Dear Barry,

It’s been three years since we bought our home, and we just discovered asbestos tiles under the basement carpet. Unfortunately, our home inspector did not report this. We regard his oversight as professional negligence and want to know if the waiver we signed absolves him from liability. And are we obligated to disclose the asbestos tiles to future buyers if we have them covered with laminate flooring? – Douglas

Dear Douglas,

The scope of a home inspection is to disclose conditions that are visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. If the asbestos tiles were covered with carpet, then they were beyond the scope of the inspection and the lack of disclosure would not constitute professional negligence.

On the positive side, asbestos floor tiles are typically not friable. This means that they cannot be crumbled with normal hand pressure and are therefore not viewed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a significant health hazard. If the material is left as is, it is not likely to contaminate the air, particularly if it is overlaid with other flooring material. If removal becomes necessary for any reason, that work would need to be done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.

With regard to future buyers, you should disclose that there are asbestos tiles under the laminate flooring in the basement. This will protect you from liability if subsequent owners should discover the tiles and share your current level of concern. For buyers with a factual understanding of asbestos floor tiles, disclosure will not be a significant issue.

Dear Barry,

Our home was built in 1909, and we’re concerned about the old style wiring. The lines in the attic and below the building run parallel to each other and are spaced about a foot or so apart. The insulation is some kind of fabric, rather than the plastic insulation on newer wires. Is this wiring safe? Can it pose a fire hazard? It all seems to be working fine, but would we be better off having it replaced? – George

Dear George,

The wiring you describe in called “knob-and-tube,” named after the ceramic insulators used to attach the wires to the wood framing. In most cases, knob-and-tube wiring is not inherently unsafe, but such wiring systems certainly do not comply with current electrical standards. First, they consist of ungrounded circuits. This means that appliances with three-prong plugs would not be grounded as intended by the product manufacturers. This would be of greatest concern with electronic equipment such as computers because surge protectors do not work unless they are grounded. Additionally, knob-and-tube circuits were installed in an era when few electrical fixtures were in use. In short, they were intended for smaller electrical demands than are normal in today’s high tech environment.

Rather than generalize or speculate about the relative safety of an old electrical system, it would be wise to have your panel and wiring reviewed by a licensed electrician to determine their adequacy, overall condition, and general safety.

As a precautionary note: Avoid covering the attic wires with insulation. Knob-and-tube wiring should remain exposed to the air to prevent the possibility of overheating.

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

***

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