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Possible asbestos on ductwork


By swebb   Follow   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 6:40am PST   1,412 views   17 comments
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I'm under contract on a house and initial inspection turns up possible (probable) asbestos on some of the ducting. I have researched it "extensively" on the web and I'm generally fairly comfortable with living with asbestos in place. A few things concern me about this particular case, though.

Note this is a very old house, built before 1900. I don't believe asbestos was in wide use when the house was built.

1. A thorough asbestos inspection has not been conducted, and so far the only suspected place that has asbestos is the AIR RETURN ducts leading to the furnace. Normally if asbestos is on the positive pressure side of the furnace (going from furnace to vents) people say that the risk of contamination is very low because even if the asbestos is disturbed near a duct joint the pressure inside the duct would tend to keep the asbestos out, and not draw it in. On an air return it seems the opposite would be true. Once in the system, the blower distributes it throughout the house.

2. Even if I'm completely convinced that there is no danger posed to me or my family, if I were to sell the house I may face a buyer who wants it removed, probably at great expense.

3. If I do renovations int he future as I plan to do, any asbestos would have to be dealt with at that time, probably at great expense.

So I'm concerned about the possible asbestos and whether or not I should:
a) have an inspection / test done. This appears to be fairly expensive, $400-$600. There is some concern about testing and getting definitive knowledge that there is asbestos -- does that legally obligate me to tell someone who I would rent it to, for example. Do I now have additional obligations to have anything tested that I might disturb, where I otherwise might not? etc.
b) request that the seller perform asbestos removal prior to closing.
c) back out of the deal if they are unwilling.

I'd appreciate your thoughts?

Comments 1-17 of 17     Last »

bob2356   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 7:20am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike     Comment 1

That doesn't make any sense, why would someone insulate the return pipes? There should be some record of the furnace installation at the building department that would shed some light on this. It obviously wasn't originally installed in a pre 1900 house, forced hot air really didn't exist until after ww2.

unstoppable   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 7:32am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 2

You can send away a small sample to a lab, if your paranoid you can have a friend pay for the testing to avoid a paper trail.

Old linoleum and tile can also have asbestos in them so keep an eye out.

If I was in your shoes I would get an asbestos removal estimate, use it to beat the seller up on price, then remove the asbestos myself.

It's not rocket science, a proper resperator, a tyvek bunny suit, duct tape, a spray bottle, some plastic tarp, a bunch of plastic bags and you're ready to get to work.

swebb   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 10:46am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike     Comment 3

bob2356 says

That doesn't make any sense, why would someone insulate the return pipes?

My guess is that the return pipes were originally feed pipes for a gravity feed system that have been re-purposed when it was updated to a forced air...

I don't hold out a lot of hope finding records on a very old furnace system, if records were even kept of such a thing.

everything   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 12:33pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 4

Of course it's asbestos, what else did you think it was? It was still on the hardware store shelves until the 70's. I see guys remove it all the time. My college room mate worked for an a abatement company so I learned allot about it. The best thing is to just leave it alone, touching it will contaminate your whole house. IF you do remove it yourself put fans in the window so suck all the fibers out, they are very small. Put outside right away or immediately into plastic bags, also sealed immediately. Lol, don't tell anyone what you are doing. It's no big thing, every house I ever lived in had asbestos somewhere, every school I attended, etc. One in ten thousand people will get cancer or die from it no matter how you look at it.

swebb   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 1:41pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 5

everything says

Of course it's asbestos, what else did you think it was?

I've seen it, and I strongly suspect it is asbestos, but can't be sure without a definitive test. You haven't seen it and you are confident in saying that it is definitely asbestos.

Also, did you even read my post?

HEY YOU   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 5:55pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 6

Another option: Walk away.

bob2356   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 7:19pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 7

swebb says

My guess is that the return pipes were originally feed pipes for a gravity feed system that have been re-purposed when it was updated to a forced air...

I don't hold out a lot of hope finding records on a very old furnace system, if records were even kept of such a thing.

Gravity feed for what? Still doesn't make much sense. Couldn't hurt to ask at the building department, depending on the town they have very extensive records dating back a long, long way.

