Homeowner tries to remove asbestos ceilings
Q: My home has textured ceilings in the living room and bedrooms, and the material has tested positive for asbestos. A home inspector I know says he removed his asbestos ceilings by himself and that it was simple. He just wetted the surfaces, the asbestos material turned to mush and was easily scraped off. But when I tried to wet my ceilings, the water wouldn't soak in. Why did this method work for my friend but not for me?
A: The acoustic ceiling texture in your home does not absorb water because it has been painted. When asbestos ceiling texture was popular, it was standard procedure not to apply paint on the newly installed surface. In that condition, it could be removed easily by applying water. As these surfaces became older, people would often have them painted, which converted the material into a hard, waterproof crust. Once this happens, removal is no longer a do-it-yourself project.
During the 1980s and early '90s, removal of acoustic ceiling texture was commonly done for environmental health reasons, because breathing asbestos fibers was known to cause lung diseases. Removal became less common when it was learned that asbestos ceilings pose no health hazards if left alone. Air contamination only occurs when the material is disturbed, causing the release of asbestos fibers. Painting the surface encapsulates the asbestos material, making the release of fibers highly unlikely.
In recent years, removal of ceiling texture has become popular once again because the cottage-cheese look makes a home appear out-of-date. If you still want to remove the material, this should be done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to ensure against contamination of the air in your home. Another option, much less costly than professional asbestos removal, is to have the ceiling surfaces leveled with a smooth layer of plaster or drywall mud. This can be done by an experienced drywall finisher.
For more information regarding residential asbestos, visit the website of the Environmental Protection Agency and download the booklet "Asbestos in the Home."
Q: Construction is nearly completed on our new home, but we're concerned about the windows. We ordered low-E glass: windows that filter out heat rays from the sun. They cost quite a bit extra, but we're not convinced the builder installed the upgrade we paid for. The contractor assures us these are the right windows, but we want to be absolutely sure. What should we do?
A: The labels on your windows should indicate whether they are low-E glass. If you suspect that the wrong windows were installed, call the window manufacturer and express your concerns. They can probably tell you what to look for on the labels. Also, some window companies have field representatives who investigate possible problems involving the contractors who install their products. Upon request, they may send someone to the site to ensure that all issues involving their products are satisfactory.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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