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Barry Stone: Confusion over asbestos ceiling disclosure

[Metro Creative Connection]
[Metro Creative Connection]

DEAR BARRY: My house was built in 1970 and was remodeled about five years ago. To avoid removing the old "cottage cheese" ceilings, I simply covered them with a second layer of drywall. Now that I'm selling the property, the buyers’ home inspector noticed textured ceilings in the closets. He assumed that I had removed the ceiling texture from the larger rooms, so he advised the buyers to verify that I had tested the material for asbestos.

I have consulted with a general contractor about this, and he said there was no need to test for asbestos before the ceilings were covered with drywall. How can I get the buyers' home inspector to change his recommendation?

— Warren

DEAR WARREN: The home inspector’s recommendation is not in need of change. Your disclosure statement, however, needs to be modified regarding the encapsulation of the “cottage cheese” ceilings. To explain why, here is some basic information regarding the texture material on old ceilings.

For many years, acoustic ceiling texture was a standard feature in many homes, Until the late 1970s, asbestos was a common component of that material. Fortunately, this type of asbestos is not regarded as a significant health hazard unless it is disturbed. If removal or encapsulation takes place, testing and handling by duly licensed people is usually required.

If the home inspector found acoustic texture in the closets only, his assumption that it had been removed from other ceilings was understandable, and he was bound to comment that asbestos testing was required before such removal.

However, it also should be noted that encapsulation of asbestos-containing material with additional drywall is not an approved procedure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is because drywall installation involves abrasion and puncturing of the older ceilings. This process is unlikely to take place without creating airborne dust from the acoustic ceiling material. If this dust includes asbestos fibers, a health-safety violation has occurred.

Another important issue is the matter of asbestos consultation. You mentioned that your contractor disagreed with the recommendation made by the home inspector regarding asbestos testing. In order to advise you on matters involving asbestos testing, removal or encapsulation, he is required to have some form of asbestos certification. Contractors who render advice on asbestos matters, without certification by the appropriate regulatory agencies, are in violation of state and federal laws. Before soliciting such opinions, be sure the person providing such consultation is properly credentialed.

As noted earlier, your seller disclosure statement should be modified to include the fact that the old ceiling texture was encapsulated, rather than removed. Testing of the exposed ceiling texture in the closets is advised to determine whether the material contains asbestos. Buyers will need to know this in case future repairs or alterations involve the demolition of ceilings where asbestos-containing material has been covered with drywall.

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