A screeching halt. (Briefly.)
Asbestos. It’s the word every renovator fears, conjuring up scenarios of budgets spiraling out of control, delays plaguing your project, bystanders breathing in fibers…..
And I just found it in my house.
First of all, a brief word about asbestos, from Asbestos.com:
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring minerals which were frequently used in multiple applications in home construction in houses built before 1980, when its use was widely banned. Certain types of roofing, insulation, pipe coverings, and linoleum in particular, are known for having asbestos in them.
It is known to be dangerous to inhale, and can cause several lung conditions, including mesothelioma cancer. Its use in new home construction was widely banned in the 1980s, but in the US the rules can be confusing. However, all types of asbestos are considered dangerous and if you discover it in your home, you should consider getting it removed.
Asbestos isn’t dangerous unless it’s disturbed – breathing in the fibers is what causes lung problems. So if you know you have asbestos in your house, don’t panic! The first thing to do is make sure you aren’t doing anything to disturb it, and then you can consider professional abatement.
How to test your house for asbestos:
Fortunately, asbestos testing is very affordable these days. You can have your home inspector test suspicious areas for you when you purchase your house, and many kits are available for the DIYer.
The area in question my house was the kitchen. Removing the existing hardwoods revealed a long diagonal transition across the kitchen/hallway opening, with two layers of linoleum present.
I purchased this kit from Amazon.
It came with sample bags, gloves, a mask, a mailer to send it back to the lab, and directions for safely cutting samples.
Being sure to wear the gloves and mask, wet down the area you are sampling, as water helps keep the asbestos fibers from getting into the air. Then cut a sample at least 1 inch by 1 inch and put it in the sample bag provided.
The kit comes with a mailer, and directions for setting up an online account with a PIN, so that your kit can be identified when it arrives at the lab, and you receive your results by email. My kit was $25, and for an extra sample fee of $15 they tested both existing layers of linoleum.
The top white layer of linoleum was attached to a thin sheet of 1/4 inch luan, and when we lifted that up, we found additional linoleum underneath.
This is the layer that contained the asbestos. Five days after I sent my kit off, I got my results back via email.
Positive for asbestos. The green linoleum contained 20% chrysotile asbestos. Remember that asbestos is a category of six types of minerals, and chrysotile is one of those types. Some people argue that chrysotile asbestos isn’t as dangerous as other types of asbestos, but all types are known to cause damage to your health upon exposure.
So after I stopped panicking, I started considering options. Removal was obviously the best choice, but I had no idea how expensive it would be, and was afraid it would be completely budget busting. Another option would have been to remove the 1/4 luan with the old white linoleum, and cover the green asbestos linoleum with another layer of luan and a more modern pattern linoleum.
The problem with this is that now that I know asbestos was present in the house, I’d be legally obligated to disclose that asbestos was present. Not great for resale value. Plus, I’d have to purchase the new linoleum and had already purchased enough hardwood to include covering the kitchen in my total hardwood order.
The third option would be to nail the hardwood directly over top of the asbestos linoleum. Some hardwoods can be nailed down over linoleum, you just need to check with the manufacturer. The downsides would be that the asbestos would still be in the house, so bad for resale, it would add an awkward diagonal transition and height difference into the kitchen, and the nails might push some minute amounts of asbestos into my crawlspace when they penetrated the subfloor. I’d save the cost of removal or of purchasing new linoleum, but that’s about it.
So I started looking around for asbestos abatement companies. Some states in the US maintain their own lists of certified asbestos abatement contractors; mine is located on the state Division of Air Quality’s website. I picked out two local contractors in my city to come and give me a quote, and finally got some good news!
My first contractor gave me a quote for complete removal for $900, and said he could start within a week. SOLD! I was fearing the cost would be in the multiple thousands. I didn’t even wait to get a competing quote, and scheduled him to come out immediately. It took him only one day to remove the asbestos, and his workers used proper containment methods. When he was done, I got a formal certificate of disposal I can present to any future buyers of my house to show that the asbestos was properly removed and disposed of.
Onward to final subfloor preparations and actually laying my hardwood!!