Question: Our home was built in the mid-1970s in rural Manitoba, and every ceiling on the main floor was stippled. We are renovating the bathroom and plan to remove the stipple. Do we need to be concerned about asbestos being part of the stipple? If so, how do we find out if, in fact, asbestos is present? And if asbestos is present, then what?
Thanks for your help.
— Anne T.
Answer: You should be somewhat concerned about possible asbestos content in many building materials when doing renovations to your home. While there is a likelihood your ceiling stipple does have an asbestos content, taking proper precautions when removing it may be all that is required to prevent a serious health concern.
I am always reluctant to answer questions related to potential health and safety concerns with various building materials in our homes. The reason is there are often divergent views. There are those who may go into complete panic mode. At the other extreme, there are those overly bold individuals who don’t believe any precautions are necessary.
I am not the type of home inspector who scares my clients with horror stories about the terrible consequences of ingesting a small amount of mould, asbestos, dust or other products of household materials. At the same time, I make them aware of the potential for these contaminants in the home, to the best of my knowledge, and advise them to do further research should they have a concern. I do not believe in taking samples and sending them to a testing laboratory, unless the situation is obviously an extreme case. One reason for this viewpoint is the job of the lab is to test the materials for the hazardous compounds and let the client know what quantities are present. While they may excel at doing the analysis, they rarely offer much other information on what quantities of the materials may be harmful. That is because there is very little consensus on the amount of acceptable exposure to many of these materials.
So, when homeowners receive a report that their sample has trace amounts of asbestos, or one to two per cent, should they treat those lab reports the same? That really depends on numerous factors, which rarely are clarified. One per cent of asbestos content in Vermiculite insulation seems like a small amount, but is considered significant due to the material’s propensity to deteriorate over time. A much higher content in older vinyl-asbestos tiles or cement-asbestos siding should then appear to be a major concern, but is not, due to the fibres being embedded in vinyl or cement. These fibres are unlikely to become dislodged or friable unless the products are sanded or badly crushed.
In following with this logic, I would recommend you take precautions with any building materials manufactured before the 1990s, as they may contain some asbestos. This includes stipple products, plaster, drywall, drywall compound, manufactured flooring, ceiling tiles and a host of others too numerous to mention. The precautions should include wearing a good-quality respirator rated for asbestos and other small particulates, and other protective clothing and equipment when tearing apart any portion of your home. Block off any work areas with plastic sheathing to prevent the spread of any contaminants to the rest of the home, and clean up and dispose of debris every day.
Once the job is complete, a full cleanup should include vacuuming everything in the home several times with a HEPA-filtered unit.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358, or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.