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Homeowners Choosing to Remove Asbestos from Their Homes

If testing reveals asbestos, and the homeowner is committed to removing or repairing it, the area should first be wetted thoroughly – and kept wet – to insure the fibers aren’t released into the air. Spray walls with a tank sprayer, and wet mop floors. Never sweep, as this just spreads any asbestos fibers that have been freed into the air, and never vacuum, as asbestos fibers are so small they go right through even HEPA-calibrated bags.

The most critical area of concern is forced-air heating ductwork made from asbestos which – if deteriorated – is actually blowing particles of asbestos into the home. These ducts can be removed, if in good condition, by the homeowner, but disposal is another problem. It is against the law in almost every state to dispose of asbestos-containing products in regular landfills. To find a hazardous waste landfill, contact a regional environmental protection agency, or the local health department.

If the ducts are old, or in bad shape, consult a professional, who can do the job for about $1,500, or between $12 and $25 per foot.

Some older furnaces may also have an exterior asbestos lining at the base, or sit on an asbestos pad, or asbestos may be used in joint materials that connect the furnace to the ductwork. If you can’t hire a professional, and the linings and joints are deteriorated, encapsulation is the best policy, using an airless spray-on product after first soaking the material with a binder solution that keeps loose fibers from being dispersed.

Insulation blankets or pipe wrapping on and around boilers that deliver hot-water heating are also a source of concern, at least in the basement. Where such insulation is old or in bad shape, encapsulate it with designated spray-on sealers or wrap it with rewettable glass cloth, woven of impermeable glass fibers, which comes in 40-inch to 60-inch wide rolls.

Wiring can also contain asbestos sheathing. If you are rewiring a room, or your entire home, bypass these wires (instead of pulling them) and run new conduit or line.

Artificial fireplace logs manufactured before 1978 also contain asbestos, and the ashes can be dangerous. The logs themselves aren’t dangerous unless they become worn.

Wood stoves made before 1980 may also have asbestos in the door gasket, and should be replaced. If protective panels around, or under, wood stoves look like grayish-white stone, they may also contain asbestos, and should also be replaced and disposed of in hazardous-material landfills. Where materials can’t be removed (as under the stove), use spray encapsulation procedures described earlier, but be sure to do so on a day when the area can be thoroughly ventilated during, and for at least 48 hours afterward, spraying.

If you have textured ceilings, you should have them analyzed before engaging in any removal. Some are merely textured via the use of liquid drywall compound, but acoustical sprays – which can contain as much as 40 percent asbestos – can degrade over time and end up “raining” asbestos on the inhabitants. Even where such ceilings are in good shape, something as simple as sweeping or vacuuming for cobwebs can dislodge fibers, so don’t. Instead, test for asbestos (kits are available at many home products or hardware stores) and, if the material contains asbestos, rely on a licensed asbestos professional.

Old plaster may or may not contain asbestos, but many plaster patching and drywall joint compounds made before 1979 contain some asbestos. Where the content is unknown, avoid sanding such finishes. Instead, wet the area and layer on additional coats of wet drywall compound and use the layers to level bumps and flaws. It results in a less-than-perfectly flat wall, but will prevent the inhabitants developing mesothelioma in a few decades.

Resilient, or soft, flooring may also contain asbestos. In fact, if the flooring is older than 30 years, it likely does. It may not be the top layer of flooring, in fact, but may be a lower layer. When removing it, or even when removing a layer of flooring above it, be sure not to damage the flooring itself, or its backing, where most of the asbestos is present. That is, don’t sand or scrape to level the floor for new tiles. Instead, put a thin layer of plywood over the old tiles or sheet flooring, screw it to the floor joists at 6-inch intervals, caulk gaps as needed, and put new flooring down over the wood layer.
On a roof, everything from the roofing felt to the shingles can contain asbestos (more so for asphalt-asbestos shingles, less so for asbestos-cement compounds). Even the roofing tar can contain asbestos. A roof tear-off can be very hazardous, depending on the age of the roof. Since repeated layers of roofing add unnecessary and dangerous weight to a home’s stability, a tear-off is often necessary before a new roof can be installed. The best procedure is, again, to wet the roof with the hose and remove it in sections, being careful not to break the tiles or damage the tar and felt layers.

While it is possible for the homeowner to remove asbestos, it is a risky undertaking, putting not only the remover but the entire family in danger, including pets. The best advice, not only in terms of safety but in terms of cost and success, is to hire a professional, who not only has the necessary equipment to do the job right but is licensed in, and familiar with, removal/ remediation techniques and laws.