QDEAR BARRY: My home has textured ceilings in the living rooms and bedrooms, and the material has tested positive for asbestos. A home inspector I know says he removed his asbestos ceilings by himself and that it was simple. He just wetted the surface, and the asbestos turned to mush and was easily removed. But when I tried to wet my ceilings, the water wouldn't soak in. Why did this method work for my friend but not for me? -- Allen
ADEAR ALLEN: During the 1980s and early 1990s, removal of acoustic ceiling texture was commonly done for environmental safety reasons because breathing asbestos fibers was known to cause lung disease. That practice became less common when it was realized that asbestos ceilings pose no health hazards if left alone. Air contamination occurs only when the material is disturbed, causing the release of asbestos fibers. In more recent years, removal of acoustic ceiling texture has become popular because the "cottage cheese look" makes a home appear dated.
When acoustic texture material is wet, asbestos fibers don't release into the air. Therefore, wetting is part of the prescribed method for safe removal.
But in some cases, as you've found, this is not possible. The water resistance of your acoustic ceilings is probably because of paint on the surface. Unpainted acoustic ceiling coating readily absorbs water. When wet, it becomes the consistency of oatmeal and is easily removed with a drywall knife, without releasing asbestos into the air. However, many old acoustic ceilings have been painted, and water won't soak in.
If you scrape the acoustic texture while it is dry, asbestos fibers could contaminate the air. Therefore, you should hire a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to ensure safety.
Unfortunately, the cost of professional asbestos removal may be prohibitive. Because of this, some homeowners have instead installed a second layer of drywall over the asbestos surface. This costs less than removing the asbestos. However, installing drywall over an acoustic ceiling can cause abrasion, resulting in the release of asbestos fibers. Therefore, such work should be done only with the advice of an asbestos abatement contractor.
For more information regarding residential asbestos, see the Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov/asbestos/ashome.html, or call the agency at 202-566-0500 and request the booklet "Asbestos in the Home."
DEAR BARRY: The house I'm buying is more than 100 years old, and there appear to be some structural problems. The main support beam in the basement is cracked and has caused some sagging of the upstairs floor. The sellers have installed temporary supports and say that permanent repairs can be done later for about $1,000. Should I consider buying this house? -- Chris
DEAR CHRIS: If you seriously wish to buy this house, you should disregard the sellers' assessment of the support problems and have the foundation and framing systems professionally evaluated. Concerns regarding the structural integrity of a home should not be left to chance or to offhand opinions.
I strongly recommend that the post and beam problems be investigated by a licensed structural engineer. The property should also be fully evaluated by the most thorough and experienced home inspector you can find. Other problems are certain to be revealed.
Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.
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