As buildings age, they are going to require renovations or restorations in order to maintain or even increase their property value. More specifically, kitchens and bathrooms are the two most valuable rooms in a home and coincidentally they are also the two most likely to contain asbestos. Discovering asbestos can be overwhelming for many as it is often associated with a decrease in property value or a large price tag. However, asbestos does not need to be intimidating. If removed properly, asbestos will not have a negative impact on health or the property.
Asbestos is recognized for being fire retardant, extremely durable and resistant to chemical erosion. These qualities made it a popular building material from 1950 to 1990. Asbestos fibres are microscopic (roughly 0.02 um, the diameter of a human hair), which make them difficult to detect with the naked eye. The fibrous minerals are also mixed with other materials meaning that asbestos can be present while going unnoticed. If the home was built or renovated before 1990 then it is likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos. Some of the common uses of asbestos in kitchens and bathrooms are linoleum, floor tiles, drywall mudding compound, and the stipple coating on ceilings.
Both property managers and homeowners need to be aware of the regulations surrounding asbestos. Many individuals are still not properly educated on the hazards of asbestos and as a result they unknowingly put themselves in a dangerous situation. The Workers Compensation Board of British Columbia regulates that any material containing more than 0.5 per cent by content of asbestos fibres is a hazardous material. Once asbestos has been discovered and confirmed through an air sample analysis, it’s required that the situation be dealt with. A hazardous materials removal company can be hired to remove or encapsulate the asbestos depending on the situation. However, if the owner decides to sell the property instead of removing the asbestos, then they must still disclose this information in the property listing.
A current issue with the housing market in Vancouver is that the market is so competitive, prospective buyers are removing the home inspection terms in order to have a more attractive offer. Consequently, they’re discovering that these older homes need more repairs than expected. The Home Inspectors Association of BC says that, as of 2016, only 10 per cent of homes are being inspected before purchase. Older homes in particular have a high probability of asbestos which could become an issue for even an experienced real estate investor or property manager once they start opening up the walls. The previous homeowners may not have been aware of the asbestos which is why a consultation with a home inspector could help identify potentially affected areas in the home prior to purchase.
It’s important to note that in most instances, if asbestos is undisturbed is it not harmful. However, if building materials become uncovered and exposed during renovations the fibres can become airborne and pose the risk of being inhaled by the occupants of the building. Renovation work in the kitchen may involve removing a non-load bearing wall to create an open concept floor plan, cutting holes into the ceiling to install new recessed lighting, or ripping out linoleum tiles to lay hardwood throughout the home, all of which include the potential disturbance of asbestos containing materials. These same asbestos related hazards, and more, can be found in the bathroom and other rooms around the home.
In December 2015, WorkSafeBC implemented new regulations stating that landfills could no longer accept asbestos containing drywall or untested drywall at risk for asbestos. These new regulations have resulted in an increase in “fly-tipping” or the illegal dumping of asbestos containing materials in B.C. Both Global News and CTV News have reported on the issue calling it a multi-million dollar problem in the Lower Mainland. Not all abatement contractors can dispose of hazardous materials and many homeowners do not know how or where to dispose of it. As a result, even when the renovation process may seem complete, property managers should look for abatement companies that are licensed by the Ministry of Environment to transport and store hazardous waste.
In the event that asbestos is discovered, the most important thing is to get the right information. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way. Do research by searching the internet and asking questions or even call more than one company if still uncertain. As a property manager, this can help provide peace of mind to the homeowners and as a homeowner this can help connect you with the professional contact needed. Either way, don’t start tearing open walls until what is behind them is known – investigate before renovating.
Dan Reading is a director and project manager at Phoenix Enterprises Ltd, a leading hazardous materials removal company with over 30 years of experience in B.C. Dan plays an active role in the company’s safety standards ensuring that they not only meet but exceed all regulatory procedures. He is also very involved in managing the marketing and communications of the company in order to better educate individuals on the hazards of asbestos.