Home Inspections in Niagara, Hamilton, Halton, GTA – mold, Asbestos and radon inspections across Ontario

Asbestos in your home?

The possibility

Asbestos in a residential building

The general rule of thumb is that if your home was built prior to 1980 there is a high possibility that Asbestos was used somewhere in its construction.   This could have been in tape joints in drywall, plaster, textured ceilings, suspended ceiling tiles, floor tile, pipe insulation, fire stops, or attic insulation among other places.

Generally, you can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it unless it is labelled and nor can a Home Inspector.  Some home Inspectors will call out components that look like Asbestos and are wrong to do so.   The word Asbestos cause untold anxiety and most of the time, unnecessarily.

Some Inspectors might be right in identifying the component has asbestos in it.  Even if a component has asbestos in it, it may not qualify as Asbestos Containing Material (ACM). 

Even if it’s ACM it may not be friable.

Obviously, if in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos and leave it alone or encapsulate it, without disturbing it.

However what if:

  • You are planning to remodel your home? or
  • Your home has damaged building materials?

It’s not Asbestos until it’s tested!

In any situation, you are better off calling a trained professional to identify if you have a problem with Asbestos Containing Materials, or more importantly, not.

Avoid a conflict of interest.

COI_sampling_vs_remedy
Beware: conflict of interest

An asbestos professional hired to assess the need for asbestos repair or removal should not be connected with an asbestos firm that does the actual repair or removal of materials. It is better to use two different firms so there is no conflict of interest.

What decides if Asbestos is present?

asbestos_typesAs part of the sampling process, our Inspectors take three samples of the area of concern.   This is required to ensure that the likelihood of asbestos in the building materials has been tested as thoroughly as possible with the minimal amount of damage.   It’s also the minimum amount required by legislators in Ontario to allow a tester to confidently make the decision if a material is unlikely to contain Asbestos.

We then send the samples to a laboratory that has specialist teams to identify Asbestos.  Our process with the lab is such that each sample is tested in turn, and if Asbestos is found, the sampling process stops.  This reduces the cost to you if the tests are positive.

If there are no Asbestos fibres found in a sample, or the % of fibres found are lower than the limit to identify the material as ACM (Asbestos Containing Material), the lab goes onto the next sample, until all three are tested negative.  Negative results cost the most from a testing perspective, but they give you the greatest confidence in the probability of an Asbestos free material.

If the number of Asbestos fibres found in any sample exceeds those need to classify the material as ACM, then testing stops.   
Remediation or corrective action, as desired, would now be required on your part.  We say “as desired” because if the Asbestos is not friable, then there is no mandatory requirement to remediate.

At this point, for ACM that is not damaged and not friable, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to limit access to the area and not to touch or disturb it.

Encapsulation is another way of dealing with ACM that is not friable but might cause concern to those uneducated people who are driven by the press frenzy over Asbestos.

If asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a trained and accredited asbestos professional is needed.

Checking any work has been done right

After any removal or repair work has been completed, our inspectors can return and do air sampling to ensure the remediators have done their job right.

Because we are independent of any remediators, you can be assured that we will not “fudge” any figures to say work is complete and the air is safe if it is not.

Again, watch for any conflict of interest.   Remediators should not provide you with the air sampling either before or after any work.  Keep the sampling independent.

When to worry and when not to worry?

We hear from members of the public about the fact that an inspector has found asbestos in their homes only to go out and find that the Inspector has misidentified the concerns.  Either they’ve called something out as Asbestos without testing it, and it’s not, or they’ve taken a sample for testing and in the process damaged what would be perfectly OK ACM that was not friable.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety, “Asbestos is a hazard to health when the fibers are disturbed and become airborne. This means that asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are present in the air and then people breathe them into the lungs. Fibres can be released into the air when asbestos-containing products break down. This release can happen through deterioration or when the material is cut or disturbed.”

