Q: I have several questions about replacing the linoleum in my house, which was built in 1981. Is there any possibility that the old linoleum contains asbestos? If so, are there special requirements for removing it? Can I just install new underlayment and new flooring directly over the old floor, without removing it? Do I need to cut out the old subfloor in order to fix squeaks in the floor? Thanks! –Jeff G.
A: Asbestos was indeed used in the manufacture of vinyl sheet products up until the mid-1970s. After its use was banned, remaining stocks of asbestos-containing flooring continued to be sold into the late ’70s or early ’80s, so there is a possibility that the vinyl floor in a house built in 1981 could contain asbestos. The only way to know for sure is to take a small sample and send it in for testing. Your local Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) can provide you with the names of certified testing labs.
As to removal, the DEQ is primarily concerned if the removal process would free up the asbestos fibers and allow them to enter the air, where they could be breathed in — sanding and power-sawing operations would be two examples. For the removal of vinyl flooring by scraping alone, the DEQ recognizes that the danger from floating fiber is minimal at best, and typically recommends the following: Remove the material by hand scraping to minimize breakage, then package the debris in puncture-proof containers and dispose at a landfill that is permitted for demolition debris; notification, fees, and the use of a licensed asbestos removal contractor are not typically required.
Installing new underlayment directly over the existing floor before putting down new vinyl is fine, so long as the additional height does not present a problem for appliances or meeting points with other flooring. You can also talk with a floor-covering installer about having the floor embossed — a very thin layer of filler material is floated over the floor to fill in the old pattern and level it out, then a new layer of vinyl is installed directly over it.
With either of these options, you can probably get rid of most of the floor squeaks by screwing down through the existing flooring and into the joists below to stabilize the subfloor. Remember that if the existing vinyl floor contains asbestos, you cannot use a power saw to cut through it in order to cut out the subfloor as you suggest — that’s an operation that would release the asbestos fibers. The vinyl would have to be scraped up first, prior to cutting.
Please remember that these are general guidelines only, and don’t constitute specific removal advice. You should have the material tested first, and if it does contain asbestos, consult with the DEQ for specific removal instructions.
Q: We greatly enjoy your column and were hoping you could help with suggestions about our silverfish problem. We’ve treated them on our own and have reduced the problem, but we believe they are still living in the wood shingles on our roof. Any suggestions? –Brandon W.
A: This is a little outside my normal area of advice, but I’ll tell you what I can from past experience. Silverfish need a damp, cool place to live, and a constant source of organic, starchy food such as paper, glue, cotton fabric, book bindings, storage boxes, even mold. Wood shingles are a common nesting area.
Increasing the amount of attic ventilation may help dry out the shingles and make them a less attractive place to live. A ratio of one square foot of vent area for every 300 square feet of attic is pretty standard, split so that half of the venting is at the eaves and the other half is at the ridge or gable ends. In your case I would increase that somewhat, even up as high as one square foot per 150 square feet of attic. I would also check for overhanging tree limbs, accumulations of leaves and needles, and other situations that would keep the roof damp and moist.
Beyond that, there are several very effective methods for treating and killing silverfish infestations. My suggestion would be to contact a licensed, experienced exterminator in your area and have him examine the house and make suggestions. Opinions may vary as to effective treatments and whether or not you need those treatments on an ongoing basis, so I would talk with at least two different extermination companies before deciding on a course of action.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.