December 21, 2018 8:58 pm
Updated: December 21, 2018 9:47 pm

Asbestos — a shocking discovery for Winnipeg home owner

WATCH: A water leak in an upstairs bathroom set off a flood of costs and consequences for a Winnipeg family. Global's Joe Scarpelli explains.

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A Winnipeg family, in the midst of the holidays, is living in limbo because of a leak in an upstairs bathroom that ballooned into a damage ordeal tainted by asbestos.

READ MORE: Canada set to announce a new ban on asbestos


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Susan Nicholson said her parents bought their house in Westwood in 1970, brand new. Her elderly mother has continued to live there ever since. They did a few upgrades over the years, but they haven’t had any issues, until now.

Nicholson’s sister, who lives out of town,  happened to be staying with her mom Nov. 27. She awoke in the middle of the night to find water all over the floor upstairs.

A plastic connector on the toilet tank had sprung a leak, allowing water to run undetected for hours. The water found its way into every room on the second level, leaked into the kitchen below, and drained down through the forced-air vents to other areas of the main floor and basement of the 50-year-old house.

The sister called Nicholson, who lives minutes away, and she arrived to find it was wet everywhere, in the kitchen, in the hall, in the laundry/furnace room.

“It was raining in the basement,” Nicholson said.

She said she immediately knew it was more than they could clean up on their own and called her insurance company. Within two hours of making the first call, a crew arrived at the house to deal with the damage. She expected they would have to dry the place out and mitigate for mold, but she was shocked to be told they also had to check for asbestos.

Because of the age of the home, the disaster restoration company was on guard for the now-banned material, and they found it.

READ MORE: Winnipeg’s winter weather causing plumbing issues

Suddenly the water damage became so much more, adding time and expense, just to make the house livable again.

Tommy Kim, project manager for First General — a disaster restoration company — said there are a lot of neighbourhoods in Winnipeg with older homes. And while he wasn’t surprised to find asbestos in this case, it’s presence did add a whole other level of complexity, and cost, to the repair.

Asbestos is an automatic red flag for all homes built prior to 1990, Kim said. It still exists in many homes in the city and isn’t an issue if is left undisturbed. It is when it is stirred up and is airborne, Kim said, that the substance becomes a serious concern.

Lanny McInnes of the Manitoba Home Builders Association confirmed that asbestos is a known issue in older homes, but said problems are fairly rare. He said renovators do an inventory when taking on a project, and work closely with regulators to ensure they are doing things properly. Minor renovations don’t usually require asbestos mitigation, but a major re-build would.

“If you’re looking at buying an older home… a fixer-upper,” McInnes said, “it is something to consider.”

READ MORE: Which renovations will have the biggest impact on your home’s value?

While people commonly think of asbestos as a material found in insulation and attics, Kim said it is also found in drywall compound, floor tiles and carpet glue.

In Nicholson’s house, it was in the drywall compound.

Because of the water damage, sections of drywall and ceiling had to be torn out, which meant disturbing the asbestos and therefore having to set up a de-contamination process.

Kim said there are three levels of mitigation, 1 being low, 3 being high. Nicholson’s house was rated level 3.

PHOTO GALLERY: view images of the house during the asbestos removal process

The process for safe containment and removal of asbestos at level 3 involves setting up three areas, for de-contamination and disposal, including a shower.

Kim said the asbestos added a full week to the schedule of the repair, and upwards of $8,000 in additional costs.

READ MORE: Canada to ban asbestos: What you need to know about the common carcinogen

Lucky for Nicholson, her insurance has covered it all, the emergency response, the asbestos mitigation, the restoration, the dry-cleaning of clothes and carpets, and the expense of having to move out for the duration of the repair work. While her mother won’t be able to be in her own home for Christmas, she says they know it could have been much worse.

WATCH: Winnipeg homeowner describes the toll the damage has taken on the family

Kim said not all homeowners are as lucky. Nicholson got disaster restoration involved quickly, which minimized the extent of the damage, and she had good insurance coverage. He said if people wait too long to get help, or asbestos is not factored in their insurance, homeowners can find that their claim value is used up even before the home is restored to its original condition.

“People like to complain about the cost of insurance, and hum and haw about whether or not to pay the extra $10 for this or for that,” Nicholson said. “But you just never know what could happen. It is worth it.”

As for lessons to be learned from all this, Kim said there wasn’t really anything anyone could have done to prevent the water leak. Having a home inspection or replacing flex hoses wouldn’t have necessarily changed the outcome.

For Nicholson though, it has been a wake-up call.

“I have a checklist for times when we go away on vacation, and one of things on it is to turn the water off in the house — but we don’t do it. I’m going to do it now,” Nicholson said.

WATCH: Lessons learned from water damage and asbestos discovery

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