Readers disclosure concerns are overblown
Q: It's been three years since we bought our home, and we just discovered asbestos tiles under the basement carpet. Unfortunately, this was not reported by our home inspector. We regard his oversight as professional negligence and want to know if the waiver we signed absolves him from liability. If we cover these tiles with laminate flooring, does that eliminate the health hazard, or would we be required to disclose the asbestos tiles to future buyers?
A: The scope of a home inspection is to disclose conditions that are visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. If the asbestos tiles were covered with carpet, then they were beyond the scope of the inspection and your home inspector would not be liable for not having reported them.
On the positive side, asbestos floor tiles are typically not friable. This means they cannot be crumbled with normal hand pressure and therefore are not viewed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a significant health hazard. If the tiles are left as-is, they are not likely to contaminate the air, particularly if overlaid with other flooring material.
If removal becomes necessary for any reason, that work would need to be done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.
With regard to future buyers, you should disclose that there are asbestos tiles under the laminate flooring in the basement. This will protect you from liability if subsequent owners should discover the tiles and share your current level of concern. If future buyers have a factual understanding of asbestos floor tiles, disclosure will not be a significant issue.
Q: Our home was built in 1909, and we're concerned about the old electrical wiring. The lines in the attic and below the building run parallel to each other, are spaced about a foot apart, and the insulation is fabric, rather than plastic. It all seems to be working OK, but is it safe, could it pose a fire hazard, and would we be better off having it replaced?
A: The wiring you describe is called "knob-and-tube," named after the ceramic insulators used to attach the wires to the wood framing. In most cases, knob-and-tube wiring is not inherently unsafe, but such wiring systems do not comply with current electrical standards, especially because the circuits have no ground wires. This means appliances with 3-prong plugs would not be grounded as intended by the product manufacturers: a particular concern with electronic equipment such as computers.
Furthermore, knob-and-tube circuits were installed in an era when few electrical fixtures were in use. They were intended for smaller electrical demands prior to the advent of modern household appliances.
It would be wise to have your service panel and wiring reviewed by a licensed electrician to determine their adequacy, overall condition and general safety.
If the old attic wiring remains in place, avoid covering it with insulation. Knob-and-tube wiring should remain exposed to the air to prevent overheating and possible fire.
• 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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