Hidden asbestos. What would you do?

house-sadOctober 4, 2011

I closed on an older home in the country a little less than two months ago. Since it's an old house, I had it inspected by someone who specializes in older homes, and in my opinion he did a thorough job and provided a detailed report. The home has aluminum siding, and there was one spot at the front of the house where the siding is somewhat loose and could be looked under without doing damage to the siding, so the home inspector looked under that spot and said that there are clapboards under the aluminum, which I was very happy about because I planned on removing the aluminum once the house was mine.

Well, after the closing I had a contractor come by, and he took a section of the aluminum off the side of the house, and under that was asbestos shingles. So we went all around the house checking on various sections, and everywhere else there seems to be asbestos shingles, except for that one spot in the front. Needless to say, I was very upset. I tried to go into this purchase knowing as much as possible about what the house needed, and the asbestos was a huge suprise. A few days later, I was inspecting the section of the house that apparently was without the asbestos and it seemed that someone went to a lot of trouble to make the home appear as if there was only clapboard under the aluminum. The house is a center-entrance eyebrow colonial, and on each side of the entry door is a door-height shutter. Now on the side where the asbestos was presumably removed, the shutter looks like it had been taken off (which someone would have to do to get at the asbestos under the aluminum) and replaced with only a couple of nails, whereas the shutter on the other side of the door is tightly bolted down. My contractor has not begun to remove the aluminum siding yet, so I don't know what other evidence will be revealed once the aluminum is off. I am planning to take lots of photos to document this, and what's under the siding.

The presence of asbestos would have definitely influenced my decision about buying the house. I know that home sellers in Massachusetts are not obligated to disclose facts about a house unless they are specifically asked, but the evidence seems to indicate that "someone" made a concerted effort to deliberately deceive a potential buyer.

So, if this were your house and you discovered this, would you attempt to pursue this legally with the former owner?

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If law states you do not have to disclose unless asked, and you didn't ask........there's your answer.

You would have to prove the previous owner knew about it, and then concealed it, which would be hard to do. Who says the guy you purchased it from was the one who resided the house? It could have been someone else. There is probably no "concealment of evidence" here - they simply resided their house, thats all. It is not uncommon to place new siding over existing siding.

It's really not as big of deal as you think it is. It is on the exterior of your house, very doubtful you are inhaling any of the asbestos particles, especially since it is now covered up. Unless of course you are one of those weird people who go around your house lifting up siding and inhaling deeply on a daily basis. By removing the siding, you will be stirring things up even more. You are better off just leaving it alone. If you don't like the color of the existing siding, it can be easily painted.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 6:46PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Surprises under the surface are part and parcel of owning an older home. Older homes eat money. Your potential money eater just happens to be asbestos. If it wasn't the asbestos, it would be the lead paint in the wood siding that you were so eager to uncover and it would need professional abatement. If it wasn't the siding, it'd be the termite damage behind the water damage in the shower that couldn't be seen until that one tile fell off the wall.

Sure, you can try to waste your money with litigation instead of spending it on the house, but you won't win, and you'll have a LOT less funding to deal with your old home issues. I have sympathy for your unexpected problems, but, really, you won't do yourself any good trying to play the blame game, nor especially the lawsuit game. All it will do is make you angry.

Are you really sure you want to live in an older home? Because more surprises like this one will be forthcoming at some point. It's the nature of the beast.

Lighten up and learn some DIY skills.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 11:48PM
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Sophie Wheeler

PS. If you've got issues with 5k more worth of work on your siding, think about spending that 5K on a legal retainer instead. You can get your siding worked on or you can hire a lawyer and spend even more money and get nothing for the money spent.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 11:58PM
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If you knew you were going to remove the siding, why didn't you ask the seller what was underneath? Or better yet, why didn't you look in several locations around the home? The previous wner had evewry right to reside if he wanted too.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 7:52AM
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Being PO'd about 5K worth of extra expense is understandable. I'm sure you'd rather spend that money on a vacation to a warm and sandy spot. Wanting to vent about the extra expense is understandable. That's why there is an Old House Forum here. You can gripe about things like that to your heart's content as you attempt to make over your gramma house into a jewel.

