The online newsletter prepared especially for the membership of the
American Institute of Inspectors® as well as home inspectors abroad.

APRIL 5, 2004

It's a great day here in Orem, Utah. My little Adam has recovered from his appendicitis and the family is as active as ever taking advantage of the beautiful spring weather. Adam is now trying to recover from a ten year old’s naive understanding of gravity and balance. Two days ago he took a few 5’ wooden fence slats and propped them up on one end of an old metal rocking horse frame. He then walked up the planks like a tight rope walker. As he got to the top the weight was too much and the other end of the metal frame came flying up and the planks went down to the ground. The effect was similar to that of stepping on the end of a rake. Luckily Adam has fast reflexes and was able to turn his head slightly because the metal frame smacked him right up side the face. I didn’t see it until he came into the house with blood freely flowing from his mouth. A direct hit would have knocked out his front teeth. As it is the face and mouth will heal and I am certain that the large facial swelling will eventually go down as well.

We were treated to a wonderful play by the Leavitt kid’s this weekend. The plot was simple as Jessica the mother sent her daughter Haily out each day to dance for money. Coming home without any she decided to run away at which time the dragon, played by Aaron, tried to attack her and the caped kidnapper, played by Adam, tried to get her. Never before was Haily so glad to return home to her mother. Jessica the mother was so happy for her daughter’s return that she no longer wanted her to dance for money... I have no idea where these kids came up with the story but it was a hoot watching them put on the family performance.... Having kids is wonderful.

Last week I shared a great experience about the inspection of the K Motel in Kanab, Utah. I commented that the entire experience was a bunch of sour lemons. Luckily I decided to stop myself from murmuring and made myself some refreshing lemonade.

What a great story Michael, halfway through I had to go make some lemonade!!. Your story confirms what I did learn the hard way - Do at least a drive-by of commercial properties to see what your getting into. This would have been very hard in this case, or added a great expensive. Again, thanks for the great story and information. I have one question: How much effort was given to putting your form set(s) together for this inspection? Tom Pittman - Roseburg, Or

Tom, the form set I used was a modified version of the standard 24 unit apartment complex form that comes with the 3D inspection system software. It is interesting to perform a 23 unit complex because boredom sets in after about the tenth unit. You also report differently because the key is to document everything that is wrong and put it in a format that is easily understandable. I opted to report everything by the unit. A key that all inspectors should take note is that you take a picture of the unit number on the door before taking any pictures inside the unit itself. If you don’t then when you are all done you can’t figure out what unit the photo was from.

I then used a mobile home form set that I designed for the modular units. I ended up printing out 4 different reports and then using the more advanced features of Adobe Acrobat to merge them all together as one document. I finally altered the page numbers to keep the entire report sequential. This all takes time and no matter what software you use to crank out your reports it is tough to create a cookie cutter type form set for commercial inspections because commercial properties are anything but cookie cutter.

I need to talk Rick DeBoard into sending me a version of his commercial report form so that I can do a write-up and let all of you know how his efforts turned out..... Are you out there reading this invitation Rick???

What do you use for your commercial report templates?

Your Name: City, State:

E-mail: PB1

Greetings, Can anyone give me a name for this fiber board like material siding? Greg Justice - Rainier, OR

Not sure if this is the proper name of this siding but, it looks like “concrete side wall shakes”. Some our siding experts may have a different name for this siding. Tom Pittman

Looks like the asbestos tiles to me. Nathan Buckley - Klamath Falls, OR

Looks like Transite (asbestos) Jon Gudnason - Placerville, CA

Greg: John Mansville was one supplier of this popular siding and roofing material. It is listed as Asbestos Roof Shingles but was also used for the exterior siding. It came in ¼ square bundles. The chances of it containing asbestos is about 99.99% even though we are not asbestos professionals and cannot make the positive ID. You cannot buy replacements for cracked tiles and the disposal requires the added toxic waste disposal fees. If you pay for removal you must have the men in the white suits and decontamination chambers perform the task. Most homeowners install vinyl or aluminum siding directly over the asbestos and gift wrap the hazardous material. Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah

Greg it looks like Asbestos siding from the picture. Does it have a sharp sound when you tap on it. Asbestos is also very brittle. Marc Gibson - Oregon

Hi Greg: It looks like an older asbestos-type material commonly found on 1940's structures or around that period . The shingles were often placed over original wood clapboard or shiplap siding on pre-30's structures as a fire retardant material, especially in cities with minimal setbacks between buildings.

