What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in rocks, of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can be separated into fibers. There are several kinds of asbestos fibers, all of which are fire resistant and not easily destroyed or degraded by natural processes. The fibers are strong, durable, and resistant to heat and fire. They are also long, thin and flexible so that they can even be woven into cloth, because of these qualities, asbestos has been used in thousands of consumer, industrial, maritime, automotive, scientific and building products.
The above photo shows typical asbestos insulated heating pipe found in older homes.
During the twentieth century, some 30 million tons of asbestos have been used in industrial sites, homes, schools, shipyards and commercial buildings in the United States. There are several types of asbestos fibers, of which three have been used for commercial applications: (1) Chrysotile, or white asbestos, comes mainly from Canada and has been very widely used in the US. It is white-gray in color and found in serpentine rock. (2) Amosite, or brown asbestos, comes from southern Africa. (3) Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, comes from southern Africa and Australia.
Is Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos has been shown to cause cancer of the lung and stomach according to studies of workers and others exposed to asbestos. There is no level of exposure to asbestos fibers that experts can assure is completely safe. Some asbestos materials can break into small fibers which can float in the air and these fibers can be inhaled. The tiny fibers are so small they can not be seen with the naked eye. They can pass through the filters of normal vacuum cleaners and get back into the air. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can become lodged in tissue for a long time. After many years cancer or mesothelioma can develop.
Are All products With Asbestos A Health Risk?
No. A health risk exists only when asbestos fibers are released from the material or product. Soft, easily crumbled asbestos-containing material has the greatest potential for asbestos release and therefore has the greatest potential to create health risks.
Do All People Exposed To Asbestos, Develop Asbestos Related Disease? No. Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos do not develop any related health problems. Health studies of asbestos workers and others, however, show that the chances of developing some serious illnesses, included lung cancer, are greater after exposure to asbestos.
What Are Asbestos-Containing Products?
What is common to many asbestos-containing products is that they were (are) used to contain heat (i.e. thermal insulation.) This was the main reason for their use. It is impossible to list all of the products that have, at one time or another, contained asbestos. One of the most common products asbestos is found in is in the insulation material found on heating pipes and ducts of homes built before 1960.
Some of the other common asbestos-containing products are insulating cement, insulating block, asbestos cloth, gaskets, packing materials, thermal seals, refractory and boiler insulation materials, transit board, asbestos cement pipe, fireproofing spray, joint compound, vinyl floor tile, ceiling tile, mastics, adhesives, coatings, acoustical textures, duct & pipe insulation for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, roofing products, insulated electrical wire and panels, and brake and clutch assemblies.
How Can I Tell If I Have Asbestos In My Home?
People who have frequently worked with asbestos (such as plumbers, building contractors or heating contractors) often are able to make a reasonable judgment about whether or not a material contains asbestos on a visual inspection. Many professional home inspectors also can make a reasonable visual judgment. To be absolutely certain, an industrial hygienist would have to make the identification.
If Asbestos Is Found In My Home, What Should I Do?
In most cases, asbestos-containing materials are best left alone.
When it is necessary to disturb asbestos, you should contact a licensed asbestos contractor. You can also obtain a copy of Asbestos in the Home published by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (800-638-2772) which discusses the situation and makes recommendations. Remember, do not dust, sweep, or vacuum particles suspected of containing asbestos fibers.
|Swimming Pool InformationThis information can clarify and help answer some questions. Pool types: Pools are available in two types: above ground and in-ground. The type can determine the amount and kind of cleaning methods. Pool materials: Pools come in a variety of different materials, some requiring more maintenance than others. Fiberglass is used for a one-piece tub fitted into a pre-dug hole. The slick surface repels algae, but it will need occasional re-coating. Concrete is covered with a plaster water seal that can take more wear and tear than other pool materials. It’ll probably need to be replaced every 7 to 10 years. Aggregate finish is a concrete pool with a specialized finish that has better traction. It’s covered with a layer of embedded rounded gravel. Tile is a concrete pool with a tile finish instead of a plaster finish. The tile surface requires less surface maintenance than other surfaces. The slick surface of a vinyl liner, like fiberglass, repels algae. Pool problems: How much your pool is used will help determine the amount of cleaning needed. For instance, murky or colored water may mean you have chemical imbalances, pollutants such as microorganisms, or a clogged filter. Clogged filters can mean money down the drain. Algae can be another spoiler. It needs to be attacked two ways — through chemical treatment, and a lot of filtering, backwashing, scrubbing and skimming. Whether it is green, brown, or little black spots of algae, it will take over your pool if it is not dealt with immediately. Features: Pools can have several features that can affect your cleaning job. Many larger pools have heaters, especially those installed in cooler climates. Many homeowners turn off the heater in the warmer months to save on the utility bill. Your filtration system keeps the water clean. Improper chemical balances open the door to contamination, therefore it’s also advisable to use a water testing kit. It gives a good indication when you need temporary treatment, and when a pool service professional is needed. Some manual pool covers are designed for safety to keep kids out of the water in case they slipped on the edge. Winter covers can also lower your heating and chemical use. It’s a nice feature to keep leaves and bugs at a minimum. An automatic pool cover is just like a manual pool cover, except a machine rolls it back and forth along tracks. There is more to cleaning a pool, however than keeping a proper pH balance. Not only is there skimming for floaties, but also vacuuming; scrubbing the tiles, sides, and floor; and cleaning, maintaining, emptying, and backwashing the filter and pump. A professional pool cleaning service will give you many clean, clear hours free of scale, rust, pollutants, bacteria, and cloudy water. (But it’s up to you to watch for that occasional leaf.)
