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The price of lax house inspection.

Byline: Brian Nelson

Dear Henri: Recently, I was re-examining the home inspection report of our 1950s ranch, which we bought seven years ago. There were two items about the attic that were notable:

First, "the insulation is vermiculite.'' However, there was no mention in writing or verbally of asbestos at all. Even a brief research will tell you that most of the vermiculite insulation put in attics between 1920 and 1990 came from a mine in Libby, Montana, that also had asbestos in it, and according to the EPA, "assume it has asbestos in it.'' Sure wish I was told then, since my husband has been up in that attic a lot.

Since we have no basement, we also use it as storage. There are wood floors in the areas where we store stuff.

The opening is in the garage ceiling. I probably would not have bought the house had I known about the possibility of asbestos.

Second, regarding the fans from the bathrooms, the inspector in his report noted that he wasn't able to see the vents. Well, my husband found them pretty easily recently when he was in the attic a lot to repair the SpacePack A/C.

He found that the bathroom fans vent directly into the attic! He didn't see any obvious mold. We only use one bathroom to shower and there are only two of us here.

We're wondering if the inspector didn't want to go into the attic due to the vermiculite. Or he was just too lazy. But it wasn't hard for my husband to see that the fans vented into the attic.

And third, the living-room ceiling had water marks (and a moist floor on a few occasions), and since it was around the fireplace, we thought it was either the A/C leaking from above or the fireplace roof flashing needing attention. So first we had the A/C guy do a check on the SpacePack air exchanger up in the attic (we have hot water heat). Found out that the pan under the exchanger was cracked and leaking, and that the insulated ducts had become detached from the vents and condensation was a result. Am I justified in my concerns?

A: If there was unobstructed access to the attic at the time of the inspection, normally the inspector should have entered it and checked for the outlet of the bathroom fans.

A red flag would have been the lack of wall jacks through exterior walls in the general location of the bathrooms.

Or it seems to me, not knowing all the facts, that he should have mentioned that, since he could not see any outlets, he assumed that the fans were discharging into the attic, and that further investigation was necessary because that is not acceptable.

But he may have decided not to enter the attic because of the vermiculite, perhaps knowing that it may contain asbestos, in which case he should have mentioned that in his report and told you so verbally.

I believe that he should also have suggested that the vermiculite should be tested by an accredited asbestos inspector or asbestos-removal firm, which you should do now to set your mind at rest.

Asbestos fibers are so minuscule that they cannot be detected visually.

From your description of all the problems you encountered, it is possible that some fibers may have been sent through the air-conditioning ducts into the living space. But it takes many years of exposure to develop one of the diseases attributed to asbestos. You should consult your physician.

It is unlikely that a house built in the 1950s has a plastic vapor retarder stapled to the bottom of the ceiling joists, which would contain the asbestos while you replace the damaged drywall ceiling. So the repair may be difficult, and may need to be done by an asbestos-removal firm.
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Title Annotation:Homes
Author:Nelson, Brian
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 28, 2014
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