Testing for Asbestos

While I always have to chuckle to myself whenever anyone buying a 1967 house wants to know if the house has asbestos in it, or whether I do testing for asbestos, I always do my best to take their questions seriously.  I realize that in all walks of life people don’t know what they do not know, and what good does it do to poke fun at them?

The fact that any house from 1967 is going to have asbestos in it, seems to not be common knowledge.

I know for a fact that there is endless stuff I do not know.  It is “normal.”  I think we can all appreciate what a pain in the butt it is dealing with someone that knows it all.

At a recent inspection of a 1967 house, the inevitable question came up when we went into the laundry and saw the floor covered with 1967 vintage vinyl tiles.  Now typically, I don’t have any problem telling my client that the tiles from this time period are “considered to contain asbestos,” but that only testing can tell you for sure.

This is a useless exercise as near as I can tell, but from a liability standpoint it is what home inspectors will say.

In this case however I was able to categorically state:  “yes—the tiles contain asbestos,” as there was a box of the same tiles, unused and stored, in the closet in the laundry room.

asbestos tiles

No testing necessary.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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If you are scared to death of Lead and Asbestos why make an offer on a house likely to have them??

While most people know what they want in a house, sooner or later they have to come to terms with what they don’t want in a house.

I am not talking about whether it is red or green or even how many bedrooms it has. Most people recognize paint colors can be changed and if they needed a three bedroom house they most likely wouldn’t be looking at two bedroom houses.

lead-paint-chips1Sometimes I think agents could help their buyers sort through some of the heart aches that come with falling in love with a house only to find out when they get the home inspected it has “one of those things” on their list they don’t want in a house.

Of course that list varies with every buyer so it becomes imperative agents get to know what their buyers really want–to get to know what their personal deal breakers are.

As an example of what I am talking about, if one has a buyer that is REALLY concerned about lead paint (has two very small children and another one on the way) why would any house built prior to 1978 even be in the running?

Or the same for asbestos, except this would include homes into the mid 80’s.

Now there is going to be some leeway with these numbers–depending on the amount of remodeling done and the methods of original construction, but as general guidelines these dates should be considered limiting factors for anyone concerned about either of these substances.

I routinely have clients tell me they are very concerned about both of these materials and yet they are asking me to inspect pre-1920’s homes. Why even bother with the inspection? Homes from this time period have an almost 100 percent chance of having at least one of these materials–and probably both of them–especially if a lot of remodeling has not been done.

There is nothing about the inspection process that will magically make these things disappear.

I thought it might be informative to create a list with the likely date at which the material/issue stopped being a concern. These are issues that I frequently find to be “deal breakers” for some people.

The list will start with issues that are more difficult to address and have regulatory consequences if not dealt with appropriately, and then be followed by issues that, while problematic, are a little bit easier to deal with but nonetheless concerns that frequently turn into deal breakers when purchasing homes.

Lead: 1978

Lead in Solder (copper pipes): 1988

Asbestos (in a cornucopia of materials): 1985

Knob & Tube Wiring: 1955

Ungrounded wiring: 1965

Aluminum wiring: 1965-1976

In my opinion, the last three things on the list should almost never be deal breakers. In most cases, if one cannot afford to rewire a house, one perhaps cannot really afford a house. The cost of rewiring a home is not a very big percentage of the total cost of a home. In some more depressed areas of the country this may not be true; however in the Seattle market it is certainly true.

There is another list of items that sometimes turn into deal killers:

No steel reinforcement in concrete foundations (none likely before 1950 and not much until after 1965)

Mold: Any age of home

Rats: Any age of home

I am sorry I can’t give you any dates with these last few issues. However, they can usually be resolved.  Dealing with a significant rodent infestations can be as costly as rewiring a home.  It is best to keep them out of your home.

Obviously, some of the things on the list above, you may not be able to determine without a Home Inspector, but some things you can.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Asbestos—what is the big deal?

I see damaged, improperly installed, missing, ugly, beautiful, and even sexy light fixtures all the time as a Seattle Home Inspector.

The inspector’s recommendation, when something is wrong, is usually quite straightforward and doesn’t take up much report space.  Usually it goes something like this, “The NW Bedroom light fixture is not properly attached to the ceiling and is in danger of falling and bonking someone on the head.  I recommend repairs by a licensed electrical contractor or other qualified repair person.” 

You get the idea.

Well on a recent inspection I ran into a broken porcelain bulb holder that had an unusual additional element that, for me, complicated the write up.  I am wondering how other inspectors might have written it up, or better yet, how would the client want to see the inspector write it up?

Asbestos light fixture

Possible asbestos on a light bulb holder

The broken porcelain is pretty obvious.

That the bulb is stuck in the insulation is pretty obvious.

But—-what about that asbestos “gasket” between the porcelain and the metal box?  How should the inspector deal with that issue?

Things to consider:

1.     Isn’t it too small a quantity to worry about?

2.     Is it an issue at all?

3.     How big of an issue?

4.     Is it really asbestos?

5.     What if it is asbestos?

6.     Should it be tested?

7.     What if we test it and it comes back with a false positive?

8.     Worse yet—a false negative?

9.     What will the electrician say?

10.  Will the electrician “deal with it?”

11.  Is the electrician “qualified” to “deal with it?”

12.  Will the electrician care one way or the other about it?

13.  Are there any “risks” or “liabilities” if the electrician “deals with it” AND doesn’t care one way or the other about it?

14.  Should the homeowner spray it with water and remove it? (That sounds like a great idea around electricity—scratch that!)

15.  Should someone get a permit and “deal with it” properly?

16.  Should an asbestos abatement company be called in?

17.  Do I need to put a haz-mat suit on to go look at it?

18.  Is it a danger to my kids?

19.  Worse yet—my pets?

20.  Will my future kids have extra toes?

21.  Why was the inspector coughing?

22.  Or was he choking?

23.  Or was he joking?

24.  Is it totally possible to think-oneself into a sealed container?

25.  You know—like a casket?

26.  And, last but not least, does the container have an asbestos gasket?


Well, there you have it—what would you want the inspector to say about it—-or has he already said too much?


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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