If this is indeed the asbestos-type stuff it is very susceptible to chipping or breaking and you will usually find several shingles at the lower walls or corners of the building broken or loose with exposures.

Of course, use your asbestos-type material remarks for the potential environmental concern.

Here's some language I've used:

NOTE: The asbestos-type shingle material requires special care in any repair, refinishing or removal and should be handled by a professional tradesperson familiar with the product - refer to a licensed environmental contractor for any further evaluation of the material.

Hope this helps, Mark VanBuskirk - Bay Area, CA

It looks just like the asbestos siding I have on a rental house. I had a heck of a time getting insurance on it recently. No, it won't burn, but the disposal "fees" in the case of a fire are tremendous. Replacement shingles are not available, and being very brittle, it breaks quite easily if impacted. Will Baley - Tulelake, Ca.

I sure appreciate the quick responses. I thought it may be asbestos, but it is a rather soft substance. Was this 1940's material softer? The time frames you mention are about perfect for this house. And there is an original small lap siding underneath. Reminds me of the dark fiber panels we used to use sometimes as an underlayment before installing log siding. I took some stuff like this to a lab one time for analysis and it was not asbestos.

Anyway, I made a call and am recommending a sample be taken to the lab for a certified analysis...just to be certain.

Thanks again. Greg Justice - Rainier, OR

Greg: We have yet to encounter any of this stuff that does not contain asbestos. If they have the extra money to throw away, then let them do it. It is better to go forth as though it does by identifying it as a probable asbestos containing material. Throwing money at testing is virtually a waste of good money…. In my humble opinion…. Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah

Greg, the Asbestos siding actually makes for a very durable siding and seems to last forever. I had an inspection couple weeks ago with that same siding and had the old lap siding underneath. Marc Gibson - Oregon

In Oregon the homeowner is allowed to remove and dispose of this type of siding as long as they have lived in the house for at least three months. Nathan Buckley - Klamath Falls, OR

In one of the asbestos classes that was put on, the presenter said to look at some of the chipped areas, the ones that have not been sealed, and see if it is what he called fried or non-fried. (little hairs sticking out of the product). The same could be used for asbestos insulated ducting. Randy Yell's Johns Manville and if you lived near the plant in the 40's we had snow in summer...asbestos like manna from heaven...and the siding takes paint great and is fire resistant and not toxic in solid form...only when cutting etc.~. .~ in spirit.

P.S. After all this discussion about asbestos I think this stuff is like the siding on my building only mine has a faux brick pattern on it ...check out the nails on the corners ...the asbestos is blind nailed like shakes ...this stuff is kinda like a beaverboard with composite stuck on the top to look like raked shakes and it has been painted(takes paint great too). Lisa De

Lisa De... A smile is till on my face from your response. There is no question that this is good siding. It is meant to last an eternity unless the kids start to bounce there baseballs off the walls. Asbestos made it a superior building product. The fact is that it is still a liability in its current state. The home takes the financial hit with it exposed because of all of the perceived badness of the word ASBESTOS. I am not condoning that we spread the asbestos fears, but only that we report with them in mind because they are a reality. Two homes sitting side by side, one with the product and one without. The one without is more desirable in today's marketplace. Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah

Here is an end package cap from some tile shingles used on a 1950’s home.

Greg Justice, I can't tell for ssure from your photo but it looks like stuff that is called "rake shakes" here on the Oregon Coast. Rake Shakes are revered for lasting longer than other shake or shingle sidings. It has something to do with the grooves in the shakes improving the water runoff, decreasing the absorbtion, drying out quicker after a rain, etc. etc. I have not seeen any used on new construction. I think they are expensive. They ARE available from certain lumber yards for repair/replacement, but can be hard to find. That's all I know. Steve Jordan - OR

Fellow Inspectors: Can all of you take a few minutes in the coming days to call your local building departments and ask them the following questions…..

  • 1) Are there any removal and disposal restrictions for old 1940-1960 asbestos tile roofs?
  • 2) Are there any removal and disposal restrictions for old 1940-1960 asbestos tile sidings?