If you own an outdoor pool in a climate that gets cold during the winter, many experts strongly suggest you winterize your pool. Winterization usually entails draining most of the water, blowing out the pipes, applying algaecide and antifreeze in key areas, and covering the pool. Winterization will protect your pool from any freeze damage that can harm your pool surface and equipment.
|Indoor Air Quality One sure path to energy efficiency in houses is eliminating air leaks. If you cut down the amount of air that has to be heated and cooled, you cut your utility bill substantially. But plugging up all those air leaks means less fresh air inside and this has brought on other problems.One of the first to be identified was elevated concentrations of volatile organic compounds in the air. Commonly called VOC’s, these compounds are used in the manufacture of the many synthetic building products used in most new houses today, including carpeting, flooring, paint, cabinetry, countertops, and the structural framework itself. Hundreds of off-gassing VOC’s have been identified, but the one that has captured the most attention is formaldehyde. It is a potent eye and nose irritant and causes respiratory effects. It is also classified by the US Government Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen.In response to the concerns raised by health officials and the public over the last fifteen years, manufacturers of some building materials and furnishings have altered their chemical formulations, significantly reducing the amount of VOC’s off-gassing from their products.A brand new house will still have a significant amount of VOC’s in the air because the rate at which the VOC’s off-gas is highest initially. This phenomenon accounts for the “new house smell” that most new house buyers experience. Delaying a move-in and airing out a house by opening all the windows and running all the exhaust fans will benefit the occupants, even if this is done for only two days, advised John Girman, Director of the Center for Analysis and Studies for the Indoor Environmental Division of the US Government Environmental Protection Agency.Continuing to keep the windows open and ventilating the house for several days to several weeks, if weather permits, can also be beneficial, added Al Hodgson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, who has been studying indoor air quality for the last 18 years.After the first month or so, the rate at which the VOC’s off-gas from building materials may fall off, but Hodgson’s research indicates that the off-gassing phenomenon will continue at a slow and steady pace for months or even years. Hodgson measured the indoor air quality in eleven new, but unoccupied houses one to two months after their completion. Some were monitored over a period of about nine months. Overall he found that the concentrations of VOC’s in the houses were not “alarming,” although the concentrations of some compounds were high enough to produce an odor. The levels of formaldehyde were too low to have a smell, but high enough to cause discomfort in some individuals.Although the level of VOC’s in new houses does fall off over time, buyers can reduce it at the outset by their selection of finishes. Hodgson’s research has shown while carpets are generally low emitters of VOC’s, a reasonable quality, medium-grade, nylon, certified green label carpet may emit less than the basic grade carpet that most builders offer as standard. Installing the carpet with tack strips instead of an adhesive eliminates a potential VOC source altogether. Synthetic fiber carpet padding emits less than the rebonded padding that most production builders provide.Hodgson’s “certified green label carpet” refers to the green and white Carpet and Rug Institute emission test sticker found on carpeting that meets their emission standard. Their testing program was established after sensational stories about “killer carpets” appeared in newspapers and TV news programs in the early nineties. In a New England lab, mice were exposed to carpet samples and subsequently died. Scientists in other labs including the EPA were never able to replicate these results and the reason for the mice’s demise remains unclear.After the Carpet and Rug Institute started its carpet-testing program, it raised the emission standards, which has further reduced carpet emissions. Even so, carpeting can still have an odor that makes people think that they are being exposed to something awful, Hodgson observed.Vinyl flooring is a stronger emitter than carpet, but it too should not be a cause for concern, Hodgson said.The oil-based alkyd and water-based latex paints used in most houses are another sources of VOC’s. The alkyds, which create a harder, more washable surface, are usually used for bathrooms, kitchens, and the trim around doors, windows, and baseboards. They produce a terrible smell and emit hundreds of VOC compounds, but these are almost entirely dissipated after about 48 hours, said John Chang, of the EPA labs in Triangle Park, North Carolina. The latex paints have a different smell and emit only four or five VOC compounds, but these continue to off-gas for days and weeks after the paint is dry. “Low VOC” latex paints are now available, but some of these emit formaldehyde and buyers should check the paint emission data, he advised.Hodgson is currently studying the man-made wood products used in residential construction because most of them contain formaldehyde, and formaldehyde concentrations in the indoor air of new houses have been found to be higher than in other building types. Large quantities of these wood products including cabinet materials, doors, door and window trim, and baseboards are found in the finished space of new houses. Man-made wood products are also used extensively in their structural framework. Hodgson is looking at the emissions of formaldehyde and VOC’s from each product as well as the amount of exposed surface of each product. He is finding that bare surfaces of wood products can have relatively high emissions, but that surfaces with laminate and vinyl finish generally have low emissions.
