Asbestos: The Miracle Mineral

Published by Rick on Nov 11th 2009

Tyvek suit One of our most persistent lines of inquiry has to do with Asbestos in the home. As an avid Do-It-Yourselfer, this has been a subject of interest to me for years. Since I had a few questions along the same line of inquiry last week, I wrote this 'general' response. You can probably figure out what the questions were. For our homeowner DIY customers, we see Asbestos in 3 main areas; furnace duct work, popcorn ceilings and linoleum type (maybe not actual linoleum) flooring. The duct work is usually a metal tube covered with a paper-like coating meant to provide some measure of insulation. The problem comes when you want to modify or upgrade your heating system (same thing applies to boiler type heating plants). When you mess with the duct, the coating crumbles. This is called ‘friable’ Asbestos. The particles can become quite small, and if inhaled can cause Mesothelioma. This is the disease afflicting shipyard workers and the like. So, back to our story. The homeowner gets a price from the furnace company to remove the ductwork, and once they get up off the floor, they figure…heck, I can do that for almost nothing…What usually happens is they do a good, but maybe not good enough job, and it gets left for the next homeowner to discover, or not. You see, the particles are small and very hard to notice if you aren’t looking for them. The flip side is that it is almost impossible for a homeowner to effectively mitigate the problem. To the point that if it gets tested by a pro, they will almost certainly find Asbestos particles and red flag the house, initiating a cleanup and legal dispute. So the best answer in most cases is to leave it where it is if possible. If the material is contained, it really poses no problem. There are paint-like products meant to seal it in place, among other strategies. For popcorn ceilings…depending on the year installed (usually before ’72) there may be some percentage of Asbestos. We’ve heard of quite a few folks tackling this one. Same basic problems as noted above, but it is possible to do a fairly good job, if you’re careful. The idea is to put down plastic (6 to 10mil thick) on the floor, reaching a foot or 2 up the wall and taped off. Then hang plastic (can be somewhat thinner, i.e 2 mil) on the walls (right up next to the ceiling), again taped off, so that it overlaps the ‘tub’ you have made on the floor. You put on the Tyvek hazmat suit, a P100 rated respirator, gloves (Get it all: Lead and Asbestos Removal Pro Kit) etc. and use a pump sprayer to moisten the ceiling. Put a detergent liquid in the water to reduce the surface tension. Then scrape off the popcorn with a pole scraper, all the while spraying. Once you are done, bag the stuff up in marked bags and dispose of properly. For the floors, it really is the black mastic adhesive that had the Asbestos, though some tiles also had it. Really tough to tackle this one. If you have ever tried to take that stuff up, you’ll know what I mean. Better to just lay new flooring over it, or I’ve heard people just take up the whole subfloor and be done with it. Almost forgot…Asbestos siding. The siding shingles are hard as a rock, and really only become a problem when they break or are damaged. Careful removal is done quite regularly, though a fussy neighbor could get the city on you. Then you’ll have guys in Tyvek suits working on the house ($$$). A lot of people have gotten sick over the years inhaling Asbestos. This doesn't have to be you. We know about the dangers, and we know how to protect ourselves. Leave the Asbestos in place, undisturbed, unless there is no way around it. Wear your P100 (HEPA) rated respirator and disposable clothing. It should be fine. For our homeowner DIY customers, we see Asbestos in 3 main areas; furnace duct work, popcorn ceilings and linoleum type (maybe not actual linoleum) flooring. The duct work is usually a metal tube covered with a paper-like coating meant to provide some measure of insulation. The problem comes when you want to modify or upgrade your heating system (same thing applies to boiler type heating plants). When you mess with the duct, the coating crumbles. This is called ‘friable’ Asbestos. The particles can become quite small, and if inhaled can cause Mesothelioma. This is the disease afflicting shipyard workers and the like. So, back to our story. The homeowner gets a price from the furnace company to remove the ductwork, and once they get up off the floor, they figure…heck, I can do that for almost nothing…What usually happens is they do a good, but maybe not good enough job, and it gets left for the next homeowner to discover, or not. You see, the particles are small and very hard to notice if you aren’t looking for them. The flip side is that it is almost impossible for a homeowner to effectively mitigate the problem. To the point that if it gets tested by a pro, they will almost certainly find Asbestos particles and red flag the house, initiating a cleanup and legal dispute. So the best answer in most cases is to leave it where it is if possible. If the material is contained, it really poses no problem. There are paint-like products meant to seal it in place, among other strategies. For popcorn ceilings…depending on the year installed (usually before ’72) there may be some percentage of Asbestos. We’ve heard of quite a few folks tackling this one. Same basic problems as noted above, but it is possible to do a fairly good job, if you’re careful. The idea is to put down plastic (6 to 10mil thick) on the floor, reaching a foot or 2 up the wall and taped off. Then hang plastic (can be somewhat thinner, i.e 2 mil) on the walls (right up next to the ceiling), again taped off, so that it overlaps the ‘tub’ you have made on the floor. You put on the Tyvek hazmat suit, a P100 rated respirator, gloves (Get it all: Lead and Asbestos Removal Pro Kit) etc. and use a pump sprayer to moisten the ceiling. Put a detergent liquid in the water to reduce the surface tension. Then scrape off the popcorn with a pole scraper, all the while spraying. Once you are done, bag the stuff up in marked bags and dispose of properly. For the floors, it really is the black mastic adhesive that had the asbestos, though some tiles also had it. Really tough to tackle this one. If you have ever tried to take that stuff up, you’ll know what I mean. Better to just lay new flooring over it, or I’ve heard people just take up the whole subfloor and be done with it. Almost forgot…asbestos siding. The siding shingles are hard as a rock, and really only become a problem when they break or are damaged. Careful removal is done quite regularly, though a fussy neighbor could get the city on you. Then you’ll have guys in Tyvek suits working on the house ($$$). A lot of people have gotten sick over the years inhaling asbestos. This doesn't have to be you. We know about the dangers, and we know how to protect ourselves. Leave the asbestos in place, undisturbed, unless there is no way around it. Wear your P100 (HEPA) rated respirator and disposable clothing. It should be fine.