However, looking to sue someone because of the situation, well, that's just ludicrous. It's deplorable that it is your gut reaction to do that rather than to deal with the problem yourself. Homes are sold "as is" and you knew you were buying an older home. Older homes have a constant need for an influx of cash for this or that. As soon as you are done with this project, get ready to spend money on something else that the house will need.

You have no standing for legal action. Pull up your big boy pants and deal with the problem as is. If this is too much of a problem for you, then consider selling the home post residing it. You will only continue to have episodes of needed repairs from hidden damage or "what were they thinking" types of previous owner repairs. It's best to mentally prepare yourself for that now, if this type of thing is that crazymaking for you.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 11:12AM
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House-Sad, you can try to sue, but I don't think you'll win. The money you spend on lawyer fees is money that could be spent on abatement.

That being said, all is not lost. First, have testing done - making assumptions by visual inspection yields only probabilities, not 100% confirmation. We just went through testing on a house we are tearing down (as required by our local laws). Out of a dozen samples of possible asbestos materials, only a couple came back positive. If you don't want to spend the couple hundred professional testing will cost, get a self-testing kit at your local hardware store, which will run you a total of $40 or so per sample.

If the cost of professional abatement is really going to eat your budget, some states will let you do the work yourself. You can buy DIY kits online (including proper respirator) for under $200. But still check with your state and local governments to see if they have any other requirements (including disposal regulations, etc.).

Or, as cas66ragtop mentioned, you can choose to leave it alone.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 11:58AM
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I don't get what the big deal is. Asbestos shingles on the outside of a house are very common and it's not the same as asbestos-covered pipes in a basement, though that wouldn't rattle me either and I've in fact have had both in some of my houses. (I like old houses too.) I think half these things people worry about nowadays are hyped up by companies who are in business to remove the stuff. Now the new thing is radon. If I was you, I'd forget dreaming about the nice wood clapboard you wanted to restore. I've had that too. It was a nightmare! Major expensive maintenance and it's not warm. If I was you, I'd change the aluminum siding to something nice that looks like clapboard and leave the shingles alone. By the way, I'm in contract on an old house with aluminum siding on it. I have no idea what's under it. I could care less.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 11:09PM
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"I know that home sellers in Massachusetts are not obligated to disclose facts about a house unless they are specifically asked, but the evidence seems to indicate that "someone" made a concerted effort to deliberately deceive a potential buyer."

What evidence do you have for this?

The PO may have purchased the house already sided and had no knowledge of the shingles.

They are not friable asbestos and a significant hazard anyway unless they are in VERY bad shape.

Unless you have something in writing that you asked and lied to just move on.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 11:59AM
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Wow LITH, for once I completely agree with you.

I don't understand what the big deal is either.

The OP should only be purchasing a brand new house if they are concerned with asbestos or lead paint, or any of those other hidden "dangers" in an older home.

But don't forget to ask about the drywall used to build that new house ...

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 12:21PM
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Ha ha, Pamghatten, I thought we agreed more than that!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 10:34PM
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House sad,
You are upset over nothing.
The absestos shingles are nothing to worry about.
That isn't the absestos that you hear about, the installation that must be removed. (or contained).
Literally millions of homes have that siding.
They sell vinyl siding imitating that now, you can simply buy some of that and replace where it isn't on the outside of the house. Paint the old absestos shingles and your replacement pieces the same color, and there you go.
If you don't believe me, get an older, experienced contrator to look at it for you, he will tell you.
We had previously bought a home built in 1850.
Cement absestos shingles on the entire outside.
If you painted it, looked wonderful!
The older, experienced contrator who lived down the street told me if they removed them, they actually could dispose of them in a public dump. They aren't the classification of hazardous waste that the absestos insulation is.
So relax, enjoy your house and congratulations!

    Bookmark   October 10, 2011 at 9:01AM
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