Dear Barry,

In a recent column, you discussed asbestos materials in older homes, and stressed the importance of testing for asbestos before removing some types of building materials. In particular, you mentioned “cottage cheese” ceilings and vinyl flooring. We had our ceiling texture removed a few years ago. At the time, our contractor said he would test for asbestos, but we have no documentation to show that he ever did this. More recently, we had our vinyl flooring removed in the kitchen. The flooring contractor removed the material without any mention of asbestos. Afterward, we had a leftover piece tested and, sure enough, it was found to contain asbestos fibers. According to the asbestos expert we consulted, contractors do this sort of thing all the time because testing and proper handling are too time-consuming and expensive. Meanwhile, we customers are left to wonder what we’re breathing in our own homes. How can contractors have so little regard for the health of others? –Colleen

Dear Colleen,

Contractors who perform asbestos removal without testing, without appropriate licensing, and without regard for handling and disposal requirements may believe they are expediting their work in an efficient manner. In truth, they are exposing themselves to more legal trouble and financial liability that they would care to confront. It should be mentioned, however, that some contractors remove asbestos materials because they are simply ignorant of its presence. Many believe, for example, that asbestos products were not available after 1973 — an urban legend if ever there was one.

Asbestos removal requires licensing in most states and must be done in accordance with safety protocols established by the Environmental Protection Agency and various other bureaucracies. Failure to comply with these requirements subjects the offending contractor to loss of license, major fines and possible lawsuits, especially when occupants have been exposed to asbestos contamination. In the aftermath of inappropriate removal, some homes were found to be totally contaminated with asbestos fibers. Carpets, clothing and furniture were consigned to disposal at a toxic-waste site. In some cases, the full weight of law was brought to bear on the offending contractors. Unfortunately, consequences of these kinds may be necessary to scare some contractors straight.

Dear Barry,

Some of the dual-pane windows in my home are foggy because of broken seals. I’d like to have them replaced, but the manufacturer’s name is not indicated on any of the frames or hardware. All I can find are generic serial numbers. How can I determine who made these windows? –Bill

Dear Bill,

Off-brand window companies typically omit labeling from their products. This practice is hardly what one would expect from a company that takes pride in its work. A suspected reason for this lack of company ID is avoidance of liability when product failures (such as leaking seals) take place.

A local window installer, familiar with this product line, may be able to provide the name of the manufacturer. But don’t be surprised if the window maker is unwilling to stand behind its product.

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

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