DEAR BARRY: When we bought our house, our home inspector found a list of "normal" problems but said nothing about asbestos. Now we are selling, and the buyers’ home inspector reported "possible" asbestos in all of our heating ducts.

The buyers were so alarmed by this that they canceled their purchase offer. So now we are waiting for a lab report to see if we do have asbestos.

The fact that our home inspector said nothing about asbestos is a puzzle to us because all of it is very visible. If the material is found to contain asbestos, is there any action we can take against our home inspector or the sellers now that four years have passed? –Brigit

DEAR BRIGIT: Many home inspectors ignore asbestos issues because environmental hazards are outside the scope of a home inspection. In fact, asbestos is usually disclaimed in home inspection contracts and reports.

Some inspectors point out the presence of suspect materials as a courtesy and recommend further evaluation by an asbestos specialist. In this respect, the recent inspector provided more detailed disclosure than the one you hired four years ago, but you probably won’t be able to hold your inspector liable.

Two types of asbestos are typically found on or in forced-air heating ducts. In homes built before 1973 or ’74, the insulation on the outer surfaces of the ducts may contain asbestos. The material appears as grayish cardboard, often with a shiny foil veneer.

It is not regarded as a significant health hazard because it is not friable and because it is not exposed to the air stream within the ducts. However, if the material is damaged, loose or detached, removal by an asbestos abatement contractor is recommended. (Note: The term "friable" refers to asbestos that is in a crumbly condition, able to be crushed with hand pressure and therefore able to release particles into the air.)

The other type of asbestos often found in air ducts is overspray of acoustic ceiling texture, commonly known as "cottage cheese ceiling." If this material is observed in the ducts, it may or may not contain asbestos and therefore warrants testing at an asbestos lab.

If the lab result is positive, the material should be removed by a qualified professional because it is in the air stream of the heating system.

If the lab report for the suspect material in your home is negative, the report can be shown to future buyers to assure them that the materials in question do not contain asbestos.

DEAR BARRY: Our basement has a window well for emergency escape, and we want to build a deck on that side of the house. We don’t want to compromise the egress but would like to have as much deck space as possible. Are there any regulations that would prevent us from building the deck over this window well? –Brian

DEAR BRIAN: It would be wise to frame the deck around the window well to maintain the emergency escape path. If you prefer to build the deck over the window well, there should be an openable hatch that can be lifted to enable emergency escape.

However, if the window well provides egress from a bedroom, then the window also serves as a required source for natural light and ventilation. In that case, it should not be covered.

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