The importance of “green” construction and environmentally-safe homes has, in many cases, moved to the forefront of the minds of those seeking to buy a new or previously owned house. Buyers have become more and more astute about the hazards that may be lurking inside the homes they are considering for purchase.
While some dangers are more than obvious – like peeling lead-based paint or mold and mildew – others are not quite as apparent…such as asbestos.
Asbestos has been in the news a lot lately. Former President Obama signed a bill that would have perhaps eventually led to a ban on the material, but President Trump doesn’t think asbestos is a danger. No laws are currently pending demanding a total ban on new and existing uses, so products containing the mineral will likely be around for a while.
Where is it?
For decades, asbestos building materials were used in millions of homes built throughout the United States, especially during the post-World War II housing boom. Asbestos could be found in insulation, roof shingles, siding, drywall materials, floor tiles, “popcorn” ceilings, and many other items.
Because of its excellent insulating properties and durability, asbestos was long considered a prime building material. Furthermore, it was inexpensive and a much more affordable option than other insulating materials, and even though there had long been some rumblings about its safety, it continued to be used until the late 1970s. That means homes built before that time may very well still contain a variety of asbestos materials.
The role of the realtor
Part of a realtor’s job is to help determine whether these materials are indeed present in the home they’ve listed. Sometimes the seller already knows where problems might exist and has maybe even addressed the issue, but others seem to be less aware that dangerous toxins might be present in their attic, siding, drywall, etc.
Of course, the presence of asbestos doesn’t automatically indicate danger. Asbestos materials that are correctly encapsulated or are in good condition are generally not a concern. Often, it’s best not to disturb asbestos that has been well monitored and is considered safe. However, any worn or damaged materials can indeed release tiny fibers into the air, where those inside the home can inhale them.
Nevertheless, a realtor listing a home with potential asbestos problems must demand the seller have a home inspection prior to listing, hence avoiding potential “deal killers” once the offers start arriving. No one wants to buy a home that’s an asbestos hazard, and not disclosing the presence of asbestos could result in lawsuits if the buyer can determine that the realtor and seller were aware it was inside (or outside) the home at the time it was listed but not disclosed.
Furthermore, realtors should never encourage homeowners to tackle asbestos issues on their own. Asbestos must be handled properly by those who have been trained in its removal and disposal. DIY projects may cost less money, but – in the end – the cost to the health of the homeowner will be much higher. A licensed abatement professional will determine how best to proceed so that the asbestos is addressed in the proper manner, ensuring everyone’s safety.
Asbestos that is left in poor condition can cause all sorts of health issues, including the eventual development of pulmonary diseases like asbestosis or mesothelioma. Doctors have determined that any amount of asbestos exposure is unsafe, even in small quantities, hence, the need to thoroughly address damaged or worn asbestos materials immediately.
Once inspection and any abatement are complete, the new homeowner can choose to replace asbestos-containing products with modern variations that are so much safer for everyone living inside the house, including pets. For example, many newer and greener options are available to homeowners looking for environmentally-friendly products that are both non-toxic AND energy efficient.
Some of those options include:
- Cellulose: Made from finely shredded newsprint, this popular green insulation contains 85 percent recycled content. US GreenFiber, a manufacturer of eco-friendly building products such as cellulose insulation, reports that cellulose is used in approximately 15 percent of new green building construction and notes that it reduces heating and air conditioning bills by up to 20 percent.
- Recycled Cotton: Generally made from denim treated with a chemical that makes it heat-, fire-, and mold-resistant, recycled cotton insulation produces no off-gases and need not carry any warning labels because it’s totally non-toxic.
- Spray Polyurethane Foams (SPF) – Easy to install and great for families with allergies, SPFs emit no harmful off-gases and produce a very tight seal that allows little room for dust or mold. Some are better than others – look for the ones that do not contain PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which have proven to be toxic to the developing brains of animals and may cause nervous system disorders in humans as well. Experts say SPFs reduce heating bills by up to 35 percent.
If you’re shopping for older homes, speak to your realtor about asbestos. He/she can talk to you about how they’ve handled asbestos issues in the past and can point you towards solutions that are safe for you and your family.