Where are you getting $400-600 for testing from. http://www.asbestos-test.com/stepbystep.htm mail a sample costs $30.00 and it's confidential.

How much return duct is there? Shouldn't be all that much in retrofitted old house. What renovations would possibly disturb the ducting?

rdm   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 9:23pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 8

Almost 100% chance its asbestos or has asbestos in it. I would have it removed professionally or leave it alone. The type used in duct or pipe insulation is friable and is dangerous when disturbed. Floor tile typically, 9"x9" in size is not friable and much safer to deal with without negative air and special training. Yes you would legally have to disclose it if you tested positive at least in the States I know of.

swebb   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 11:15pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 9

bob2356 says

Gravity feed for what? Still doesn't make much sense.

Gravity feed systems are old central heaters that don't have fans to circulate the air, but instead rely on convection. Since the movement of air is much slower than with a blower, they used larger ducting, as I understand it. To my eyes it looks like they re-purposed a few of the old ducts for the air return. In any case it doesn't really matter if it makes sense....there are two large return pipes going to the air handler and both are wrapped in white paper...

bob2356 says

Where are you getting $400-600 for testing from. http://www.asbestos-test.com/stepbystep.htm mail a sample costs $30.00 and it's confidential.

Yes, there are local labs that will do the same for about that cost. The $expensive figure above is for a full inspection of the house for asbestos, I think. I'm primarily concerned about the ducting (that's what I know about), but there is possibly some in other places...attic insulation, etc.

bob2356 says

How much return duct is there? Shouldn't be all that much in retrofitted old house. What renovations would possibly disturb the ducting?

One long run, maybe 40 feet? One shorter run, maybe 15 feet or so. As for renovations that would disturb the ducting:

1. Dig out the basement. Right now it's only a partial basement with crawlspace. We may want to dig out the basement in the future which would necessitate re-working of the ducts.
2. Installing radon mitigation system. The basement tested for (slightly) elevated radon levels...mitigation involves installing a plastic barrier over the dirt crawlspace and venting to the outside. This would likely disturb the ducting.
3. Installing central air. Not sure if this would affect the current ducting, but it could. Some HVAC shops won't touch a system with asbestos wrapped ducts.

swebb   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 11:16pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 10

HEY YOU says

Another option: Walk away.

Yes, this is on our list of options. One problem is that any house we buy in the area is going to be old and therefore likely to have asbestos. In fact, this one being as old as it is (early 1890s) is helpful in that respect...you get too far into the 1900s and a lot of other sources of asbestos present themselves.

zzyzzx   Sun, 16 Dec 2012, 11:19pm PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike (2)     Comment 11

Just wear a breather when you remove it and wash your close afterwards, and have good venting. No need to pay thousands for something you can safely do yourself. The same goes for lead paint. The risks are way overblown to make people think they need to pay thousands to have it professionally done.

swebb   Mon, 17 Dec 2012, 12:39am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 12

zzyzzx says

The risks are way overblown to make people think they need to pay thousands to have it professionally done.

I know they are overblown. That's the problem. If I remove it myself, or just ignore it, it might come back to bite me when I sell. I'm not so worried about it from a safety standpoint, more of a cost standpoint.

I'm not likely to remove it myself. I'd rather have the seller pay for it and have a record of having it done professionally.

zzyzzx   Mon, 17 Dec 2012, 2:48am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike (2)     Comment 13

If you remove it properly, yourself, and there is no evidence if it ever being there, why do you need a record of it?

TechGromit   Tue, 18 Dec 2012, 1:00am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 14

swebb says

Note this is a very old house, built before 1900. I don't believe asbestos was in wide use when the house was built.

Neither was central heat/air conditioning. If the house has duct work, it was installed sometime AFTER the house was built.

TechGromit   Tue, 18 Dec 2012, 1:15am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 15

unstoppable says

It's not rocket science, a proper respirator, a tyvek bunny suit, duct tape, a spray bottle, some plastic tarp, a bunch of plastic bags and you're ready to get to work.

