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posted: 9/7/2012 5:55 AM

Inspector scares buyers off with asbestos, lead assumptions

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Q. Our home was built in 1864 and recently fell out of escrow because of the home inspector. Our agent had been less than pleased with the buyer's choice of inspector. She said he had a reputation for stating speculation as fact, and that turned out to be just what he did. When he arrived at our home, he stated that "because the house is old, it must have lead and asbestos." I was a construction project manager, and inspectors were supposed to stick to verifiable facts. I am also certified in asbestos abatement and had already obtained an asbestos clearance on our home. The woodwork still has its original varnish, so there might be some lead content. But the old lead paint and the old shingles have been removed. The inspector's comment caused the buyer to cancel the deal. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Home inspectors should not make conclusive statements about the presence of asbestos or lead in homes. Old houses may contain asbestos, but not all of them do. The most a home inspector should say is that asbestos-containing building materials may be present and that concerns in that regard should be referred to a certified asbestos inspector. In most cases, asbestos building materials are non-friable; that is, not brittle or readily crumbled. According to the EPA, asbestos that is not friable will not affect air quality if it is left alone.

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Old houses are also likely to contain some lead paint, but it should not be assumed that they necessarily do. Furthermore, the presence of lead paint does not mean that occupants are actually exposed to contamination. Lead paint is only hazardous if ingested or if sandings are inhaled. Lead paint was outlawed in 1978. In most old buildings, lead-based paint has been painted over with non-lead paint at least once.

If the home inspector is a member of a recognized home inspectors association, he should know better than to make categorical statements regarding environmental hazards. That type of disclosure is definitely outside the scope of the standards of practice for the home inspection profession. What's more, laboratory testing of materials is necessary to determine whether asbestos or lead is actually present.

Q. Our house is 10 years old and has radiant heating in the concrete slab. In recent years, the slab has developed a crack, as much as half an inch wide in some places, and we're afraid the PEX heating pipes in the slab will be stretched to the break point. How much stretch is there in the piping, and can it be mended if we excavate the crack in the slab?

A. Broken water pipes in the slab can probably be patched, but that should not be your main concern. The half-inch wide crack in your slab indicates a major problem with structural or geological stability. You should have the property evaluated by a structural or geotechnical engineer to determine the cause of this cracking. Once that is addressed, you won't have to worry about further stretching of the pipes.

• Email questions to Barry Stone through his website, housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

Action Coast Publishing

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