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Barry Stone: Should home inspectors disclose asbestos?

To have your ducts cleaned, contact a licensed heating contractor or a certified chimney sweep. [Metro Creative Connection]
To have your ducts cleaned, contact a licensed heating contractor or a certified chimney sweep. [Metro Creative Connection]

DEAR BARRY: When we bought our house, the home inspector said the heating ducts might be insulated with asbestos. He recommended testing by an asbestos specialist. The asbestos inspector who checked the insulation said we may also have asbestos in the acoustic texture on our ceilings. He was surprised that the home inspector reported one source of asbestos, while ignoring the other. What standards do home inspectors use when checking for asbestos in a home?

— Phil

DEAR PHIL: The majority of home inspectors do not check for asbestos-containing materials and typically disclaim responsibility for such disclosure in their contracts and reports. Inspection for environmental hazards is a separate and specialized field, not included in the standards of practice of the home inspection profession. Some home inspection companies offer asbestos inspections as an added option, but most do not, because they typically lack the state certifications necessary to perform that service.

Home inspectors who are not certified cannot legally provide consultation, evaluation or even opinions related to asbestos-containing building materials. Inspectors may suggest the likelihood of asbestos content, if they include a recommendation for further evaluation by an asbestos specialist. However, such disclosure can expose the home inspector to serious liability.

If an inspector identifies any particular material as likely to contain asbestos, people reading the inspection report may reasonably assume that such consideration was uniformly applied to all components of the building. If no other materials are mentioned in the report as potential sources of asbestos, one might assume that all other materials are alleged not to contain asbestos. In such cases, an inspector could be held liable if other materials are later discovered to contain asbestos.

My advice to home inspectors who are not certified asbestos inspectors is to avoid this tricky area. If you disclose one material as a potential source of asbestos, make sure you list all other likely suspects. If in doubt, either leave the subject entirely alone, or make it clear that other asbestos materials may also be present and that a professional asbestos inspection of the entire building is advised.

DEAR BARRY: A home inspector recently removed the grills from the forced-air heat registers in my home and noticed that the air ducts are coated with a thick layer of dust. I suddenly realized that my family has been breathing this disgusting filth, a revolting prospect to say the least. Is there any way to have these ducts cleaned?

— Myra

DEAR MYRA: Dust buildup in forced-air heating ducts is a common source of indoor air pollution and may cause adverse health effects in some individuals, especially those who are prone to allergies. The dust itself is a potential respiratory irritant. Additionally, air moisture in this dust layer can promote the growth of molds and other micro-organisms.

To have your ducts cleaned, contact a licensed heating contractor or a certified chimney sweep. To prevent future dust problems in your heating system, be sure to maintain a clean air filter at all times.

To write to Barry Stone, go to www.housedetective.com.

ACTION COAST PUBLISHING

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