Be careful because they may at first think that you are talking about old 3 tab type roofing that had some asbestos in it. I know of no restrictions for removing this stuff. But that isn’t what we are referring to here. They may immediately tell you to contact the Asbestos Department on the State level. If so, then give them a call and see what restrictions are in place in your State. The information would be valuable to all of us as we try to determine how much of this is State mandated, City mandated, and Federally mandated.

Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah

Michael, There are guidelines for the Removal and DISPOSAL of all types of asbestos products including composite tiles for siding or roofing.

The removal can cause asbestos to go airborne/Friable. Oregon DEQ hits hard on CONTRACTORS who touch the stuff without DEQ Tracking, Handling and Disposal Documents!!!!. Homeowner can remove themselves and these rules MAY not apply, except for disposal. Lord help them if asbestos shows up in soil samples down the road. Dean Daviscourt - Medford, OR

Here are a couple links to contradictory statements by two different government agencies.


Note: EPA Region 8 does not include Oregon. Oregon is in Region 10. There is no mention (that I could find anyway) of asbestos siding on the Region 10 website. Does Asbestos Siding present different hazards on the other side of a state line? I don't think so.

This is what EPA says about Asbestos Siding in the FAQ section:

I am looking at a home to buy. It has asbestos siding. What needs to be done?

If the siding is in good condition -- not broken or crumbling -- it may be painted over or covered with other material. It is more hazardous to remove it than to contain it. If it is deteriorated -- broken and crumbling -- and it has to be removed, a certified asbestos contractor should be hired to do the job. The waste has to be handled according to requirements and disposed of in an approved hazardous waste landfill. Your state environmental agency can give you information on handling and disposal.


This is a link to the Oregon DEQ Asbestos Siding Brochure. Toward the end of the document it says:

Please note that installation of new siding over CAB (Cement Asbestos Board) is not allowed because the installation process renders the CAB siding friable. In addition, sanding, grinding, chipping, or the use of power tools is prohibited during the handling, removal, and disposal of CAB siding.

Kind of odd, or is it, that two government agencies would have such conflicting opinions about the handling of Asbestos Siding.

Nathan Buckley - Klamath Falls, OR

Very nice find Nathan…I will probably use some of this information in my siding section with a link to this site. Could be very helpful for client. Tom Pittman

Fellow Inspectors, As usual Michael has posed two very good questions. I contacted our local building department and they didn't know the answer to the asbestos questions, neither did the Department of Environmental Conservation. I am supposed to get something back from them next week. I will post it as soon as I get an official answer for here in NY. George Rice - Avon, NY

Greg, In addition to the Rake Shake; Cedar, and the Cement/Asbestos there is/was another product. It was a Fir-tex like material kind of like the old ceiling tile. Some had a surface similar to a comp roof. As for the Asbestos concern, another place to look is the old linoleum like floor tiles. I have had people have a fun time trying to get it removed and disposed of. Most of the old schools and commercial buildings had it installed. Jim Archer - Florence, OR

I tried to find out what to do with a piece or transite water heater exhaust vent pipe once. The local dump sent me home and would not allow me to enter the dump when they saw it on top of a load of construction debris I had. I called several government agencies with asbestos in their name. I spent several hours on the phone and nobody knew where I could take it. It ended up in a hole in the ground in the back yard. I don't think there is any way for a private individual to officially dispose of this stuff. Jon Gudnason - Placerville, CA

Jon, You should have brought it to Klamath Falls, OR. All you have to do is put it in a double plastic garbage bag and then you can take it to the land fill. Ron Cloyd - OR

Jon Gudnason: Last I heard it was being disposed of in old asbestos mines. Call your state's Mining & Mineral Department - it may be a part of the Department of Business and Industry. Richard Grisham in Las Vegas

Here in Coos County, asbestos siding shingles and asbestos roofing shingles must be removed and disposed of by following standard asbestos abatement procedures. The closest disposal site is in Roseburg, about 1.5 hours away, which makes disposal expensive.

