Over 25+ million homeowners may have to eventually go through the ordeal of residential asbestos removal. Despite knowing of the harmful effects of six carcinogenic asbestos minerals, manufacturers and governments decided that the benefits were greater than the possible harmful effects. Consequently, the use of asbestos became widespread after World War II, especially in building materials. Now homeowners face serious health hazards, financial burdens, and possible lawsuits due to the carcinogenic asbestos.
Although asbestos is not dangerous when it’s in good condition, it’s very dangerous when the fibers have deteriorated or have become airborne. The small, nearly invisible fibers can easily be inhaled or embedded in bodily tissues when they become airborne or are disturbed by vibration. Exposure to high amounts of asbestos for long terms can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. These are all incurable, mostly fatal diseases which may not develop symptoms until 15-40 years after the exposure occurred. Recent research has suggested that asbestos may also cause or aggravate breast, ovarian, prostrate, and laryngeal cancers and pleural plaques.
Financial and legal concerns
Having asbestos in the home can also create numerous financial and legal concerns for the homeowners. By law, the homeowner can be held accountable for any harm due to negligence that befalls someone entering the home. Not taking proper measures to warn people of possible asbestos exposure or to prevent people from being exposed can be considered as negligence. Even if there weren’t any lawsuits, the homeowner would have to pay very expensive medical and mostly likely funeral expenses if a member of the family became ill due to asbestos exposure.
Having asbestos in the home also makes it more difficult for the owner to obtain insurance and loans or to sell the house. Many lenders, insurers, and realtors charge higher fees for their services when working with older homes and newer homes that are known to have asbestos in them. Others simply refuse to work with older houses due to the asbestos factor.
Do-it-yourself vs. professional services
If the asbestos is removed, repaired, or abated, then the work should be performed by a professional contractor. Any amateur attempts may create a higher health hazard for the entire family and community. The work requires numerous, expensive safety measures to be taken, including inspections, work area containment, and special equipment and clothing. The attempt to save money could eventually cost someone their life.
It’s expensive for the contractor to set-up and clean-up, even for minor tasks, so they usually charge homeowners a minimum fee. It can cost around $1,500-$3,000 for even a minor abatement project in a home. On top of the set-up and clean-up fees, there’s the cost of pre-inspection, sample testing, labor, materials, and re-inspection. It’s even more expensive if asbestos removal is required.
Abatement vs. removal
Homeowners generally have a choice of leaving the asbestos alone, taking abatement measurements, or removal. It’s highly recommended to leave asbestos alone if it’s in good condition. However, the location and amount of damage to the asbestos will be the primary deciding factors between abatement and removal.
Abatement measures are generally less expensive and may reduce the health hazards created by working with asbestos. The abatement measures can either be encapsulation (sealing or binding the fibers with a sealant) or enclosure (covering or surrounding the asbestos to prevent release of the fibers). Either method can be used for major or minor repairs. The cons to abatement measures are that the asbestos remains in place and may need repairing or removal at a later time. The abatement measure taken may make later removal and repairs more difficult and costly.
The pros to removal are that once the asbestos has been properly removed, there’s not as many asbestos-related health, financial, or legal worries to cope with. The cons to removal are that there’s a higher risk of exposure during the actual removal process, and the process is very expensive. It’s also important to remember that any asbestos that was used for fire-proofing must be replaced with another type of fire-proofing material.
Hiring a professional asbestos contractor
It doesn’t do much good to hire a professional contractor to do the repairs or removal if the person doesn’t do the job properly. It also isn’t beneficial to be overcharged or to have unnecessary work completed. Here are some tips to follow if you think you may have asbestos in your home:
- Have a licensed professional that’s been trained by the state or the EPA inspect your home for asbestos. Especially ensure samples are taken of any damaged asbestos or any asbestos that’s in an area that might be disturbed if you’re going to be doing remodeling, repairs, or renovations.
- Have the samples tested by a certified asbestos testing lab that works independently from the contractor that took the samples.
- If repairs or removal is needed, do some comparison shopping among the licensed asbestos contractors that are qualified for that specific type of asbestos and product. Make sure that: 1) the quotes include the cost of set-up, clean-up, asbestos disposal, labor, and replacement materials, 2) all federal, state, and local safety, disposal, notification, and health regulations are complied with, 3) any special permits are obtained before the work begins, 4) the containment for the work area is not taken down before the area has been re-inspected and the written air sample report has come back, and the area has been re-cleaned if necessary, and 5) no one enters the contained work area unnecessarily, especially children and pets, until it has been re-inspected and cleared of all health hazards.
- Have a re-inspection done by a different contractor than the one that performs the abatement, repair, or removal work once the work has been completed. Make sure the re-inspection includes examination of the work performed and an electronic testing of the air throughout the entire home.
- Check on the professional contractors’ backgrounds and reputations before hiring them. Request references from former customers, check with the Better Business Bureau, and any local environmental or worker safety agencies to determine if there’s been any complaints or regulation violations.
- Make sure the contractor is insured. Check the contractors’ insurance policies to ensure there are no exclusions for asbestos-related claims, and that the policy adequately covers any problems that may be found during the job and after the job is over.
- Make sure the written contract includes all the agreed upon details and that everything has been spelled out clearly. The written contract should include: 1) a firm cost figure for the entire job, 2) a description of exactly what will be done, when it will be done, and where it will be done at, 3) a description of the abatement/repair/removal methods and the containment methods that will be used for the work area, 4) a guarantee that the work area will be left clean and in condition for re-occupancy, 5) a guarantee that you will be given copies of all lab reports, the landfill receipts, and 6) a guarantee that the contractor will assume all responsibility, including legal liability, for the proper disposal of the materials at an approved landfill.
Homeowners can locate qualified professional contractors through research on the Internet. Some local environmental safety agencies and local health departments also keep a listing of licensed asbestos contractors. Contractors may also be found in the local Yellow Pages, listed under asbestos. Just be sure the contractor you choose is trained in residential asbestos removal.