Current scientific and medical evidence supports the fact that simply living or working in a building containing asbestos is not dangerous as long as the asbestos is in good condition (i.e. undamaged).   It is when asbestos is worked with or disturbed and asbestos fibres are released that the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is increased.

The people at greatest risk of developing an asbestos-related disease are those that frequently undertake repairs, renovations and other work which can generate the release of asbestos fibres into the air.

The likelihood of any particular person developing an asbestos-related illness depends on a number of factors, including:

  • length of time a person is exposed to airborne asbestos fibres
  • concentration or levels of asbestos in the air breathed
  • individual susceptibility
  • size and type of asbestos fibres
  • influence of other factors, especially cigarette smoke. (Research has shown that smoking significantly increases the risk of lung cancer in people who have been exposed to asbestos or any number of other pollutants.)

So let’s look at a few examples.

Duct Tape

Duct tape:

A lot of poorly trained inspectors will see this around the ducts or registers and declare “OMG!!   You’ve got Asbestos!”

  • First:   It’s not asbestos-containing material unless it’s tested.  A lot of tape like this is actually only reinforced paper designed solely to prevent air leakage.
  • Second:  If it’s intact and not damaged then it’s non-friable.
  • Third:  Tearing it off to test it can make it friable.
  • Fourth:  Encapsulating it with a mastic or even aluminium foil duct-tape removes the concern for the home-owner.

This tape has probably been here for 50-60 years.  It’s not been lying in wait to suddenly become all nasty just for you.   The old adage comes to mind “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix-it”

 

 

Vinyl Tile Flooring

Vinyl Tile Flooring

You often hear stories about 9″ tiles being Asbestos and 12″ being non-asbestos.   We have a word for that, and the word is “poppycock!”  Either size tile can have Asbestos.  If they are not damaged our opinion is “so what?”.    The way in which Asbestos-Vinyl tiles are made makes it impossible for asbestos fibres to escape from an intact tile.  Vinyl floor tiles are resilient and cheap, making them a logical choice for floors that must withstand constant wear and tear such as in businesses, schools and hospitals. Mixing asbestos into vinyl floor tiles actually made them more resistant to damage.  Even after years of being firmly cemented in place, when you lift these tiles they are exceedingly difficult (for most mortals) to damage.

Leave them down, and leave them alone.  Cover them over with a different flooring.

Vinyl Wallpaper
P-100 Mask Good!
Face diaper Bad!

Vinyl has been used in wallpaper for more than a century, and today most wall coverings are either vinyl-coated paper or solid vinyl with a cloth backing. Wallpaper was one of the earliest vinyl products to include asbestos.  As long as the paper is in good condition, it poses no threat.  Removing old vinyl wallpaper should be performed carefully, with copious amounts of water spray to keep the paper (and any fibres) wet and you should ALWAYS wear a NIOSH P100 mask, not one of those cloth bandit masks that are supposed to protect your lungs from dust.

Popcorn Ceiling

Not all popcorn ceilings contain asbestos. The use of asbestos in textured ceiling paint and a lot of other but not all household construction materials was banned in 1979. 

That said, there wore pots and pots and pots of the stuff left around and it was still being painted on until the late 1990’s.  After that paper was used, so the popcorn ceiling went from fireproof to a fire accelerant.   

  • Again, you can’t tell if it’s asbestos unless it’s tested. 
  • Again, it’s not a risk unless you play with it.
  • Again,  don’t disturb it and it won’t be something that should disturb you.

If you do want to remove a popcorn ceiling and it has been tested for ACM, then you’ll have to deal with it.  Remember, you don’t have to adhere to the rules set down in the Occupational Hygiene Regulations to remove it yourself, but you are responsible for the responsible disposal of any asbestos-containing material.   And don’t do what we found this numpty on Pinterest doing, whether it is ACM or not.   See above for the proper masks.

Pipe wrap

Pipe wrap is another emotive subject, especially in older homes that have hydronic heating.   Yes, many older homes will have pipes wrapped in asbestos-containing insulation, but again a proper asbestos inspection, not a home inspection, is the right format for looking for and identifying an asbestos concern.