I agree, they make it seem like it's the most hazards job in the world to remove asbestos, but long as it's kept wet when removing it, it's not too dangerous. The spray bottle is to spray the air to wet any dust particles making them fall to the ground. While not legal to do this type of work yourself, what they don't know can't hurt you. Like Unstoppable says, put plastic traps up to seal off the area your working in, including the floor. wear a protective suit, mask, have several spray bottles, have someone constantly spraying the bottle as your removing the asbestos, put everything in plastic bags. try to do a small area as possible, so your not entering and leaving the work area for several days. When completed, spray your selves down well in an airlock, break everything down from the outside and into plastic bags they go. You'll save yourself a ton of $ doing it yourself.

It's possible your my get a little asbestos exposure during the course of your work, but doesn't kill you instantly. It's only with prolonged exposure that health concerns develop. So long as you do a good job removing it, it shouldn't be an issue in the future.

Now if the state gets involved, they will make a federal project out of it costing you thousands of dollars with hiring a licensed contractor, air testing and disposal fees.

everything says

IF you do remove it yourself put fans in the window so suck all the fibers out, they are very small.

I disagree with this, you don't want the fibers moving around. Isolate the area much as possible, remove the asbestos, soak the air and ceiling with water, everything goes into plastic bags, including the plastic tarps and your work suit when you done, only your mask, plastic gloves and goggles don't get tossed, you can hose them off outside later and replace the air filter cartridges.

bob2356   Tue, 18 Dec 2012, 2:38am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 16

swebb says

1. Dig out the basement. Right now it's only a partial basement with crawlspace. We may want to dig out the basement in the future which would necessitate re-working of the ducts.
2. Installing radon mitigation system. The basement tested for (slightly) elevated radon levels...mitigation involves installing a plastic barrier over the dirt crawlspace and venting to the outside. This would likely disturb the ducting.
3. Installing central air. Not sure if this would affect the current ducting, but it could. Some HVAC shops won't touch a system with asbestos wrapped ducts.

You're worried about 2 ducts in the basement?? That's a big so what. I thought you were talking about in the attic or framing. Don't strip it at all, just replace the ducts. Even if you had it done professionaly as asbestos abatement it wouldn't be that much. Why don't you just go get a quote instead of playing what if in your mind, no one charges for a job quote. They should be able to quote it just on the description of the space and the duct length.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance. You are breathing it right now. There is probably more coming in the windows and doors of the house than coming from the ducts. Unless you are a asbestos worker the risks of asbestos are so small it's not worth worrying about. Even the EPA has backed off a lot on asbestos.

swebb   Wed, 26 Dec 2012, 8:17am PST   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike     Comment 17

bob2356 says

You're worried about 2 ducts in the basement?? That's a big so what. I thought you were talking about in the attic or framing. Don't strip it at all, just replace the ducts. Even if you had it done professionaly as asbestos abatement it wouldn't be that much. Why don't you just go get a quote instead of playing what if in your mind, no one charges for a job quote. They should be able to quote it just on the description of the space and the duct length.

I did get an inspection (samples tested of various places) and a quote for the duct work. Around $3,000 for the first quote. I haven't received the other written quote yet, but his off the cuff estimate was somewhat lower than that.

The asbestos testing results confirmed the duct insulation was asbestos (as expected), provided a negative result for the 2 layers of flooring in the kitchen, and an effectively negative result on the drywall and textured finish in the attic. The joint compound did have some asbestos, but when considered in aggregate (As the EPA and Colorado permit) the composite number was around 0.1% (less than 1% isn't considered asbestos containing for the purposes of demolition / remodeling safety)

I'm not so worried about it from a health standpoint, but from a resale and or renovation standpoint it is important to me. The duct work in the basement is likely to be disturbed by work we are planning, so it will have to be dealt with on one way or another.

I asked the sellers for a concession in the amount of the abatement estimate, and they agreed. (We didn't ask for any other concessions although there are quite a number of things we could have asked for, so the $3k abatement concession could be considered o apply to the whole house)

Note that Colorado is apparently fairly strict and "requires" an asbestos test prior to issuing a work permit -- that is a primary reason I was a stickler for the asbestos testing.

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