Almost every week at our brokerage office we have a speaker that helps to keep us on top of trends in the real estate industry. This week's topic was "Asbestos in Calgary area homes." Specifically, what asbestos is, what types of homes will we find it in and what should buyers and sellers do about it. Today's speaker was the CEO of Western Asbestos Removal Inc. He is definitely a subject matter expert, but it was a bit of a sales pitch just the same.
Here is the Asbestos Problem:
- Asbestos is fibrous mineral, that if inhaled can cause life threatening lung diseases.
- Until banned, asbestos was used in more than 2,000 building materials.
- Homes built before 1990 possibly contain asbestos materials somewhere.
- Homes built before 1980 almost always contain asbestos materials somewhere.
- Homes renovated in the 1990s possibly contain asbestos containing materials in the home since suppliers were allowed to use up their existing stock of building products eventhough asbestos itself was banned from use.
- Asbestos containing building materials – when disturbed – can release asbestos fibres into the air where they can be inhaled.
- When found, it's best to properly and safely have asbestos removed. If left undisturbed, it poses little threat; but when the home is eventually renovated, it will need to be dealt with properly.
- In some areas of the country, new laws now make it impossible to get building permits without proving that you have tested for and properly removed any asbestos found before work starts.
- Always consult an asbestos professional if you think you may have found asbestos in your home.
The rule of thumb is, no matter where the home is in the country, assume that there may be asbestos in the home and BEFORE undertaking a renovation project and have that particular area of the home tested for asbestos containing products. i.e. if you are replacing a ceiling (popcorn, drywall or ceiling tiles) have the ceiling inspected and/or tested for asbestos. If you're having the vinyl or linoleum floors remodeled, have the flooring tested. Then, if asbestos is detected you can have it abated appropriately without it causing dangerous airborne particles throughout you home. If no asbestos is found through the testing, then proceed as normal.
A quality renovator WILL test prior to commencing work. (It is a standard requiirement of Occupation Health and Safety requirements for their workers).
Here is a chart from the company's website that indicates how widespread this asbestos problem is in homes:
Is suspecting having asbestos in a home cause enough to disclose a Material Latent Defect? I'm not sure since, if left undisturbed, it apparently poses little risk. Asbestos may pose less risk than aluminum wiring, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation or remediated grow-ops which are not required to be disclosed as Material Latent Defects in Alberta. I do know that if a home owner knows for sure their home has asbestos in it, as always, they should check with their real estate lawyer as to whether they should disclose and, if so, at what point in the purchase process.
Having been present for well over a hundred home inspections, I can attest that home inspectors often indicate that asbestos may be present in homes built prior to 1980 and that if a potential buyer has a concern about it, then they should have a specific asbestos inspection (similar to if the potential buyer has a specific concern about the wiring in a home, they should call a licensed electrician to investigate further). Home inspectors do a visual, non-invasive overview of the entire home (not the entire property, yard or detached buildings – just the home). Home inspectors DO NOT test for asbestos, but will point you in the right direction to get any suspected areas tested.
Home inspectors find issues. They always do. It is then up to the potential buyer to investigate further on any of the issues found in their determination of whether to purchase a home or not. Today, the cost of a home inspection is between $400 and $1,000 (depending upon the home's size) and take between 2 and 6 hours to complete. The cost of a home inspection is borne by the buyer. Most buyers take the home inspection as a "snap-shot" of a home and have an understanding of what they may need to repair or replace one they take ownership of it. Potential home buyers should not rely on a home inspection completed by a home seller pre-sale. A buyer is not in a contractual relationship with the seller's home inspector and would have no recourse should there be an error or omission in the report.
Today's guest speaker indicated that asbestos inspections can be completed in a similar time-frame to a home inspection and can be accomplished during the same condition period should a potential buyer wish to have one completed. Like a home inspection, it would need a specific contingency (or condition) placed into the standard purchase contract to allow the specific inspection and detail when and who will complete it since it is much more than a visual inspection.
The asbestos testing itself is done a third-party, certified, asbestos testing firm (separate from the abatement/removal company). The costs of inspection range from $500 to $1,800 in the Calgary area depending upon many factors including the size of the company and the amount of business they currently have. Like a home inspection, roof inspection, electrical inspection, chimney inspection, mould inspection, etc., an asbestos test should be the prospective buyer's cost to inspect. The buyer is the one determining whether or not they wish to buy the home. The seller has already determined their asking price based on current market value of similar homes in similar condition. (Or should have if they expect to sell for the best price and terms in a reasonable amount of time.)
As a general rule of thumb, any home within the Calgary area that was built prior to about 1980 should be expected to contain some asbestos. If a home was renovated in the 1980s then it likely has asbestos containing products that may have been used in that renovation. Entire areas of the city were built prior to 1980. So, any home in neighbourhoods such as Lake Bonavista, Willow Park, Charleswood, Pineridge, Whitehorn, and dozens more, would have asbestos in the homes, businesses and schools – unless the asbestos has already been abated and removed. The certification of these homes as being "asbestos-free" would clearly add some value. Since the cost of removal can be in the range of $15,000 to more than $75,000, it is not a small consideration. Encapsulating the asbestos is a cheaper route often taken. The lack of certification wouldn't devalue a home since market value has already been established in these neighbourhoods and it is assumed that they all currently have asbestos in them. These potential costs should always be a consideration should a home-owner be considering a renovation. It is probably not a determination of whether asbestos removal is required as much as it is how much removal is required.
In summation, it would clearly worthwhile to purchase a home that has been "certified asbestos-free," but how much more is it worth than a home that hasn't been abated? I don't know. I doubt current homeowners would ever make that claim. Will this impact resale value? Possibly, in the future when the norm is that the majority of homes built prior to 1980/1990 have been abated and certified. The issue here, of course, is will a current home-owner take the legal risk of claiming their home is asbestos-free after a testing firm has certified it as such? Making that claim would make them liable for future law suits should someone years in the future find even a small amount of asbestos in something in the home.
The good news it that asbestos testing can be done at a lab in hours or possibly a day – so it really should be part of every renovation project.
If you are concerned with asbestos in homes, you should probably read my blog post on Radon gas. Radon gas in homes is even more prevalent (recently, one environmental contractor stated that it is in every home to a greater or lesser degree), and takes months to properly test for only during the winter season; but, typically costs only a few thousand dollars to address.