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Dear Barry,

A man from the gas company just checked my furnace and said the air ducts are made of asbestos. The house was built in the 1960s, and I’m afraid that the old ducts may now be against the law or in violation of the building code. Am I required to have them replaced? If not, are they hazardous to the health of my family? –Jackie

Dear Jackie,

There are no laws or building codes that require homeowners to remove asbestos-containing materials from their homes. As for the health risks to your family, that depends upon the type, location, and condition of the material.

From the mid 1950s through the early ’70s, sheet metal air ducts for forced-air heating systems were commonly insulated with a cardboard-like material that contained asbestos fibers. Similar in appearance were other ducts that were made entirely of this asbestos-containing material (ACM). In some cases, close examination is necessary to determine whether these old ducts are composed of asbestos or merely insulated with it.

The material itself is not regarded as a significant health hazard if it is undamaged, securely attached, and not exposed to routine contact. In such cases, the accepted advice is simply to leave it alone.

When metal ducts are wrapped with asbestos insulation, the ACM is on the outer surfaces, not exposed to the air stream within the ducts, providing little or no opportunity for contamination of the circulating air. If the material is intact, it should be left as is. If it becomes loose, detached, or physically damaged, patching or removal should be assigned to a licensed asbestos contractor.

 Ducts that consist of ACM are not common, but they do exist in some homes. The interior surfaces of these ducts are covered with metal foil, preventing direct contact of the air stream with the asbestos material. However, if the ducts become punctured or torn, asbestos fibers can be released into the air stream. In that case, repair or removal by a licensed asbestos contractor would be advisable.

For a comprehensive evaluation of your air ducts to determine their level of safety and functionality, it is recommended that you consult a certified asbestos inspector.

Dear Barry,

The hardwood floors in our home sustained damage during the recent hurricanes in Florida. What surprised us was the absence of flooding in the yard areas around our home, yet water seemed to seep up through the floorboards. We tried caulking the exterior of the building before the hurricanes hit, but during the storms, we literally saw puddles percolating up through the floors. How could leakage have occurred in this way? –Kim

Dear Kim,

It is difficult to give an accurate answer without actually inspecting your home. However, when one considers the high velocity winds brought by those hurricanes, it would seem that the elevated air pressures could have forced water intrusion in unexpected places and in ways that would not occur during normal levels of wind and rain. Under those extraordinary circumstances, no amount a weatherproofing could effectively prevent water penetration and resultant damage.

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