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posted: 10/12/2012 4:48 AM

Home inspectors avoid lawsuits over asbestos comments

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Q. If a home inspector knew there was asbestos in a building that was being renovated, shouldn't he have said something? In this case, a safety officer finally shut down the project. Is the home inspector liable for not warning us about asbestos?

A. The answer to your question has some complexities. First of all, a home inspector cannot know for certain that a particular material contains asbestos. Some building materials may be suspect, but laboratory analysis is necessary to conclude that asbestos fibers are present.

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Secondly, the standards of practice for home inspectors specifically exclude environmental hazards. Therefore, home inspectors are not liable in a legal sense for not disclosing asbestos materials. On the other hand, experienced home inspectors are aware, or should be aware, of materials that are likely to contain asbestos. Common examples include acoustic textured ceilings, old forms of duct insulation, vinyl floor coverings, old drywall mud, old asphalt composition roofing materials, roofing mastic, old pipe insulation, and more.

Some home inspectors might point out a material as "may contain asbestos," while recommending further evaluation by an asbestos specialist. But most home inspectors avoid the subject completely for fear of becoming liable for materials that they do not disclose as "may contain asbestos." The problem here is fear of litigation, a major threat to home inspectors, as it is to most people who are in business.

On the other hand, if a home inspector is aware that a client plans to remodel a home, or if an inspector sees work in progress, it would be wise for that inspector to recommend a professional asbestos inspection prior to commencing or continuing work on the property. Unfortunately, the subject of asbestos disclosure is a mine field for inspectors, giving rise to conflicting opinions when home inspectors gather to discuss and debate the details and procedures of their work.

In any event, a home inspector who says nothing about asbestos is protected by the standards of practice for the profession and is not legally liable for nondisclosure.

Q. Our home has two layers of shingle roofing. When we bought it, two years ago, the seller said the shingles were 17 years old. How much longer can we expect a second roof layer to last?

A. The number of roof layers should not effect the longevity of the material. What matters is the quality of the product. Shingles are rated according to the number of years they are warranted by the manufacturer. You can buy 20-year shingles, 30-year shingle, 40-year shingles, and so on.

Longevity is also affected by the climate. In areas with hot, dry summers, shingles wear out sooner than in locales with cooler climates or with overcast skies.

The only way to determine the condition and remaining longevity of your roof is to have it inspected by a qualified roofing contractor or a competent home inspector. If you had a home inspection when you bought the home, the inspector should have given you some idea of the condition of the roofing.

• 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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