QDEAR BARRY: In a recent column, you discussed asbestos materials in older homes and stressed the importance of testing for asbestos before removing some types of building materials. In particular, you mentioned cottage-cheese type ceilings and vinyl flooring.

We had our ceiling texture removed a few years ago. At the time, our contractor said he would test for asbestos, but we have no documentation to show that he did so. More recently, we had our vinyl flooring removed in the kitchen. The flooring contractor removed the material without any mention of asbestos. Afterward, we had a leftover piece tested and, sure enough, it was found to contain asbestos fibers.

According to the asbestos expert we consulted, contractors do this sort of thing all the time because testing and proper handling are too time-consuming and expensive. Meanwhile, we customers are left to wonder what we're breathing in our own homes. How can contractors have so little regard for the health of others? -- Colleen

ADEAR COLLEEN: Contractors who perform asbestos removal without testing, without appropriate licensing, and without regard for handling and disposal requirements, may believe they simply are speeding up their jobs. In truth, they are exposing themselves to legal trouble and financial liability.

Some contractors remove asbestos materials because they are ignorant. Many believe, for example, that asbestos products were not available after 1973. That is not true.

Asbestos removal requires licensing in most states and must be done in accordance with safety protocols established by the Environmental Protection Agency and other bureaucracies. Failure to comply subjects the offending contractor to loss of license, major fines and possible lawsuits, especially when occupants have been exposed to asbestos contamination. After inappropriate removal, some homes have been found to be totally contaminated with asbestos fibers. Carpets, clothing and furniture have had to be disposed at toxic waste sites.

In some cases, the full weight of law was brought to bear on the offending contractors. Unfortunately, these consequences may be necessary to scare some contractors straight.

DEAR BARRY: Some of the dual pane windows in my home are foggy because of broken seals. I would like to have them replaced, but the manufacturer's name is not indicated on any of the frames or hardware. All I can find are generic serial numbers. How can I determine who made these windows? -- Bill

DEAR BILL: Off-brand window companies typically omit labels. One possible reason is to avoid liability for product failures such as leaking seals.

A local window installer, familiar with various product lines, may be able to provide the name of the manufacturer. But don't be surprised if the window maker is unwilling to stand behind its product.

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 Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

Distributed by Access Media Group