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Barry Stone, Buyer questions illegal laundry drain

DEAR BARRY: The home I'm buying has a bootlegged drainpipe from the laundry, which was pointed out by my home inspector. Instead of draining into the septic system, the pipe runs to the garden area in the back yard. The seller says he's been draining his washer this way for years and that all his neighbors do the same.

I called the local building department, and they said it's illegal to drain gray water onto the ground. Should I continue to drain the washer to the back yard or connect the pipe to the septic system?

— Geoff

DEAR GEOFF: Homeowners with septic systems often drain the gray water from their laundry into their backyards. Although the practice is prohibited by code, it is generally regarded as a necessary trade-off to protect the continued performance of the septic system.

Laundry detergents and bleach are commonly known to have damaging effects on the ecology of septic tanks. "Friendly" bacteria in the tank are necessary for the decomposition of solid waste matter. Laundry chemicals can kill these bacteria, causing the system to become clogged with undissolved solids.

Clandestine drainage to the landscaping is a simple way to avoid such problems, but it is not an approved method. A legal alternative would be to install a leach field for the gray water, consisting of buried drainage rock. Your building department can provide specification for this.

By the way, an interesting advantage to the current setup is that plants tend to respond favorably to detergents. The phosphates seem to work well as fertilizers.

DEAR BARRY: When we bought our house, the home inspector told us the kitchen floor tiles might contain asbestos. At the time we weren’t concerned. Now we’re remodeling, and our contractor refuses to remove the tiles because he’s not licensed to handle asbestos. He said asbestos removal is expensive, and we’ve got a strict budget for the project. Are these tiles really hazardous? If so, how should we get rid of them?

— Lee

DEAR LEE: Old asphalt floor tiles and the glues that secure them are commonly known to contain asbestos. However, these materials do not necessarily pose a serious health hazard because asbestos fibers are only unsafe when released into the air. With asbestos floor tiles, the fibers are thoroughly encapsulated in a solid medium. Unless the tiles are cut, scraped, sanded or otherwise damaged, the fibers remain trapped in the material and do not become airborne. If the tiles need to be removed, the method of handling determines whether any asbestos fibers are released.

In most instances, only a licensed asbestos abatement contractor can legally remove such material, regardless of the level of health risk involved. However, flooring contractors who have the required certifications are now permitted to remove some of these products.

Fortunately, the cost to remove asbestos floor tiles is moderate, when compared with removal of other asbestos-containing materials. However, removal is not always necessary. You may be able to leave the tiles in place and simply install the new floor covering directly over them. The contractor who installs your new flooring can let you know if this is feasible.

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