Greg, if the material was soft, was it an asphalt shingle? Asbestos shingles are definitely hard and brittle, and sound a lot like cement board when they are tapped. By the way, the term that the person used (in another email) is not “fried” but “friable” which means the fibers are readily airborne. The homeowners only need to worry about the friable forms, like the soft wrapping around old hot water heat pipes, furnaces and some wood stoves. But the hard forms can become friable when they are cut or burned, like the old 9” linoleum tiles.

Great to see you guys today in Salem!

We have a new education provider in Oregon, made entirely of awesome AII inspectors! Congratulations are in order! Dan Matthews - Coos Bay, OR

Thanks for the kudos, Dan. Jim Archer had described " It was a Fir-tex like material kind of like the old ceiling tile. " This may be it. That was the stuff I was trying to remember we used as an underlayment for the log siding. Firtex. I have an appointment to pick up sample and take it to lab in Tigard on Monday. The lab fee is only 25.00. I will post the findings / report once I have it. Greg Justice - Rainier, OR

Greg; Based on the picture it sure looks like asbestos siding. A great product that was sold extensively during the late 40's and early 50's. The sales practices at that time were similar to the sales practices today for vinyl siding. The down side to the product today is that you cannot buy replacement tiles, primarily, as a result of law suits brought about by the EPA. The tiles are brittle making them hard to work with and the aluminum will break off rather than pull out. The health risk is - - - DO NOT GRIND THEM INTO DUST AND THEN INHALE THE DUST --. {dust being asbestos fibers}.

P.S. Randy; At the risk of being "nit Picky" the correct term for those little "hairs" sticking out of the asbestos tile is either "FRIABLE or NON-FRIABLE. I had a asbestos removal license in Ca. before I escaped the state and moved to Wyoming. D. Ray Arey - Thermopolis, Wy

What are your thoughts on asbestos shingle and siding removal/disposal in your area?


Your Name: City, State:

E-mail: PB2

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Richard Grisham, he is one of the most knowledgeable men that I know. Richard carries more environmental vertifications than I will ever aspire to obtain. He responded to the above discussion with what he originally intended as a 3 sentence response and then his memory flood gates opened up. Read the following after first fastening your seat belts. Keep in mind that all of this information just flowed forth. If you ever get a chance to visit with him in person you will realize that all of this stuff is archived in his head... He is simply amazing.

Mike Leavitt: I have just now taken a look at all of the posts on asbestos (21 & counting), and almost everybody has the right idea with the best responses coming from you & Jon Gudnason, with many others that were also very good. One of the reasons there is not better agreement between differing government agencies is because they all try to fashion their regulations separately from one another in order to be in compliance with EPA or OSHA mandates. These are the big two agencies that have the most to do with regulations concerning asbestos, but others such as DOT also have regs about asbestos. Almost all of the original rules can be found in 40 CFR, parts 53 to 60 and 29 CFR part1910, but there is still more in 29 CFR, part 1926, Subpart D, paragraph 1926.58. So you can expect to find references to asbestos scattered around here and there. (Note: this system is how the Feds keep track of all of the national codes & rules - 40 CFR means: volume 40 Code of Federal Regulations...etc. Volume 40 refers to "Protection of the Environment" (agency with jurisdiction is EPA); and volume 29 is on "Labor" (agency with jurisdiction is OSHA) with part 1910 referring to workplace safety.)

Most of these "shingles" will last for thousands of years if left relatively undisturbed. Down side is they are very brittle. Only dangerous when "airborne" (friable means "capable of being crushed (and rendered airborne) by finger pressure alone"). The product we are talking about here is generically called "Transite." Transite implies asbestos containing cement shingles or sheets as large as 4 x 8 feet. Transite is not friable, but since it is brittle it is easy to make it airborne. Why is airborne important? Because that's the principle way it gets into the body. Small amounts can penetrate the skin and larger amounts can be ingested, but of the 3 (inhalation, ingestion, and penetration), inhalation is by far the most common route of exposure. Asbestos products are abated by: removal, encapsulation, and isolation. Removal is most common, but must be done by expensive and costly techniques (containment, record keeping, respirators, trained workers, disposal in a hazardous waste repository, etc. $$$$$$). Encapsulation means covering with a paint like polymeric encapsulant generically referred to as "elastomeric" paint with a 20 year (plus) life expectancy $$. Isolation is the easiest to understand and just involves placing a permanent barrier around the contaminated material so exposure is not possible, like covering contaminated wall board with uncontaminated wall board (or plywood) $.

