So you live in a charming bungalow with vinyl tile floors in the kitchen and a basement full of aged, gray, insulated pipes. Or you own an apartment with '50s-style popcorn coating on one ceiling and suspended acoustical tile on the others.
Yup. Sounds like asbestos, all right. Here's what you do:
If you rent, call the landlord. He or she should be aware of any materials in the place containing asbestos and should be willing to make sure that they are safe.
Heating insulation, popcorn ceilings and acoustical tile are friable materials. That means that they crumble easily and, if they contain asbestos, readily give off nasty, invisible fibers.
If you have any of these materials, you should find out whether they contain asbestos. That means collecting samples and having them analyzed in a lab. This is a very simple procedure. You don't need to be particularly handy to do it. However, if you don't want to do it yourself, the last few paragraphs of this column will let you know how to select a professional to help you.
To sample friable asbestos, you will need: a plant mister, an empty film canister or Ziploc bag, a knife and either aerosol glue or duct tape, depending on what you are sampling.
Ready? Moisten a half-dollar-sized patch of material. Hold your container right under the patch and scrape it with a knife. The dampened asbestos will shed a few fibers into the air; don't gouge into dry material.
Seal the container, wipe it with a damp paper towel and label it clearly -- what and where. Now seal the place you cut. Use duct tape, if you don't care about looks, or spray it with the clear glue. DON'T dab glue on, or adjust the tape. Repeat this procedure on any other suspect material.
If remodeling requires you to rip up any vinyl flooring, test this, too. However, if you are not planning to disturb the floor, and it's in good shape, let sleeping vinyl asbestos material lie; it won't hurt you.
To sample it, choose an out-of-the-way spot and, using a sharp knife, cut off a tiny piece of vinyl. If you are cutting tile, gouge a piece of glue up with it. If you are sampling sheet goods, be sure to get some of the grayish backing material. Got all your samples? Pull out the Yellow Pages, look under Laboratories-Analytical and give one a call. The analysis will cost $20-$50 a sample. Your results will be expressed as a percentage and variety of asbestos. The Environmental
Protection Agency considers anything more than 1 percent as an asbestos-containing material, and so should you.
So, all of your samples contained asbestos. What now?
First, your lovely popcorn ceiling. Is it in good condition? Any water damage? Peeling, flaking or falling? If there is NO damage, your best bet is to seal the stuff. Rent an airless spray-paint gun and cover the surface with a light but thorough coat of latex paint. DON'T use brushes or rollers. From now on, treat that ceiling like the Sistine Chapel.
Evaluate and treat acoustical tile in the same way. If either kind of asbestos ceiling is in poor condition, you will have to call in the pros. More on that later.
If you find a little pile of asbestos-containing material that has crumbled off something, DON'T sweep it up. You cannot vacuum asbestos with an ordinary vacuum cleaner. You can only make the problem worse. Close the door to that room, call a pro.
Now your heating insulation. If you have only minor fraying, seal with spray paint, as you did your ceilings. If you have a few strips of wrap hanging down, wet these with your mister, then snip them off, catching them in sealable containers. Spray paint those areas first, then do the whole job.
If your basement is a high-traffic area, consider the likelihood of .. the insulation's being disturbed. Will your children swing from the pipes? Crash a trike into them? Either move the playroom, barricade the pipes or call in the pros and get rid of the asbestos.
If your asbestos heating insulation is in very poor condition, close the basement door and contact an asbestos removal company right away.
On to the kitchen floor you plan to replace. First, reconsider. Is it really so bad? Yes? Then how about just laying a new floor over it? No? All right then. If your vinyl asbestos flooring is composed of tiles, try to pop them up whole. If they pop up nicely, store them in heavy plastic bags, label them clearly and call your local health department to find out how to dispose of them.
If the tiles stick, crumble or flake, call in the pros.
DO NOT PEEL UP A VINYL ASBESTOS SHEET FLOOR. If you can't lay new flooring over it, and you don't want to live with it, you'll have to replace the entire sub-flooring. Better have an asbestos contractor do it.
In most parts of the country, you can find an asbestos contractor by looking in the Yellow Pages, under Asbestos. There are many experienced, reputable asbestos contractors around. Unfortunately, there are also a great many disreputable ones, too.
Dishonest asbestos removers are known in the business as Rip and Skip artists. They have made headlines in every state by tearing into asbestos with inadequate protection, turning houses with a little manageable asbestos into a nightmare of contamination.
To find a reliable contractor, call your local health department or air pollution control agency and ask them to recommend a few. If they are not allowed to make recommendations, they may be able to tell you who NOT to hire. Find out what licensing is required in your area, ask for references and check them. Call the Better Business Bureau to find out if complaints have been filed against contractors you are considering.
If you find all of this overwhelming, don't hide your head in the sand. You have another option: Hire an asbestos consultant (as opposed to a contractor) to make all your decisions for you. These are also listed in the phone book. They will evaluate your situation and oversee any work that has to be done, including hiring a reputable contractor.
If you can't afford any help at all, don't be shy. Call local health department officials and throw yourself on their mercy. Keep calling around until you find a sympathetic government employee. (No, this is not an oxymoron.) Your area may have a program that helps low-income asbestos homeowners.
(Have a question? Write me at P.O. Box 121, 1463 E. Republican St., Seattle, Wash. 98112.)