Take for instance these three:

Pipe wrap
Mystery pipe wrap 1
Mystery pipe wrap 2
Mystery pipe wrap 2
Mystery pipe wrap 3
Mystery pipe wrap 3

 

Which one is an asbestos-containing material?  

If you said you don’t know you get a (virtual) gold star.   You won’t know unless they are tested.   However, in this case, we know that Mystery pipe wrap 1 is actually fibreglass wrap with a vinyl fabric shield (No asbestos).  Mystery pipe wrap 2 is moulded in place cementitious asbestos wrap, highly friable and damaged to boot.   Mystery pipe wrap 3 is a cloth wrapper corrugated cardboard insulation with asbestos in the layers.

The first oe poses no (currently known) concern.  The next two would, and more than likely, if they were to be found to be ACM, would need professional remediation.  Mystery pipe wrap 3 might be able to be saved with encapsulation but Mystery pipe wrap 2 is a done deal.

Vermiculite

Here we quote directly from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).   “Vermiculite is a silver-gold to grey-brown mineral that is flat and shiny in its natural state. When heated to around 1000 degrees C, it pops (or puffs up) which creates pockets of air. This expanded form, and the fact that vermiculite does not burn made the material suitable for use as insulation.”  They go on to say “Vermiculite itself has not been shown to be a health problem. However, some vermiculite insulation contained asbestos fibres, which can cause problems if inhaled. As long as this kind of vermiculite-based insulation remains undisturbed behind intact walls or in attic spaces and does not become airborne, it should not be a concern.”

But not all Vermiculite contains Asbestos.  Again, testing is the only sure way of identifying ACM.  Raw Vermiculite is mined and in some places (like Libby Montana) the mines also have Asbestos minerals.  These go through the same heating process as the Vermiculite but unlike the Vermiculite don’t change, they are just embedded in the now friable vermiculite, making the asbestos fibres also friable.

Canada imports vermiculite for the U.S.A. but also from places like South Africa.   The South African vermiculite has not been shown to have any asbestos in.  But you cannot tell from just looking at it, so again from the CCOHS “if you believe that your home may contain vermiculite insulation, it is reasonable to assume that it may be contaminated with asbestos” get it tested and sleep soundly knowing the truth than worrying about something you don’t know.

Finally

Without detracting from the number of class action lawsuits that have made a lot of lawyers very rich in the U.S. and other places, and the fact that prolonged exposure to any carcinogen increase the risk of some form of Cancer, we, as humans, have been living and working with Asbestos and Asbestos materials since the building of the pyramids.  If it was that bad for us, wouldn’t the earth’s population be shrinking rather than expanding at ever exponential rates?

As with all things, understand the concern, identify the risk, take appropriate action to minimise that risk, but sensibly balance the action and the cost of the action to the risk.

Remember, your home inspection is not a toxic material inspection.  Whether that’s mould, asbestos, lead paint, radon or anything else.   Sure an inspector will call-out for a specialist inspection of something that is of concern, but some inspectors are better aware or better educated and know when a concern is a concern and when it is just hyperbole.   Ensure you get an inspector that not only knows the difference but can explain things to you in a common-sense way.

Full disclosure

If we see something that looks like it may be ACM AND it’s friable, we’ll call it out.  Generally, we work on the principle that knowledge has been out there for decades on the internet and in newspapers to scare people enough about living in old houses and Asbestos.

I personally have lived and worked on homes that had Asbestos in the walls, plaster, vinyl tiles, siding, transite pipes, firewalls, firebreaks, pipe insulation, knob & tube sheathing and vermiculite.  If I had to renovate or remedy, I took the proper precautions to minimise the friable asbestos and dust.  There’s no way I’m ripping a house apart to remove something that does not need removing, and that includes the 1907 home I live in as of writing.

We certainly don’t alarm people when there’s no need for alarm.