Only a trained worker can collect samples for submission to a qualified laboratory. In order to be listed as a qualified lab, it must comply with AIHA requirements and subscribe to NVLAP. (NVLAP = National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program). If a freshly broken piece of transite is viewed along the broken edge and feathery, fibrous projections are noted, it is almost certainly ACM. About 95% of the cementitious shingles out there are ACM. I have noticed that when replacement shingles are used to spruce up a house with this kind of exterior covering, they have fiberglass instead of asbestos. The fiberglass may be annoying and itchy, but it is not considered toxic - compare to mesothelioma, a 100% sure death. The next person who recovers from mesothelioma will be the first person to recover from it.

Quickie course in understanding asbestos. There are six distinct varieties going from most common to least: Chrysotile, Amosite, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Actinolite, and Anthophyllite. There are some look-alikes such as Wollastonite and Brucite. The minerals from which these are mined have different names just to complicate the subject and Polarized Light Microscopy is used to identify and distinguish between the varieties. PLM involves central stop and annular stop dispersion staining, properties such as sign of elongation, refractive index, birefringence, extinction angle as well as other properties such as pleochroism (color) are all useful for identification. When there is a disagreement between the experts about identification, both SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy) and TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy) are used. When I left this field about 10 years ago, a hybrid of both techniques was beginning to be used. Likely enough it is called STEM. Using TEM, it has been found that only 1 of the 6 varieties (Chrysotile) forms a sheet like material. The other 5 form linear chains and the chains (actually 1 fiber each) attract one another along their length to form bundles. It is these bundles that we actually "see" using whatever microscopic device is available. A linear chain of atoms is beyond the resolution of all known equipment at this time. The sheet-forming material is Chrysotile - so how does it manage to turn itself into fibers? Probably because the bond angles on an atomic scale are offset just enough to make it roll up into a scroll. Whatever is happening, it is probably responsible for making Chrysotile the most benign of all the asbestos varieties. There is a town in Canada called Chrysotile and that's what they mine. It has been evaluated by CDC and found to have the same statistical incidence of lung cancer as any other town in the North American Continent, probably because of its scroll like fibrous structure. Because most asbestos found in end products like insulation and building materials is all treated the same by manufacturers, and a mixture of types is common, it is best to treat any and all ACM as toxic, even when it only contains about 5 or 10% of the more dangerous kinds.

Originally, I intended to make only a 2 or 3 line answer to Greg Justice's post and let it go at that, but I suddenly noticed that 2 hours or more have gone by and my narrative is probably longer than it should be for a simple informational read on the hotline. I just can't help it. Every time I begin talking or writing about a topic like this, it seems like everything is all connected together into one gigantic mental sentence and there is no easy way to shut it off when it begins pouring out of my brain. I am sending this to you to include in your next MMM if you wish, because it more appropriately belongs there. In closing let me just give my narrative comment that I use during an inspection in which I notice what I believe to be asbestos.

The .................................. material may be asbestos. Only an expert in a properly equipped lab can determine this. Although the material is toxic, in order to be harmful to you it must become airborne and you must inhale it. Do not drill into it, hammer it, saw into it or in any other way, mechanically disturb it. Leave it in place or isolate it. As with lead paint or toxic cleaning materials, it is possible to inhabit a home that has harmful things in it, provided you use common sense in controlling your exposure. Further information can be obtained from your nearest local EPA office. Look under "Government" in the phone book.

Richard Grisham in Las Vegas

Our AIItm Founder, Bill Ball, responded to all of this asbestos discussion with a great explanation...

Fellow Inspectors:

Asbestos is NOT the frightening thing that "Asbestos Abatement Contractors" of the 1980's made it out to be. Back then, we went through a period much like we are facing now with MOLD.

In 1991, the American Medical Association finally put an end to all of the panic and hyperbole when they published their recommendations - (attached pdf document with photo).

My advice about the cement asbestos products like the siding referenced in the postings today is to state the obvious:

"The siding on this home is a popular and durable product of the 1930's to 50's which likely contains asbestos. Although asbestos is defined as a hazardous material when friable, (meaning that it can be crushed into a powder so that it becomes airborne), when locked in the cementitious base of this product it cannot become airborne unless disturbed by removing it. Therefore, most people encase the siding by covering it with new siding when remodeling."

