Asbestos siding can stay, but keep it sealed

Question: We recently made a purchase offer on a 60-year old house. When we received the “Form 17” property disclosure statement from the listing agent, we discovered that the house has “asbestos siding” that had been painted. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about asbestos. Is this siding dangerous?

C.J., Lynnwood

Answer: The mere presence of asbestos in a house does not by itself pose a health hazard for the occupants. It only becomes a problem when the asbestos fibers are released into the air, potentially causing lung disease.

Cement asbestos board was a common house siding material in the 1940s and 1950s. As long as the siding is not cracked or broken, the asbestos remains embedded in the shingles and you don’t have to worry about breathing in the fibers.

Some homeowners can’t stand the thought of having asbestos in their homes, but many building and health experts actually recommend that you not remove the asbestos materials from your home.

That’s because the potential health risks associated with removing asbestos-impregnated building materials are greater than the risks of living with them. As long as the material is not disturbed, it is perfectly safe. A fresh coat of paint is a good way to seal in the asbestos and keep it in its place.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (800-552-3565) provides information on how to safely live with asbestos in your home. You can get information from its Web site: www.psclean air.org/asbestos/ asbe-home-info.shtml

Someday, you’ll probably want to repair or replace the asbestos siding. That requires special safety precautions. If you hire a professional asbestos contractor, you can expect to pay about $3 or $4 per square foot for the safe removal and proper disposal of the shingles.

If you are careful, you can also do it yourself. There are minimal safety risks if you carefully follow the instructions in the asbestos removal information available from the Puget Sound Air Clean Air Agency. You can download all the required government notification forms, a list of the necessary safety equipment and stores where it can be purchased and the location of licensed asbestos disposal sites in the Puget Sound region.

To do the job yourself, you must wear a properly fitted respirator to keep the asbestos fibers out of your lungs, as well as safety goggles, gloves and disposable coveralls. Each shingle must be removed very carefully and placed softly on the ground so that it does not break. The shingles must be kept wet to prevent asbestos fibers from floating into the air. The debris must then be sealed in plastic and taken to a disposal site. There is no licensed asbestos disposal facility in Snohomish County. The closest facility for Snohomish County residents is Rabanco Recycling in Seattle.

Similar health precautions must be taken when removing any other building material containing asbestos – such as “popcorn” ceilings, old sheet vinyl flooring and furnace duct insulation.

The greatest concentration of asbestos is found in old air ducts for heating systems, especially old hot water systems.

Again, you do not have to remove this material to have a safe living environment in your home. If you cover it with paint, tape or some other type of air-tight sealant, you will not be bothered by any asbestos fibers in your air.

Mail your real estate questions to Steve Tytler, The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206. Fax questions to Tytler at 425-339-3435 or e-mail him at economy@heraldnet.com.

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