Tips for Buying a Home with Asbestos
LESLIE: Ed in Pennsylvania is looking to buy an old building and needs some advice. How can we help?
ED: It’s a building I’m currently renting I’m thinking of buying. And what I’m concerned about is it’s such an old building. I can’t tell if there’s asbestos in the basement. There’s this nasty stuff wrapped around some of the pipes and, you know, other nasty things there in the ceiling.
TOM: Is it a steam heating system, Ed?
ED: Yes, it is. It’s steam heating.
TOM: OK. It most likely is if it’s an old steam boiler. That was very typical. The kind of asbestos that’s wrapped around that is called air cell asbestos. It looks a bit like corrugated cardboard but it’s whitish. And then around the elbows it’s packed and it’s looks a little like plaster. And that’s very, very typical.
Now, if the asbestos is intact – it’s not deteriorated, it’s not falling off …
LESLIE: Crumbling in any way.
TOM: … and crumbly, right – if it was in that condition we would consider it friable and that’s the buzz word that means it’s time to do something about it. If it’s fairly intact then you can leave it alone and you are really at very little risk of exposure. However, if it’s deteriorated or if that basement is an area that’s going to have a lot of activity – like I wouldn’t want to send the kids down there, you know, with balls throwing around and stuff like that where they’re going to smack it and …
LESLIE: Where they could crack it.
TOM: Yeah, and release it to air. But if it’s not deteriorated then I think it’s OK to leave it in place. Now, if you do want to remove it, it’s definitely not a do-it-yourself job. It has to be done professionally. Fairly complicated …
TOM: … because asbestos fibers themselves are actually lighter than smoke. And so, when you release asbestos fibers to the air, if there was no wind it would take eight hours for them to hit the ground. That’s how light and airy they are.
LESLIE: Wow, that’s crazy.
TOM: Yeah, so you have to be really careful.
TOM: To do it, what happens is you have an asbestos abatement company come in and they actually depressurize that space so anything that gets into the air gets drawn immediately outside and has to be packaged properly and disposed of properly. So it’s a fairly complex process.
What I would recommend that you do is hire a professional home inspector…
TOM: … to get that home inspected before you go any further. You can find a good one by going to the website for the American Society of Home Inspectors, a non-profit organization that tests and certifies its members and that’s at ASHI.org. That’s the best way to really understand what you’re dealing with there and know what steps need to be taken.
LESLIE: And you know what, Ed? It’s also going to help you if you do decide to make an offer on the building because then you know exactly what needs to be fixed and you can use that as a negotiating tool. You know, perhaps maybe they’ll fix it or you’ll fix it or it’ll reduce the price. It’s good to know what’s going on before you do invest such a huge chunk of change.
ED: Exactly, yeah. Well, it sounds like this is going to be a chunk of change to get rid of all this stuff, so I appreciate the thoughts.
TOM: You’re welcome, Ed. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.