I think it would be good if we were all talking the same language, so I have included the definitions below from the Glossary of TERMS of the UNIFORM HOME INSPECTOR'S CODE BOOK™. These definitions are well researched:

ACM = Asbestos Containing Material. There are dozens and dozens of different building materials that contain(ed) asbestos including: Roofing, vinyl floor tile, oven seals, insulation, and cottage cheese like spray-on ceilings.

ASBESTOS = Six naturally occurring fibrous minerals found in certain types of rock formations. There are two basic types -- serpentine and amphibole.

  • SERPENTINE - Serpentine varieties include amianthus and chrysolite. The type of asbestos that predominates in houses –chrysotile– generally is not associated with cancer.
  • AMPHIBOLE - Amphibole varieties include tremolite, actinolite, anthophylite, grunerite, richxerite, edenite, amosite, crocidolite, (the types most frequently cited as causing cancer).

NOTE: Chrysolite is the type used in most building components, although amosite, tremolite, and crocidolite are also reported in some products. There are also synthetic asbestos fibers including flour-tremolite, flourrichterite, and flour-edenite.

When mined and processed, asbestos is typically separated into very thin fibers. Because asbestos is strong, incombustible, and corrosion resistant, asbestos was used in many commercial products beginning early in this century and peaking in the period from WW II into the 1970's. When inhaled in sufficient quantities, asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems.

Source: Glossary of Terms from Bill Ball’s Manual for Phase I Environmental Inspections and Training

Friable = (1) Capable of being crumbled or pulverized and reduced to powder by hand pressure. (2) Thus reduced to powder, the material can become airborne and inhaled.

Hope this helps.

Bill Ball, Las Vegas, NV

That is great information Bill. I recommend that all of the MMM readers contact Bill and get some of his home inspection information for your libraries and bathroom bookshelves. Here is Bill’s contact information...

Bill Ball, Las Vegas, NV

Member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors
Columnist for
Author of the "Rules of Thumb" for Home Inspecting™
Publisher of the "Uniform Home Inspector's Code Book™"
Publisher of "Inspector's Field Notes™" - newsletter for Home Inspectors
Author of the book: "Practical Reporting™"

Bill Ball went to his archive and wanted to share the following information.

This information about asbestos was first published to American Institute of Inspectors® members in 1992.

MD Report Says Asbestos Should Be Managed.

Source: Sacramento Union
September 7, 1991
Union News Service

The American Medical Association (AMA) is taking a strong stand on asbestos in the nation’s homes, schools and office buildings. In an article published in this week’s Journal the AMA stated that: “It would be wiser for American society to us its resources to learn to live with asbestos safely than to try to remove it.” Noting the vast amounts of money and energy that have been spent on unwarranted asbestos removals, the AMA makes strong recommendations about managing the material in place -(known to the industry as MIP for Managing In Place.....Editor).

Generally following conclusions drawn in a Harvard University symposium report on the - “Health Aspects of Exposure to Asbestos in Buildings,” - and an article in Science Magazine entitled - “Asbestos: Scientific Developments and Implications for Public Policy” - the AMA report is the third major scientific analysis to express concerns about public health policies and misconceptions surrounding the risk of asbestos in buildings. All three articles have stressed the value of in-place management of asbestos and the misallocation of societal resources on unwarranted asbestos removals.

“The AMA is doing a great public service with the release of this article,” said John Welch, president, Safe Buildings Alliance. “Buy advocating the safe management of asbestos, the AMA will help building owners, policy makers, and the general public better understand that removal, like major surgery, should be a last resort remedy.”

The report, from the AMA’s Council on Scientific Affairs, also encourages the Environmental Protections agency (EPA) to continue its own efforts to clarify the federal guidance on the safe management of asbestos in place. The Council concludes that, to date, unclear recommendations for handling asbestos in buildings have led to a rash of unnecessary removals with a staggering price tag. The report notes that approximately $3.4 billion may be spent to clean up 107,000 primary and secondary schools alone; and, costs could soar to $150 billion for public commercial buildings.

