Leav­ing in­su­la­tion alone best course of ac­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - ARI MARANTZ

QI read one of your ar­ti­cles in the Free Press about as­bestos in­su­la­tion. I re­cently took over a huge mort­gage and bought out my hus­band’s share of my home on sep­a­ra­tion. I think I am lucky to own the home, but some­times think I must be nuts to take on a huge mort­gage by my­self at 53. I live in the home with my two teenage chil­dren and hope to stay for a while, as long as I can af­ford it. When we ren­o­vated our up­stairs bath­room, we dis­cov­ered Zono­lite in­su­la­tion. I was told once that it would be $10,000 to re­move and re-in­su­late and, much as in your ar­ti­cle, told to leave it alone. That ap­pears to be great ad­vice, ex­cept it’s like putting your head in the sand and think­ing things will go away. How does one sell a home with Zono­lite in­su­la­tion? I can’t, in all hon­esty, say I don’t know what kind of in­su­la­tion I have and much like the urea formalde­hyde scare, most peo­ple will run when they find out what’s in the home. Do you have any sug­ges­tions as a home in­spec­tor? What does one do if they want to sell? Are there any grants or as­sis­tance avail­able? How can I deal with this be­fore I sell and pos­si­bly up­grade the in­su­la­tion? Thank you and any as­sis­tance you can give me is much ap­pre­ci­ated. Thanks for your time. Gay Caith­ness An­swer: You have asked a re­ally in­ter­est­ing ques­tion, and one of the rare ones I re­ceive that ac­tu­ally re­fer to house sales rather than house prob­lems. You have also iden­ti­fied some­thing I hon­estly thought would be a much larger is­sue for re­sale than it has be­come in the decade or so since this is­sue was dis­cov­ered. I hope to put your mind at ease over this some­times con­tro­ver­sial is­sue. De­spite what many home­own­ers be­lieve, there are nu­mer­ous items and sys­tems within their homes that may be hazardous to the health or safety of the oc­cu­pants, pri­mar­ily when some­thing is dam­aged or fails. Th­ese items range from po­ten­tial leaks at nat­u­ral gas pip­ing or ap­pli­ances to over­heat­ing elec­tri­cal wiring. Loose or im­proper handrails, slip­pery stairs, rot­ting bal­conies or mouldy walls may all pose a sig­nif­i­cant risk if left unat­tended. I could go on for hours with ad­di­tional items I reg­u­larly find dur­ing home in­spec­tions, but the key to th­ese is­sues is how they are dealt with once iden­ti­fied. The ver­mi­culite in­su­la­tion in your at­tic may fall into this cat­e­gory, if it is in­deed Zono­lite brand and does con­tain as­bestos. The rea­son you have re­ceived ad­vice to leave the ver­mi­culite in­su­la­tion in your at­tic alone, from var­i­ous sources, is be­cause that is the best course of ac­tion to pre­vent con­tam­i­na­tion of the home with as­bestos fi­bres that may be con­tained within this ma­te­rial. Disturbing this gran­u­lar in­su­la­tion, which is of­ten cov­ered with one of more lay­ers of newer in­su­la­tion, is when it be­comes po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous. If it is left alone in a typ­i­cal at­tic with a sealed at­tic hatch and no holes or breaches in the ceil­ings be­low, there is no real pos­si­bil­ity of the as­bestos fi­bres get­ting into the liv­ing space be­low. If it can­not get into the house air, there is no more safety or health con­cern with this ma­te­rial than any other type of at­tic in­su­la­tion. Re­moval of the in­su­la­tion can cre­ate sig­nif­i­cant amounts of con­tam­i­na­tion of the home, which will re­quire ex­ten­sive cleanup and en­vi­ron­men­tal test­ing of the home af­ter­wards. That is why the cost of re­moval is nor­mally in the thou­sands of dol­lars. You may al­ready know all of th­ese de­tails, but I out­lined th­ese as back­ground to an­swer your ques­tion about sell­ing your home. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the ver­mi­culite in your at­tic and the urea formalde­hyde foam in­su­la­tion (UFFI) is­sue in past decades is twofold. Firstly, UFFI was more fre­quently in­stalled inside the walls of the home than the at­tic. This makes any chem­i­cals off-gassing from this foam in­su­la­tion much more likely to get inside the house air than any as­bestos fi­bres from an at­tic. This is due to the “stack ef­fect,” as well as the fact older homes nor­mally have poorly sealed walls, of­ten with open­ings or cracks, which can al­low air and gas in­tru­sion. Se­condly, fol­low­ing sig­nif­i­cant test­ing after UFFI was ini­tially banned, it was found there was no real health con­cern or ex­ces­sive formalde­hyde lev­els found in homes con­tain­ing this in­su­la­tion. The en­tire is­sue was overblown, due to com­plaints from some home­own­ers of ill ef­fects that were ei­ther imag­ined or due to im­proper in­stal­la­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, the dam­age was al­ready done, mainly by the pre­ma­ture gov­ern­ment ban on this in­su­la­tion. Be­cause of this knee-jerk re­ac­tion and en­su­ing panic, Cana­di­ans tax­pay­ers had to foot the bill for re­moval of this in­su­la­tion from thou­sands of homes. Con­se­quently, there are no gov­ern­ment grants for re­moval of ver­mi­culite from homes. While there may be some “ex­perts” out there, in­clud­ing some poorly ed­u­cated home in­spec­tors, who rec­om­mend re­moval of ver­mi­culite in­su­la­tion from at­tics, the majority of knowl­edge­able peo­ple in the hous­ing com­mu­nity agree to leave it alone. That is not, as you sug­gest, to ig­nore it and hope it will go away, but be­cause it is the best course of ac­tion. Ver­mi­culite may be harm­less if left in a sealed at­tic, but hazardous if it is dis­turbed by re­moval. For this rea­son, I have had very few clients who have re­fused to buy a home due to the pres­ence of ver­mi­culite in­su­la­tion in the at­tic. Your moral re­spon­si­bil­ity is to in­form any po­ten­tial pur­chasers that you have ver­mi­culite in­su­la­tion in your at­tic, but that should not pre­clude an ed­u­cated and in­formed buyer from com­plet­ing the sale. 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.

AP PHOTO / PAUL VER­NON

Although cel­lu­lose in­su­la­tion like the prod­uct be­ing blown into the at­tic of this home is now the pre­ferred method, many older homes were in­su­lated

with ver­mi­culite in­su­la­tion. It is now gen­er­ally be­lieved that ver­mi­culite is harm­less if left in a sealed at­tic, but hazardous if it is dis­turbed.

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