Asbestos is a wonderful fibre. It has several positive characteristics such as extreme heat resistance and incredible strength. Unfortunately, the very properties that make the asbestos fibre so good are what make it potentially harmful if inhaled. As the asbestos fibre is virtually indestructible, our bodies cannot break it down to destroy it.
Asbestos has been around for a very long time as have the regulations regarding it. Residentially, we were unaware of its presence and the regulations were certainly not enforced. We merrily went about buying, selling, renovating, or building our homes, none the wiser.
Times have changed.
The City of Calgary is now mandating that any home that will undergo renovations or be demolished have an asbestos test to determine if any asbestos is present prior to issuing a permit. A demolition permit requires an inspection of the property and documentation prior to signing off on the permit.
With that in mind, the first step when purchasing a property or planning a reno/build is to have the property inspected for asbestos. As you cannot physically see asbestos, a lab analysis is the only way to know for sure if asbestos is present or not.
If you are selling or purchasing a property, knowing everything you can gives you a position of strength. On the selling side, you know what the buyer might inquire about and can gather potential pricing to bring to any negotiation on the topic.
As a buyer you can make decisions based on the firm reality of what the property will need and can plan for it both financially and logistically.
Asbestos is now something that needs to be dealt with. I would never let the presence of it dissuade me from purchasing a property. Once it is gone, it can bring peace of mind and be a selling feature for the property. Now, it really is just another line item on a construction estimate. That’s why it is best to know before any budgets are created.
Asbestos is potentially present in any structure from the early 1900’s through to 1990. The manufacturing of asbestos products was banned in 1979, but the sale of remaining stock was still allowed. This created a big spike of asbestos use in the late 70’s to mid 80’s.
Asbestos can be present in the following materials, in order from the most concerning to the least:
- Vermiculite (we don’t test this anymore – if it is present, it is considered contaminated)
- Cinderblock (check for vermiculite fill)
- Lino flooring
- Ceiling stipple and textures
- Drywall joint compound
- Duct paper
- Transite siding/pipe
- VCT flooring
Once the testing is completed, a scope for removal or a management plan can be created. If your property has asbestos, don’t panic! If the materials are in good shape and not disturbed, they are safe to live with.
But, if you plan on disturbing asbestos containing material, it must be handled or removed as per the Alberta Asbestos Abatement Manual. The percentage of asbestos that a material contains is not as relevant as what risk category the materials fall into. There is low risk (VCT, small amounts of material, transite in good shape), moderate risk (Drywall, stucco), and high risk (Vermiculite, stipple, lino over 100 square feet). The asbestos inspector can answer questions you may have.
The cost of abatement can vary greatly, with low risk jobs being the least expensive ($500 -$3,000 range), moderate risk jobs a bit higher due to more containment, labour, and materials cost ($2,000 – $15,000), and high risk being generally the most expensive ($5,000- $20,000). Please keep in mind that these are general price range and by no means replace a firm quote from a reputable abatement company.
Lastly, please be very aware of who you hire to do this work. The costs for the abatement contractors that perform the work properly, safely and to all regulation standards are quite high. There are a lot of “contractors” that will have a glossy website but cut a lot of corners and basically create a contaminated site that is very unhealthy and leaves the owner potentially liable.
Any reputable contractor will have hazmat insurance, WCB, file an NOP, follow all regulations and standards and ensure that the waste is legally disposed. Keep in mind that the City of Calgary Asbestos Form is a legal document and should not be signed and submitted falsely.
As this is just a brief overview into asbestos, should you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them and guide you through the process.