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Article posted: 1/18/2013 5:39 AM

Asbestos inspector misses interior duct insulation

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Q. I own a vacant home that was vandalized by thieves. They stole all the copper piping and left the water running inside. The house was flooded for days before the damage was discovered. The insurance company hired a remediation contractor, and he hired an environmental inspector to test for asbestos. The inspector tested surface materials where demolition was to take place and the lab report came back negative. The contractor then removed the drywall and flooring, but the project was shut down when asbestos insulation was found on the air ducts inside the walls. The inspector says he is not responsible for materials that were not visible at the time of the inspection. The contractor says the asbestos insulation was disturbed and that this must be reported to the authorities. The house now sits empty, no one will work on it, and it may become "red-tagged" for contamination. According to the contractor, the asbestos inspector was negligent. Is he right?

A. The asbestos inspector's responsibility was to consider all possible sources of asbestos in the building and to advise you and the contractor accordingly. If the inspection had been done merely for disclosure during a real estate purchase, a surface inspection would have been reasonable and acceptable. But even in that case, an inspection report should mention the possibility of asbestos-containing materials inside the construction.

In this case, the inspector knew that the project involved demolition and, therefore, was not limited to surface materials only. The air registers in the home should have alerted him to the fact that there were ducts inside the walls, and asbestos inspectors know that air ducts in older homes are often insulated with asbestos-containing material.

Asbestos inspectors are free to cut into walls that are scheduled for demolition. If the inspector had any doubts about this, he should have asked for permission to cut into the walls. The inspector appears to have been negligent. However, it would be an overreaction by the authorities to designate the building as contaminated. An asbestos abatement contractor should be hired to remove the offending materials, and the remediation project should then proceed to completion.

Q. My home was built in 1965 and is currently being sold. The buyer's home inspector says that my water heater should be on a raised platform, not on the garage floor. My plumber disagrees. He says the house falls under the grandfather clause and is exempt from current code requirements. Who is right, the home inspector or my plumber?

A. The home inspector is right. Installation requirements are based on codes in effect at the time of the installation, not on the age of the house. The purpose of a raised platform is to prevent fire or explosion in the event of a gasoline leak in the garage. Unless the water heater is as old as the house, which is extremely unlikely, a platform is definitely required. For confirmation, consult the local building department.

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

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