Buying a 4 plex with Absestos (vermiculite) insulation in attic

32 Replies

I thought I had a great deal on a 4 plex, and got 20% off the list price.   We have a contract for a cash purchase.   The numbers are great.

The home inspection yesterday disclosed that there is vermiculite/asbestos insulation in the attic, with other insulation blown over it.   It was discovered when the inspector sought to measure the depth of the insulation.   He told me what the EPA says about it.   And he told me it will be a problem when I go to sell it.

The EPA says not to test it because most testing is unreliable and over 70% of vermiculite is asbestos.   They said it can be seen by pictures.   The photos at the EPA website match the pictures the inspector took.   It's a distinctive product.

The EPA also said to leave it alone if you are not going to use the space.   However, the inspector also said the attic needs more ventilation and there are exposed electrical wires that should be addressed, so people have to go up there.

Any thoughts on whether I should go through with this?  I wanted to pretend it didn't matter because everything else was solvable.   Also, I cannot find an asbestos abatement company in the area (eastern upstate NY), at least not through a quick google search.

Thanks for any insights.   I need help thinking this through.

You should talk to the two groups of people you need to do work in the attic.  So talk to an HVAC and an electrician and ask them if they have any experience with these situations.  Abatement in and of itself may not be helpful or necessary, but an abatement company will certainly not tell you that ... they'll try to make it could like you'll get cancer just from standing in there.

And if you're buying a 4-plex, and you plan on holding it for a while, it may not be as problematic as you think.

Jeremy, I do not want to assume that people looking for work or doing a job for me have to be knowledgeable about asbestos unless that is their job.

Kate

Put a floor in the attic is the advice everyone agrees on -- my friends who are experienced real estate agents PLUS the pro who did the home inspection.   Encapsulate it.   So, I asked the sellers to do that.

I was tearing down a house and had to get a clearance from an inspector to determine if asbestos was present.   The inspector came in took 3 samples and called me a day later and told me I needed a certificate after the asbestos in the taping compound in a 4 foot by 4 foot mud room was removed.  Mind you the taping compound had been painted about a dozen times.  It was going to cost me a couple of thousand to have it removed by him or the person he recommended.  I called the EPA and talked to a representative.  I found that everything the inspector had told me was incorrect. The EPA representative told me exactly the steps required and faxed me a copy of the requirements.  It ended up costing me $75 and it was safely removed and the cost included removal to a hazardous waste site.  Don't believe everything an inspector says.

Thanks Martin.  EPA specifically says do not test vermiculite  because 70% is asbestos and the tests are no good (serious reliability issues).    Removing it is the last option on their list.   The inspector simply referred me to the EPA webpage, after alerting me that he thought it was vermiculite.   This guy was an insurance inspector before he became a licensed home inspector.   Pictures help with identifying vermiculite.    Putting a floor in works for me.

@Kate B.

We encounter asbestos laden vermiculite all the time.  It seems to have been a big retrofit measure taken in the 60s around here.

When we find it, we give the vendor the opportunity to have it abated or we ask for a reduction in price and we handle the abatement.  If you have blown cellulose and vermiculite both in the attic, the abatement company will seal the attic under negative pressure and vacuum it all out - pretty straight forward.  If you have batt insulation over the vermiculite, the batts will be bagged and removed and the vermiculite then vacuumed out.

While it is true if you never disturb it, you should have no problems with the asbestos becoming friable.  Unless you are positive your vapour barrier is sound you cannot be guaranteed it will never find its way into the living space (critters in the attic can track/push it through light fixture openings).  

Flooring over or ignoring it is an ostrich approach to the situation.  If you do this, you will be prevented from improving the air sealing and efficiency of your building envelope as you will not be able to work in the attic.  Additionally, you will be required to disclose its presence to any trades working in the building (i.e. an electrician running a new circuit through the attic).  You will also have to disclose it when you sell.

If you remove it, you can put a better insulation back in its place - i.e. blown cellulose, closed cell foam, etc.

I would strongly suggest using this opportunity to have it removed.

Originally posted by @Kate B. :

   However, the inspector also said the attic needs more ventilation and there are exposed electrical wires that should be addressed, so people have to go up there.

What does he mean by "exposed electrical wires"  There is nothing wrong with cables running along joists to lights, outlets, etc. Just tell the tenants not to use the attic for storage.   Put a lock on the attic door.  Do NOT spend the money to "abate" or remove this!

I have a picture of the electrical wire that is exposed.  It slipped out of the plastic thing that encloses it.   