Physicians are also urged to help clarify misinformation abut the potential risks of asbestos. Citing “misconceptions.... and mismatches between scientific fact and the need for action,” the report directs physicians to advise the public that improper diet, inadequate exercise, smoking and alcohol and drug abuse are far greater causes of sickness and death than asbestos in buildings and homes.

“This report should put asbestos fears to rest for a long time,” said Mr. Welch. “When the family doctor’s prescription regarding asbestos is ‘don’t worry, manage it safely in place,’ you listen.” The Safe Buildings Alliance is an association of leading building products companies that formerly manufactured asbestos-containing materials (ACM) for building construction. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C.

To download the PDF version of the document please click here ASBESTOS

This information was shared with permission from William P. (Bill) Ball, Copyright, 2004 -- All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced without permission. Bill is the author of the IFN Inspector’s Field Notes newsletter. To subscribe please e-mail Bill Ball at

What do you think of the long running asbestos fears?

Your Name: City, State:

E-mail: PB3

For those of you who aren’t aware of it our very own AIItm Founder, Bill Ball, writes a regular column for the online real estate website Realty Times. He recently dealt with the asbestos topic in a question and answer format regarding asbestos roofing shingles. I recommend that you subscribe to the daily online real estate e-magazine. Bill’s most recent article is reprinted here but can be found in its original format at

Dealing With Asbestos Hazards by Bill Ball

Dear Bill,

I have a circa 1932 upscale home. It has asbestos shingles on a 4:12 pitch (probably cement asbestos combed shingles). The roofing is covered with lichens, mold, and pollution.

The condition of the shingles, as far as I can see, is fair-to-good. The nail ends exposed in the attic show no discoloration or water stain rings. I don't want to re-roof if there is a safe way to clean this roof without damaging the surface and without invoking EPA regulations.

Do you have any suggestions? Joe

Dear Joe,

The dangers of asbestos (which was the hysteria of the 1980's similar to what "mold" has become today) are very often overblown. Residential products that contain(ed) asbestos include:

  • Radiant heat boiler and pipe insulation
  • Sprayed acoustical (cottage cheese) ceiling treatment
  • Drywall joint compounds and patching plaster
  • Acoustical ceiling tiles
  • Wooden fuse boxes
  • Wood stove fire-retardant floor and wall panels
  • Some linoleum and vinyl floor tiles
  • Insulation on knob and tube electrical wiring
  • Vermiculite attic and wall insulation
  • Heating duct insulation
  • Roofing felt or tar paper, and
  • Combed cement asbestos shingles used as roofing and siding in the 1930's to 50's.

Although asbestos was generally banned from construction materials in 1978, even today, some products still include asbestos, such as Transite gas flue pipe, artificial ashes, concrete gas logs, and wood stove door gaskets.

Unless asbestos fibers are "friable" -- which means that it can be crushed into a powder -- it presents no hazard whatsoever. Asbestos is dangerous only when it is breathed into the lungs. Therefore, products that are not friable are not dangerous.

Unlike sprayed acoustical ceilings and drywall joint compounds, (which are often scraped and sanded into dust) products like vinyl floor tile and cement asbestos shingles are very stable. That's why, after more than 70 years, the roofing material you are concerned with is still serviceable -- even though it is not very attractive.

It is my judgment that cleaning these shingles with a high-pressure wash should make them presentable. It is highly unlikely that this treatment would cause any of the asbestos fibers locked in the cement shingles to become airborne.

A reasonable assessment of the dangers of asbestos products was addressed by the American Medical Association in a report issued in 1991. The AMA recommended that, rather than remove asbestos containing products, they be encased wherever possible because removing them created more danger of airborne fibers.

That means, (that regardless of the hyperbole you might have seen about this topic on TV programs like This Old House) if you have a sprayed-on cottage cheese ceiling installed before 1978 it is best to simply put another layer of drywall ceiling over it. Or if you have a circa 1930's forced air furnace with asbestos duct insulation, it is better to incase the ducts with new insulation rather than try to remove it.

1 Sources:

Harvard University symposium report - "Exposure to Asbestos in Buildings"
Science Magazine, 1991, "Asbestos: Scientific Developments and Implications for Public Policy"
Journal of the American Medical Association, 1991, "Managing Asbestos"
A 1991 news release by the Safe Building Alliance, Washington, D.C.

