Cross-post: Upgrading Electrical with Vermiculite Insulation

makingitourhomeJuly 2, 2013

Hi everyone,

This is a cross-post with the Electrical Wiring forum, seeing as there is limited activity there.

Is it possible to upgrade the electrical wiring in an old house if there is vermiculite insulation in the exterior walls?

Was aware it was in the attic, but when I had a contractor come and do some work in our kitchen, I found out the hard way it was in the walls too. He didn't even know what it was (I was stunned) and let about half of it out of our walls and just dumped it in the garbage. Naturally I flipped out, and even though I am over it now (though, I will never hire him again), I am afraid to do anything major with this house.

However, I want this house to be our "forever home" and it is in desperate need of a wiring upgrade. The house is from the early 1940s and most of our wiring is cloth-wrapped. We have a 200 amp electrical panel, but the whole house dims when the microwave or vacuum cleaner is running. I should also mention that the main cutoff switch is a Federal Pacific unit, which should probably be replaced as well, given their reputation.

Is it possible or even wise to upgrade the electrical? What's more dangerous... disturbing the vermiculite during abatement or leaving old/questionable electrical wiring in the walls? Can electricians somehow replace wiring without opening up the walls enough to let the vermiculite out? If I had to hire an asbestos removal specialist first, how much would something like that cost? Any ideas?

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Vercumiculite does not contain asbestos unless it was present in the same mine so get it tested first. Are you in Canada?

    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 12:49PM
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Only the vermiculite from Montana and marketed as Zonolite contains asbestos.

Here is a link that might be useful: Vermiculite Insulation containing asbestos

    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 1:22PM
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Hi everyone,

Thanks for the feedback. I am familiar with Zonolite and the background behind the asbestos contamination. In speaking with an asbestos abatement company in the area, he said that for the period my house was built in there was a high prevalence of Zonolite use, and given his experience with the area, there's about a 75%-80% chance that my vermiculite will test positive for asbestos. He also said that testing is not all it's cracked up to be, because different areas within the same house can have different levels of asbestos contamination. One area could test low or none, while another part could be much higher. Given all of that information, I am going to assume that somewhere in this house, my vermiculite contains asbestos, and treat it as such.

While I agree that to some extent, this whole asbestos thing has been blown out of proportion, I also know that many educated contractors in this area will outright refuse to work on houses that contain vermiculite insulation. I wanted to get my home weatherized and I had two different companies tell me they won't do anything with my attic since it has vermiculite. However, weatherization might lead to a much larger exposure than electrical wiring, assuming that it could be done without having to open up the walls - which is why I am wondering if it is possible to replace the wiring, without having to make any holes.

This isn't just for the sake of risking asbestos exposure either. This house has all original plaster, (other than the upstairs bath and the sunroom), and I am hesitant to open up the walls for risk of having to replace it. I adore my plaster walls (they are one of my favorite features of this house).

Also, I did some research, and given what I have seen by opening up various outlets in the house, we appear to have aluminum wiring... which is definitely cause for concern, as it appears to be a pretty widely-recognized fire hazard. Not sure what's more dangerous... asbestos or aluminum wiring.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 9:17AM
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Asbestos could take a lifetime to injure your family and it is not a threat to your property. You seem to be asking questions about problems but excluding virtually all solutions. If you are not willing to test the insulation you don't even know what the problem is so I suppose doing nothing is really the only course of action. Good luck with that.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 12:04PM
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