I've learned since posting here that the seller is not willing to do anything about the asbestos in the attic.   I expect to walk away.   I am not taking on a problem that will make selling it difficult.

Originally posted by Mark Forest:
Originally posted by @Kate B.:

   However, the inspector also said the attic needs more ventilation and there are exposed electrical wires that should be addressed, so people have to go up there.

What does he mean by "exposed electrical wires"  There is nothing wrong with cables running along joists to lights, outlets, etc. Just tell the tenants not to use the attic for storage.   Put a lock on the attic door.  Do NOT spend the money to "abate" or remove this!

When our inspector notes exposed wires, he means conductors are exposed - sometimes due to removing a fixture and leaving the wire in the wall or ceiling/attic (maybe with marrettes affixed); sometimes as the result of vermin gnawing on the insulation.

The recommendation not to abate the asbestos comes with consequences:  how do you fix the exposed wires in the attic or pull a new circuit for that matter?   How will you improve the air sealing and energy efficiency of the fabric/envelope if you cannot enter the attic?   When you want to sell the property, you will need to disclose the presence of the asbestos.  They day is coming where you will be required to disclose it to your tenants.  

Deferring the problem until tomorrow has more costs than you might think.

At the time of purchase while your inspection contingency is still open is the best time to property deal with asbestos - that way the vendor pays for some or all of the abatement.   

Updated over 2 years ago

Rereading: I should further qualify that purchase is "one of" the best opportunities to remove/abate asbestos. There may be mitigating circumstances (units occupied) that prevent abatement at that time.

Updated over 3 years ago

Rereading: I should further qualify that purchase is "one of" the best opportunities to remove/abate asbestos. There may be mitigating circumstances (units occupied) that prevent abatement at that time.

Originally posted by @Roy N. :

The recommendation not to abate the asbestos comes with consequences:  how do you fix the exposed wires in the attic or pull a new circuit for that matter?   How will you improve the air sealing and energy efficiency of the fabric/envelope if you cannot enter the attic?   When you want to sell the property, you will need to disclose the presence of the asbestos.  They day is coming where you will be required to disclose it to your tenants.  

Asbestos and mold is a lawyer manufactured crisis.  If you do not disturb it and let it fly in the air you are fine. Asbestos just being there can't hurt you. I could easily put on a mask and run new cable without causing a problem.  

Asbestos is only harmful if it is air borne and you are breathing it in. If it's just there and not being disturbed, causing it to become air borne, then it is not harmful.

If you have no plans of disturbing or removing the insulation, for a remodel or renovation, then it is safe to just ignore it.

I would leave it where it is, and if I needed to disturb it for any reason, then I would have it tested and abated as needed.

Certainly the unsafe electrical needs to be fixed, but that can most likely be done without disrupting the insulation, or have the electrician wear a proper respirator to protect themselves from possible asbestos exposure if they create breathable dust during the repairs.

Asbestos can also be contained or encapsulated, but again if not air borne and breathable, then it would not be necessary to do this.

I hope my 2 cents helps. Cheers.

Originally posted by Mark Forest:
Originally posted by @Roy N.:

The recommendation not to abate the asbestos comes with consequences:  how do you fix the exposed wires in the attic or pull a new circuit for that matter?   How will you improve the air sealing and energy efficiency of the fabric/envelope if you cannot enter the attic?   When you want to sell the property, you will need to disclose the presence of the asbestos.  They day is coming where you will be required to disclose it to your tenants.  

Asbestos and mold is a lawyer manufactured crisis.  If you do not disturb it and let it fly in the air you are fine. Asbestos just being there can't hurt you. I could easily put on a mask and run new cable without causing a problem.  

 Steve:

Absolutely not a manufactured crises.  Asbestos can kill you.  If you have ever watched someone succumb to mesothelioma, you would probably not be so callus.  

While it is true that if the asbestos does not become friable it is not an immediate threat, as I, yourself, and others have said above, the risk is not mitigated.   

Simply putting on a mask {and, preferably suiting up} to run a new {electrical} cable can be problematic if your work requires making, or disturbing a hole between living space and the attic - such as a ceiling fixture - you can easily introduce friable asbestos into the living space.

You are correct that one can take appropriate measures to work around asbestos, but most folks - contractors included - have a faint grasp on what those measures need to be.

I return to my initial point: at the time of purchase, you have an opportunity to address the asbestos presence with the vendor footing some/all of the costs.  In addition, removal of vermiculite is often a fairly straightforward abatement which is not overly labour intense and costly.

