VICTORIA – Renovations can be stressful for a homeowner, especially when dealing with an older home where asbestos may be hiding under old flooring or around heating ducts.
Before Madeleine Bragg and her husband bought their 1940s home in Fernie, B.C., they had it inspected for asbestos, which was commonly mined and used for its high tolerance to heat. Roof tiles and insulation were tested and the conclusion was their new home was free of asbestos.
Unfortunately it wasn’t until they began renovating and were ripping up the old linoleum flooring in the kitchen that they discovered their home did, in fact, have asbestos.
Pulling up the flooring revealed a second layer of linoleum that had a paper lining containing asbestos.
“I was six months pregnant. I was flipping out,” says Bragg. “I thought it was so awful and if I had known asbestos was in the house we wouldn’t have bought it, or would have paid significantly less for it.”
The couple looked into removing the asbestos themselves, but when they realized the costs of the disposal bags and having to ship it out of town to be properly discarded, they opted to have professionals do the job for them.
Mid-construction the Braggs had to leave their home to be bagged and correctly treated before work could resume.
Summer Green, owner of RemovAll Remediation Services in Victoria, says it is possible for homeowners to do a smaller job themselves if they follow proper guidelines, such as those from WorkSafeBC.
“If it was my daughter, and her husband wanted to deal with asbestos on his own, I would say wet it down, follow the approved guidelines, and they would probably be OK,” says Green.
Many of the guidelines in place for abatement and removal are meant to protect construction workers and contractors who may come into contact with asbestos on a regular basis, but homeowners should be cautious and informed when removing asbestos.
According to Green, any home built before the 1990s could contain asbestos in the insulation and drywall and around boilers and pipes.
“Older houses are often heated by boilers and hot water registers,” she says. “Those pipes were covered in asbestos, often 80 to 90 per cent asbestos. With forced air heating they used duct tape, but at that time it was asbestos tape. Any white tape you see on your ducts contains asbestos, and they don’t even bother testing it.”
Many homeowners are unaware they have asbestos in their house until they become involved in a home renovation project where testing is required for work permits.
Green says it is possible for people to have lived in a house containing asbestos for many years without any health problems because issues arise only when asbestos fibres are released into the air.
“You can go up in an attic and breathe in fibreglass insulation and it can get in your lungs, and it can cause problems, but with fibreglass insulation the fibres are straight fibres,” says Green. “But with an asbestos fibre no matter how small you make it or break it down they are constantly splitting and have a barb on them.”
Fibreglass fibres can be coughed out of someone’s lungs, but with asbestos, Green says, fibres hook into the walls of your lungs and you can’t get them out.
According to the Government of Canada, potential health problems from asbestos exposure include asbestosis (scarring of the lungs which makes it hard to breathe), mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity) and lung cancer.
The cost of removing asbestos has begun to affect not only the way homeowners proceed with renovations, but it can also affect the cost of purchasing and insuring a home.
“In real estate, inspectors are noticing asbestos in the insulation on the forced air ducts or pipes, and homeowners have to deal with it before a house is sold,” says Green.
“Mortgage companies are saying they won’t finance until the asbestos is gone, and insurance companies may not insure without a clearance letter, which can affect the price of a home.”