DEAR BARRY: My mother is planning to replace the wood siding on her home. We’d like to know which is better: HardiePlank or steel siding. Which do you recommend, and why? –Susan

DEAR SUSAN: Some may disagree with this answer, but my preference is HardiePlank. It has the look of wood siding but is actually fibrous concrete. In my opinion, it is superior to steel siding for the following reasons:

1) Steel homes are subject to possible rust and corrosion, especially if the protective coating becomes scratched or is rubbed off. Cement siding is largely impervious to moisture and therefore will not corrode.

2) Steel is a major conductor of heat and cold. Cement siding is not. This means that a home will remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter with HardiePlank.

3) There are electrical concerns with steel siding. A short circuit anywhere in the electrical system could electrify the entire exterior of the building unless the siding is properly grounded. With cement siding, this is never a concern.

The only documented problems with HardiePlank involve installations that were not done according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Therefore, it is important to have the material installed by a licensed contractor who is very familiar with HardiePlank and who pays strict attention to the installation instructions.

DEAR BARRY: I bought a house last year and recently learned that the air ducts in the house are made of asbestos and need to be replaced. Shouldn’t our home inspector have checked for this? Do I have a case against the inspection company for failure to disclose, and can I ask them to replace the air ducts because of this oversight? –Amol

DEAR AMOL: Many older homes, those built from the 1950s until 1973, have forced-air heating ducts that are insulated with asbestos material. The ducts themselves were typically made of sheet metal, which is probably the case in your home. This means that the asbestos is probably on the outer surfaces of the ducts and is not exposed to the warm air that passes through the ducts.

Asbestos-insulated ducts are not regarded as a health hazard. However, if the asbestos insulation is damaged or loose, removal and disposal by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor is recommended. If the asbestos insulation is secure and intact, it can be left as is, without concern. It can even be wrapped with an overlay of fiberglass insulation. This will increase the energy efficiency of the ducts and prevent accidental contact by anyone who does work in the attic.

Disclosure of asbestos is not within the scope of a home inspection. In fact, it is specifically disclaimed in most home inspection contracts. This could be the reason that your home inspector made no mention of the insulation on the ducts. However, competent home inspectors recognize duct insulation that is likely to contain asbestos and routinely disclose that information to customers. If your home inspector said nothing about possible asbestos, he is not in violation of professional standards, but he definitely could be doing a more thorough job of disclosure.

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

***

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