Disclosing trace amounts of asbestos in ceilings

Seller wants to be upfront but not scare away potential buyers

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DEAR BARRY: My mother’s house was tested for asbestos and it has less than 1 percent asbestos fiber in the popcorn ceiling. The house is for sale, and the disclosure form has a question about asbestos. Is her house in the range where we need to disclose this? If so, is she required to remove the ceiling texture? If she doesn’t remove it, will this scare away buyers? –Michelle

DEAR MICHELLE: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, material that is more than 1 percent asbestos fiber is designated as asbestos-containing building material (ACBM) and is subject to special handling and disposal if the material is being removed.

If the asbestos content is 1 percent or less, this is regarded as a trace amount only, and the material is not regarded as ACBM.

In either case, removal is not a legal requirement. If a ceiling with trace amounts of asbestos is removed for any reason, special procedures may be required for the protection of workers. But regardless of the amount of asbestos in the ceiling, the material is not regarded as a significant health hazard if it is undamaged and if it is left alone.

When your mother prepares her disclosure statement for buyers of the home, she can state that trace amounts of asbestos were found in the ceiling. She should also include a copy of the asbestos report with the disclosure statement.

If the report does not indicate that less than 1 percent asbestos is not regarded as ACBM, then the report should be amended so that this point is clarified, and the asbestos inspector who prepared the report should make that amendment.

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Some buyers are alarmed by asbestos disclosure; others are not. All you can do is provide full disclosure and see what happens.

DEAR BARRY: We bought our condo four years ago and had a home inspection at the time. Our association is now replacing the roofing and they hired a contractor to inspect all of the chimneys. The contractor says our chimney flue is rusted out and must be replaced. This will cost thousands of dollars because the chimney extends through two stories of the building.

The contractor says that this is a common condition when fireplaces are used frequently, but we’ve never used it once. Therefore, it was probably used a lot by the previous owners, and the damage should have found by our home inspector when we bought the unit. At the time, our inspector checked the fireplace and said that it was functional. Is he liable after four years? –Rebecca

DEAR REBECCA: The chimney may or may not have been rusted four years ago. Rust damage could have been caused by rain leakage, rather than heavy use.

Internal chimney damage is not always found by home inspectors, depending on whether the chimney cap is removed during the inspection. Chimney height and means of attachment can affect whether this is done. Read the inspection report and the contract carefully to see what is said in this regard.

An optional solution to chimney replacement would be gas logs and a new chimney liner. That could possibly restore functionality at a lower cost. You should get bids from fireplace contractors to compare the costs of optional repairs methods.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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