@Aaron Westerburg

It would probably be less effort to remove the vermiculate than to encapsulate it.

Originally posted by @Kate B. :

I have a picture of the electrical wire that is exposed.  It slipped out of the plastic thing that encloses it.   

I've learned since posting here that the seller is not willing to do anything about the asbestos in the attic.   I expect to walk away.   I am not taking on a problem that will make selling it difficult.

Kate:

If the deal is otherwise good, I would obtain a few abatement quotes before walking away.  Removing vermiculate can be straight forward and a relatively cheap abatement.

You could first push for a price reduction "Now Mr. Seller, I'll take care of your asbestos issues, but it will cost me X, therefore it's only property your contribute Y towards the effort as a a price reduction."

Then as Mark Forest and others are promoting, you can ignore the asbestos in the attic until such time as you need to undertake a renovation or pierce the ceiling of the living space below.  At that time you could abate the asbestos and use the opportunity to air seal the attic, address any ventilation issues and re-insulate to an effective level (R50+).

Vermiculite insulation (marketed as Zonolite by W.R. Grace Co.) 

The Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust was set up to reimburse homeowners for the expense of removing this insulation. Additional information and claim forms are available at the Trust's website.

Michael, thank you!

Originally posted by @Roy N. :

Absolutely not a manufactured crises.  Asbestos can kill you.  If you have ever watched someone succumb to mesothelioma, you would probably not be so callus.  

I have had a class on this, and based upon what I have learned you are exaggerating the concern.  Those who get Mesothelioma and other problems are people who have worked with AIR BORN asbestos throughout their career  day after day for many years.  Having asbestos in your house is not like radiation where you get contaminated by near proximity.   The people who want you to believe otherwise are  charging big bucks for "abatement" and "'removal" .    It is the same scam run by the black mold people. 

Originally posted by Mark Forest:
Originally posted by @Roy N.:

Absolutely not a manufactured crises.  Asbestos can kill you.  If you have ever watched someone succumb to mesothelioma, you would probably not be so callus.  

I have had a class on this, and based upon what I have learned you are exaggerating the concern.  Those who get Mesothelioma and other problems are people who have worked with AIR BORN asbestos throughout their career  day after day for many years.  Having asbestos in your house is not like radiation where you get contaminated by near proximity.   The people who want you to believe otherwise are  charging big bucks for "abatement" and "'removal" .    It is the same scam run by the black mold people. 

Steve,

I am glad you have had a class on it.

No, I am not exaggerating the concern, I am advocating folks educate themselves on the risks.  While you are correct, the asbestos must be friable to be a risk and, if you take steps to ensure it is safely encased, you can coexist with it and have no issues.  You, I and others have been clear on that.  The key factor is you need to take the steps to ensure it is encased or you need to remove it.

My own house has asbestos impregnated tiles in the basement.  They won't be an issue until we renovate - At that time, I'll move my family out, we'll do the abatement, and move them back in.   

In the case of vermiculite, the effort to remove it small, depending on the building, possible less than trying to encapsulate it.  If the asbestos was throughout the plaster used in the walls, you are looking at a far more labour intense and expensive abatement.  Given the "stigma" surrounding asbestos, the impact it can have on your ability to resell the property and the price you can demand when you do sell, it makes business sense to tackle a small, easy abatement.  Even if you think it's all an exaggerated scam.

BTW:  You need not be a miner or a pipe fitter to suffer the effects of asbestos. There is a case/investigation in Canada at the moment involving government office workers who were exposed to small amounts of asbestos over many years during the course of their careers in a building built in the 1960s.  

Originally posted by @Roy N. :

No, I am not exaggerating the concern, I am advocating folks educate themselves on the risks.  While you are correct, the asbestos must be friable to be a risk and, if you take steps to ensure it is safely encased, you can coexist with it and have no issues.  You, I and others have been clear on that.  The key factor is you need to take the steps to ensure it is encased or you need to remove it.

Based on the facts I have learned there is no reason to "encase" or remove it.  That is expensive overkill.  That is what the abatement companies want you to believe.  And running a few electric cables through the attic one time is NOT going to make you ill.  The asbestos must be airborne and have frequent exposure to be dangerous.   Being around it a few times will NOT harm you.   There is no problem going in the attic a few times to fix your lines and then just leaving it alone.  Asbestos will not "seep" through the ceiling.   

Do you have financial interest in a removal company? 

