Asbestos in the Home
If you find asbestos in a property you’re trying to buy or sell, it can (and should) be managed efficiently. In some cases, homeowners or their loved ones who experience harmful levels of exposure can develop mesothelioma or related-illness. When the mineral is solid and undisturbed, it isn’t much of a problem, but if it’s in a friable state, that’s when things can get dangerous. When something’s friable, that means it’s crumbled or powdery when pressure is applied. Asbestos gets friable when it’s used in building structures that are disturbed, worn down, or destroyed. There are state and nationally mandated regulations on adequate asbestos removal, and negligent building owners and managers can be held liable for any damage to someone’s health that may occur.
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How Exposure Occurs
Asbestos was once renown for its resilient traits. With the ability to resist fire and electricity, the mineral is mostly found in insulation products, as well as roofing, shingles, siding, drywall, textured paint (popcorn), patching compounds, vinyl flooring, and pipe coverings in structures built before the 1980s. It wasn’t until the late 1970s when researchers discovered the latent, harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the mineral. Mesothelioma has a latency period of over 10 years because it grows slowly and takes a while to develop.
Asbestos fibers are most harmful during projects that involve construction, renovation, or demolition of contaminated real estate If fibers become airborne and inhaled, they can get lodged near the lungs, chest, or abdomen area and begin irritating tissues until tumors form.
Activities That Cause Exposure
Some activities are more dangerous than others. If you know of asbestos in a real estate listing or property, don’t touch, clean, or tamper with the mineral at all. The following activities are high risk for harmful levels of exposure on older properties.
Attic or Basement Restoration
Asbestos-containing insulation, piping, boilers, and heaters are commonly found in attics and basements and should be handled carefully during related projects.
Automobile Work in Home Garages
Automobile brake pads were once lined with an asbestos coating to protect them from excessive heat generated from braking. If automobile work is done on a vehicle that’s contaminated with the mineral, disturbed fibers paired with poor ventilation in a small space allow for concentrated levels of exposure and inhalation of the mineral in home garages.
Drilling or Patching Up Drywall
Drilling or using patching and joint compounds in a real estate listing with asbestos on drywall force the worker to be in close contact with the mineral when it’s friable. Once drilling occurs, asbestos dust may be expelled into the air, contaminating the environment nearby.
Extracting or Repairing Vinyl Tile Floors
Some vinyl tiles were made with asbestos because of the increased durability it can provide. When tiles are broken, sanded, cut, or removed, the fibers can easily become crumbled. Ceramic, porcelain, or laminate flooring, and engineered wood can be used to cover contaminated asbestos tiles.
Plumbing or Pipefitting
Older pipes that contain steam or hot water may be lined with a protective asbestos coating that would help manage continual heat. Cutting pipes and other plumbing activities can put residents and yourself at elevated risk.
Popcorn Ceiling or Paint Removal
Asbestos was also used in a protective spray applied to textured ceilings and paint for almost 40 years. Scraping off popcorn ceilings or paint makes the material powdery. Additionally, flooding or leaks can also disturb the mineral at dangerous levels.
When you first take on an older listing, walk through and look closely at the fixtures, finishes, tiling, drywall, or paint and assess if they are worn down, falling apart, or otherwise damaged. If you find this, don’t try to remove the contaminated material yourself.
What Should I Do About Asbestos in my Listing?
You must legally disclose all knowledge of asbestos or other toxins in the home to the property owner, potential buyer, or tenant. If you’re unaware and discover the mineral later in the process, the buyer can cover the cost of an inspection to assess asbestos levels on the listing.
If the real estate listing does have dangerous levels of asbestos within the infrastructure, three things can be done to amend the situation. The area with asbestos could be sealed, covered, or removed. Unless a major renovation or demolition project is underway, the buyer can save money by sealing or covering areas built with the mineral instead of completely removing it. If construction projects do occur without proper asbestos removal, the air quality may become compromised, potentially exposing you, current tenants, owners, or prospective buyers and their loved ones.
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Tips for Realtors
Several nuances come with selling or buying a home that may have contaminated pollutants. Some helpful safety tips for realtors who find asbestos on their property include:
- No matter the circumstance, unless you’re a certified entity, do not handle testing or removal of the mineral yourself. It’s vital to hire a certified company to ensure the job gets done correctly.
- Realtors with knowledge of asbestos on their listing can wait for the potential buyer to ask and pay for testing, but taking care of the situation beforehand can be beneficial during price negotiations. The same goes for buyers who find asbestos, they may ask for a lower price or completely walk away from the sale.
- Certified agents can only positively identify asbestos with a microscope. If a general inspector thinks there’s asbestos on the property, they will highlight it as ‘asbestos-like material’.
- The cost of testing and identification of asbestos will fluctuate based on individual state mandates. You have the option to mail-in suspected materials for approximately $50 to $180 depending on the analysis needed. Onsite testing can range from about $250 to over $750. If asbestos has contaminated air quality, you can order an air monitor test that can be about $300 to $1,200.
- Testing and removal companies should be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove asbestos and other toxins with the greatest chance for success.
- There may be instances where you have a real estate listing with a lot of asbestos that needs to be removed but can’t handle the expenses. You have the option to sell the home or property for cash ‘as is’. This is only recommended in situations where costs associated with asbestos removal are too high.
Real estate agents, property owners, and potential buyers have many options for efficient management or removal of asbestos. While it’s legal to sell a house with asbestos, not disclosing this information can cause dangerous exposure, illness, and potential litigation. Finding the mineral on you’re property is a situation that must be maintained, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Contact your local EPA for more information on your specific state’s asbestos regulations and approved testing and removal companies.