “The more data up front, the better.” Often, however, home buyers have short timeframes to complete their inspections.
It should be noted that home inspectors generally are not certified for asbestos inspections. While many home inspectors report on the presence of building materials that are likely to contain asbestos, their findings should not be confused with a comprehensive asbestos identification inspection.
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