Asbestos in homes is more common than most often realized. It can hide in the insulating wraps around pipes, in the siding or in the insulation. The only way to know for sure that asbestos is in a home is to test for it. However, industry experts recommend only testing materials that are damaged or have been disturbed. Undisturbed asbestos in good condition will not normally release fibers into the air.
New rules regarding asbestos went into effect in Wisconsin in May of this year. Vermiculite insulation, which is often found in older homes, now is assumed to contain asbestos unless it has been tested and proven otherwise. This is a bit of a catch-22 for some sellers. It is best to leave undamaged or undisturbed asbestos containing materials alone, yet in order to test, it must be disturbed, potentially releasing fibers into the air.
The only other option for these sellers is to disclose the presence of the vermiculite insulation and let buyers know that the sellers do not know if this contains asbestos. Another change these rules bring with them is that asbestos or suspected asbestos materials may only be removed by certified asbestos contractors. Do it yourself-ers need to be aware of these changes.
Bottom line is that when it doubt, sellers must disclose to buyers the presence of any material adverse fact (anything that has a significant adverse effect on the value of a property, could reduce the integrity of the property, pose a significant health risk to the occupants, or information that indicates that either party is not intending to meet their obligations under the contract). Sellers, if your home has vermiculite insulation or "slate" siding, buyers must now be given that information.
Buyers, if you are looking at a home that discloses possible or actual asbestos, ask questions and have an expert in to advise you. Asbestos concerns can range from minimal to severe, and it is important to know exactly what you are dealing with.
I am huge fan of older homes in general, loving the higher ceilings, plaster walls and charming woodwork. However, older homes bring with them older technology. Things that were once standard practice but now are considered outmoded or even dangerous. Old electrical systems including knob and tube wiring. Lead paint. Asbestos. These three are among the most common hazards in old homes.
When you are looking at homes, talk with your realtor, and when you make an offer, be sure to address these issues if you have any concerns about them. Home inspectors are an invaluable asset to any home buyer, and the cost of a home inspection can be money very well spent in the long run.