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Bill is the author of the IFN Inspector’s Field Notes newsletter. To subscribe please e-mail Bill Ball at

Should we be gun shy about recommending further evaluations?

Absolutely not! Ahmed Bashjawish - Clifton, NJ

NO!!! We should not be gun shy. Frankly my opinion is that it should be the first thing that crosses our minds. We are General Practicioners the same as your family doctor. They never hesitate to send you to a specialist for further evaluation and diagnosis. Why? To get the burden of liability off of them and into the office of the specialist. Secondly to assure us of proper care and treatment. We should see it the same way. As good as we are we need to remain under the "Umbrella" Discover, Describe, Defer. Bob Ellis - Foresthill, Ca.

On my first 20 or so inspection, I was gun shy about making recommendations. I soon learned it was a waste of my time. I would sit in front of the computer going over the situation over and over again in my head. 10 Minutes later, I would finally decide that I would make the recommendation of a licensed trades person. At some point (luckily) I realized that it was a pointless charade. Not once did I get to the point of wondering if I should recommend a licensed trades person and then talk myself out of it. Now if my knowledge, training, or gut tells me to make the recommendation, I do. It’s nice to have the extra time back. 10 minutes a pop adds up fast. David Richardson - Bend, OR

That is a great perspective David.... I forget those early years. I think that you hit the nail on the head why a 2 hour experience inspection takes 4 hours to complete in your first couple of years. Thanks for the reminder. Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah

What I have seen, is that too many deferrals will bring complaints of additional expense to the clients who think the fee paid for the home inspection should should provide all answers they desire, not so much that the professional will disagree with your opinion. Reggie Ayres - Medford, OR

We should not be gun shy at all about further recommendations by professionals. I do think some not so obvious or gray areas that we should think about for a moment or "double pay attention" so we may be more confident in our further evaluations/recommendations. Tom Pittman - Roseburg, Or


Jon Gudnason shared last week.... This is my nomination for the Darwin Awards. This water heater was found in an exterior closet under a stair well with living space above. There was no combustion air supply. The walls of the closet were wood framing with a rich brown patina. I told the owner it was dangerous and could kill her and her children. She said that her brother, the contractor, had told her the same thing several years ago. The water heater had been like this since it was installed and had not hurt anything yet. She volunteered that they did leave the closet door open in warm weather. I could not turn off the gas as there was no shutoff on the copper tubing gas supply. Jon Gudnason - Placerville, CA

STOP NITPICKING!!! At least it wont fall over in an earthquake. Russ Colliau - Roseville, CA

I spewed all over my screen when your message opened up and I am still chuckling..... Great response. Are you sure that you are not a listing agent as well?.... Mold Detectives..... Real Estate Detectives! Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah

No photo to share, but I did inspect a manufactured home with a furnace in the crawl space. The exhaust vent that had never been run to the exterior, furnace just exhausted into the crawl space. Foundation vents were also blocked. Furnace was sucking air from crawl space as return duct was disconnected at the furnace too. Fortunately the home was vacant. Don't know if the previous owners are still living though. Bob Young - Indianapolis, IN

GOOD for you Jon. This is an Imminent Hazard!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There are four categories of conditions that we find as a Home Inspector:

  • 1). Deferred Maintenance
  • 2). Needs a Licensed Technician to "evaluate and repair"
  • 3). Potential Hazard
  • 4). Imminent Hazard

As a Home Inspector we have a DUTY to DO SOMETHING about hazards that can harm the occupants. Jon tried to turn off the gas, but there was no shut-off valve. I'd be interested in knowing what the readers of the MMM think he should have done next, if anything? Bill Ball - Las Vegas, NV

Great question Bill....

What should we as inspector’s do next when there is no shut off valve?

Your Name: City, State:

E-mail: PB4


Jimmy Cope from Rocky Ford, Colorado sent along this Harvey Homeowner special...

What would you report? What is acceptable? When does it cross the line to being unacceptable?

Please send your Photo Challenge pictures to

Your Name: City, State:

E-mail: PBPC

QUOTABLE QUOTE: Some folks can look so busy doing nothin' that they seem indispensable. Kin Hubbard




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Michael Leavitt & Co
1145 N. Main St.
Orem, UT 84057