Steve,

No, I do not have financial interest in an abatement company, but I was involved in research to monitor asbestos, and other contaminants, in building HVAC systems.

I made no suck claim that asbestos would seep through the ceiling, you are attributing words to me that are not mine.  Now, when you cut holes between the attic and living space - such as when installing or replacing a light fixture, you can allow friable asbestos to enter the living space.   If you have draughts around ceiling fixtures you can also allow small amounts to enter the living space.  Friable asbestos becomes airborne easily.

Encasing the asbestos can be as simple as ensuring your have an unperforated vapour barrier between your living space and the asbestos in the attic.   Removing asbestos it is not necessarily über expensive ... in fact, you might make more in the long run by removing it.

While inhaling asbestos a few times may produce no noticeable effect, fibres will remain in your lungs.  Conversely regular, long term exposure to small amounts may be the cause of respiratory issues years later - that is what the investigation to which I referred in my prior post above is examining.

No one here is telling you that you must remove the asbestos from your buildings, but you do have to disclose its presence when you sell and the day is coming when you will likely have to disclose it to your tenants.

Once again, I am advocating that landlords and rehabbers educate themselves and continue to keep there knowledge current as our understanding of the impacts of long-term exposure to asbestos, just the same as you would with other hazards in the built environment such as lead, mould, PHPs, formaldehyde, etc. 

Updated over 3 years ago

PHPs above should be PCPs ... I could not connect to BP to post my edits.

Updated over 3 years ago

The second paragraph should read: "I made no such claim..." Once again, unable to connect to BP to make edits in the available window.

Good advise from @Roy N. Whether you have the seller remove prior to the sale or you get a reduction in price to remove, I would highly recommend that you remove the insulation. This will be a problem for you in the future at some point if you do not remediate(mainly when you want to sell).  

My plan is to require the seller to remove it, and I will pass along the info about possible reimbursement from the trust Michael provided a link to.   I won't buy it if the vermiculite is still there.  Period.

My mother's best friend died of mesothelioma, just from asbestos in her house.  No one will ever convince me it is exaggerated.  Not when your exposure is in your own home and it kills you.

Originally posted by @Kate B. :

My plan is to require the seller to remove it, and I will pass along the info about possible reimbursement from the trust Michael provided a link to.   I won't buy it if the vermiculite is still there.  Period.

My mother's best friend died of mesothelioma, just from asbestos in her house.  No one will ever convince me it is exaggerated.  Not when your exposure is in your own home and it kills you.

 Kate:

There are ways to deal with it and, if necessary live with it in-place.  

Mark Forest and I may have verbally sparred a bit {BTW: Sorry for sidelining your thread}, but it is good to hear differing views on a subject as it makes us all think a little harder.   

You could leave the asbestos in-place until such time as it is convenient for you to remove it, provided it remains undisturbed and there is no path by which friable asbestos can enter the living area {essentially a good vapour barrier around all fixtures and properly sealed ductwork if it passes through the attic}.   

If there are tenants in the unit(s) directly under the attic you may need to wiat for a vacancy, or relocated them, to perform an abatement ... but quite possible not if the attic is put under negative pressure and the vermiculite can be vacuumed out. 

Originally posted by @Roy N. :

@Steve Might and I may have verbally sparred a bit {BTW: Sorry for sidelining your thread}, but it is good to hear differing views on a subject as it makes us all think a little harder.   

The OP said the vermiculite was under a layer of cellulose insulation.  Even if they do vent the attic, as they should, I can not imagine a scenario where the asbestos portion will enter the house atmosphere in a significant way. 

Thanks for the discussion here.

A little while ago (Eastern Standard Time), I gave the seller's broker my final position re the vermiculite in the attic in the property I have a contract to buy.

I required that the seller remove the vermiculite before I purchase it.   There are several reasons for this.  Seller is local to the area and I am not.   All of the tenants have leases with the seller.   If there is any interruption in the tenants' use of the property during the abatement, I want her to deal with it.     Also, I do not want to buy this property with a future thought about how and when I will deal with it, even with credits from the seller.   I have many other things to do.

I told the seller's broker about the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust and the possibility of 55% reimbursement.   

To repeat, I required that the seller address this and not give me monetary concessions to take care of it later because I believe seller is in a better position to do this.   And I can wait.    Money had nothing to do with it.   Time, convenience, and location trumped.

This discussion made all the difference to me, and I am grateful.   I tested how it would fit this property every time someone offered information and advice.   Thank you!

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