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Who Will Check For Asbestos?

A common question posed by potential homebuyers is, “Is there asbestos in this house?”. Asbestos is a known environmental hazard, which has been discontinued in residential construction since 1978. However, there are still thousands of older homes that contain this potentially lethal material. Asbestos was used for generations in residential construction, primarily as an insulation material. The most common areas for this material to be present are at heating ducts and equipment, and, in some instances, in acoustic ceiling material (also know as “cottage cheese” ceilings). In the 1960’s and 1970’s, numerous studies linked asbestos to various forms of cancer, and, as a result, the federal and state governments banned its use for any residential building constructed after 1978. As a hazardous substance, the material is quite costly to remove and dispose of. Such costs may impact the purchase decision. Therefore, consumer concern is quite valid.

The question of who will test for asbestos is more complex. In residential real estate transactions, home sellers are bound by law to disclose the presence of such materials, if known. Unfortunately, many home sellers are unaware. It is also an unfortunate common misconception that a professional home inspector will test for the presence of asbestos. This is simply not the case. Unless the home inspector is individually certified by the California Division of Occupational Health (Cal/OSHA), they, cannot, by law, test or even offer conclusive opinions, for these materials. While some home inspectors are properly certified, most are not. Additionally, the testing of asbestos, or any environmental hazard, is not part of the Standards of Practice of the California Real Estate Inspection Association, the leading professional group of home inspectors in the state. Therefore, consumers who are purchasing properties constructed prior to 1978 are encouraged to seek the advice and services of a properly certified professional for such environmental services.

Many home inspectors will inform consumers of the approximate age of the property, which may help determine if the home was constructed before 1978. Some inspectors may even explain some of the “clues” when identifying potential asbestos-containing material. Generally speaking, thin insulation material around the heating plenum and ducts that is a white or light gray, and which has a “chalky” type texture, has a higher probability to contain asbestos. However, only proper laboratory testing can confirm this suspicion. For more information on this important subject, homeowners and potential buyers are encouraged to contact Cal/OSHA at (916) 574-2993 or visit online at www.dir.ca.gov/DOSH.

This safety and real estate bulletin has been brought to you by the California Real Estate Inspection Association. Since 1976, CREIA, a non-profit corporation has been providing education, training, and support services to the real estate inspection industry and to the public. CREIA Inspectors must adhere to the Code of Ethics and follow the Standards of Practice developed by the association. CREIA requires its members to successfully pass a written test of property systems and complete 30 hours of education each year. Members can accumulate credits through various sources of education including monthly chapter meetings, conferences, and other approved activities. CREIA keeps records to ensure that members are complying with the requirements. Educational topics cover a variety of technical subjects including updates and advances that affect property inspection and the business of real estate inspection.

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