In some cases, products that are considered to be low emitters are turning out to be a significant source of VOC’s when viewed in the context of the whole house, Hodgson said. For example, formaldehyde and other VOC’s given off by the oriented strand board or plywood used for the subfloor in most new houses today are low when calculated on a square foot or a per piece basis. But Hodgson’s research is showing that when the total area of the subflooring in a typical house is taken into account, it can be a significant VOC source and that the overlying carpet and carpet padding are not effective barriers.
Other research in indoor air quality in new houses has focused on the problem of underventilation. Until the last 20 years or so, mechanical engineers could reasonably assume that between air leaks and occupants opening the windows, everyone was getting plenty of fresh air. But as houses have become tighter, less outside air is penetrating through air leaks and with air conditioning; no one opens the windows in the summer anymore.
To rectify this situation, the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers, commonly known as ASHRAE, proposes that mechanical ventilation is required in all new houses, as it is in most commercial and office buildings. The engineers have not dictated how this should be accomplished, and the desired ventilation rate varies with the size of the house and the number of bedrooms. For a 2,400 square-foot house with four bedrooms, for example, the proposed rate would be .35 changes per hour. At this rate, all the air in the house would be replenished every three hours.
Some homebuilders have suggested that ASHRAE’s ventilation proposal could add $1,500 to $6,000 to the cost of a new house, but ASHRAE’s proposal could be easily and inexpensively done. One continuously running 100 cfm bathroom exhaust fan that is exhausted to the outside would do the job for a 2,400 square foot house and this modification would cost only $75 to $100 more than the exhaust fan and venting that the builder would already be installed in the bathroom, said Max Sherman, also of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who has studied indoor air for 20 years. Putting a smaller continuously running fan in each bathroom is a more expensive solution, but it would distribute the fresh air more evenly.
The ASHRAE proposal includes a sound recommendation for the continuously running fan because occupants turn fans off when they’re too noisy. The dedicated exhaust fan should have a sound level of one sone or less so that it won’t disturb a household at night when the ambient noise level is low.
Relocating the air-handling unit from the garage to some other place in the house would also improve indoor air quality, Sherman said. In some parts of the country such as Florida and California, houses do not have basements and the air handling equipment is often put in the garage. Unfortunately, the ducts for the system often leak so that if a car engine is left running for any length of time, homeowners can unwittingly introduce carbon monoxide into their living areas.
|Water TestingWater is the universal solvent, and it has the capability of dissolving just about anything. Because of this unique property, water can easily become contaminated. Serious contaminates such as Lead and E. Coli Bacteria may be toxins affecting your family’s health. Listed below are the four major testing categories that we can examine when doing a water test.
- Inorganic—Minerals and physical properties Organic—Petroleum products, gasoline, fuel oil, and solvents
- Microbiology—Coliform and other bacteria Radiology—Radon gas Test Options
1. Standard Test includes Microbiology and Inorganic. 2. Comprehensive Test includes all four testing categories: inorganic, organic, microbiology, and radon. The comprehensive test is a good way to start. It is a powerful tool in detecting contaminants commonly found in surface and deep well waters. 3. If you are suspicious of pesticides or herbicides, the Comprehensive Plus Pesticides test is recommended. We can also test for individual items such as Lead in Water.
|EIFS – Exterior Insulation and Finishing Systems What are EIFS?Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) are multi-layered exterior wall systems that are used on both commercial buildings and homes. EIFS have introduced in the U.S. almost 30 years ago and were first used on commercial buildings and then later on homes. EIFS typically consist of an insulation board made of polystyrene foam (which is secured to the exterior wall surface with an adhesive and/or mechanical attachments), a water-resistant base coat applied on top of the insulation and reinforced with fiberglass mesh, and a finish coat typically using acrylic co-polymer technology. This type of system is often referred to as artificial stucco.
EIFS System Components
The Potential Problem with EIFS…
The potential problem with EIFS is that moisture can get trapped behind the highly water-resistant material with no way out. This can cause the framing to rot and foster the growth of mold between the exterior and interior walls. Damp and rotting wood is also a prime target for subterranean termites. It should be stated that the potential for these conditions exists with any type of exterior siding product be it brick veneer, wood, or vinyl siding. The potential for this condition with EIFS, however, can be exacerbated by its superior water resistance. Once moisture gets in, regardless of its origin, it usually has no escape.
The main locations where water tends to infiltrate into the framing structure of a building using an EIFS is around doors and windows, where the roof connects to the EIFS (roof flashing), and below extended exterior deck connections. Also, any moisture from within the home trying to find a path out will likely be thwarted by the EIFS.
The EIFS industry has been plagued by class action, and individual lawsuits (particularly in humid climates). The public’s confidence in the products has been shaken, to say the least. The lawsuits contend that the problem is with the nature of the product and the manufacturers contend that sloppy installation and poor maintenance are the culprits.
Regardless of who is “right”, it’s clear that homes with EIFS require special scrutiny during the inspection.