Are you a Portland-area homeowner planning a remodeling, construction, or demolition project? If you’ve been doing your homework, you’ve probably read about the rules and regulations surrounding lead-based paint and asbestos. Like many DIY home remodelers, you might even be wondering if you can save yourself time and money by conducting the necessary tests yourself.
In today’s blog post, we’ll talk more about the asbestos and lead-based paint testing processes, clear up a few common myths, and much more. Let’s get started!
What Homeowners Need to Know About Asbestos Testing
Asbestos Testing Terms to Know
First of all, it’s important to understand a few key terms used by environmental testing professionals:
Survey – The visual inspection, sampling, documentation, and testing of suspect ACM (asbestos containing material). This may be one or more rooms prior to renovation or demolition activities or it may be an entire structure.
Sampling – Removal, packaging, and documentation of a sample of any suspect ACM.
Testing – Analysis by a qualified lab using an approved protocol, most often polarized light microscopy, with documentation of the test results. It is impossible to determine if a material contains asbestos without testing it.
Can You Order a “DIY Asbestos Testing Kit”?
There is no such thing as a DIY asbestos testing kit! Asbestos tests must be performed by a qualified lab following very strict protocols and procedures.
However, there are a variety of DIY sampling kits on the market. All of these contain more or less the same things:
- Dust mask
- Shipping label
Some of these kits are very inexpensive, costing anywhere from $4.25 to $13.00. Other kits may be $40.00 or more. Why the big difference? The more expensive kits will include the cost of lab testing.
The less expensive kits will require you to pay extra (usually around $40.00 or so) if you want to mail the sample in for testing. There are great asbestos testing labs available in the Portland and Vancouver areas. Testing at these labs will usually cost $50 or less.
Why Hire a Certified Asbestos Building Inspector?
So now you may be wondering, since you can get a DIY asbestos sampling kit, and can send the sample off for testing: why hire a Certified Asbestos Building Inspector?
The most important reason to hire a professional to conduct a home survey is that an experienced Certified Asbestos Building Inspector will know which building materials historically contained asbestos.
Did you know: There are more than 3,000 known uses for asbestos.
The average homeowner would have to do a great deal of homework to become familiar with all of them and they know a great deal about home building to even know what to look for!
When Is an Accredited Inspector Required?
Senate Bill 705, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2015, directed DEQ to adopt rules that require an accredited inspector to perform an asbestos survey before a residential building is demolished.
Demolition for the purposes of these rules is defined as the wrecking or removal of any load-supporting structural member of a facility together with any related handling operations or the intentional burning of any facility.
Note: the structure does not have to be demolished for a demolition to occur.
There are some exemptions to this survey requirement, the notable being:
- Demolition activities at residential buildings with four or fewer dwelling units that were constructed after January 1, 2004.
- Renovation activities at residential buildings with four or fewer dwelling units. Renovation for the purposes of these rules means altering in any way one or more facility components. Although not required, DEQ strongly suggests hiring an accredited inspector to perform an asbestos survey prior to renovation.
Again, note that this discussion only applies to residential buildings with four or fewer dwelling units. For all other “facilities”, DEQ requires that an accredited inspector conduct a thorough survey prior to performing a demolition or renovation activity, regardless of the original construction date of that facility.
When is a Professional Not Needed?
There is no good reason for a homeowner to hire a professional to take one or two samples of suspected ACM when those materials are going to be removed in the course of a renovation.
In this case, the inspector simply becomes a very expensive courier. A common example would be the removal of sheet vinyl or vinyl tile flooring prior to installing ceramic tile.
Sampling Without Buying a Kit
Even though, as mentioned earlier, there are DIY home asbestos sampling kits, it’s easy enough for a homeowner or contractor to take a sample with a few simple tools and supplies:
- Utility knife
- Putty knife
- Spray bottle of water
- Ziploc baggie
The whole idea is to safely remove a small sample of the material. In the case of the flooring mentioned above, a sample the size of half a business card is more than enough. For textured wall or ceiling surfaces, a sample the size of a quarter would suffice.
What About Indoor Air Quality Testing?
You might’ve read about magic indoor air quality testing equipment. Unfortunately, devices like these have 2 big drawbacks:
- They only sample the air, not suspect ACM
- They’re expensive!
Indoor air quality testing is NOT a substitute for actual asbestos and lead-based paint testing.
DIY Lead-Based Paint Testing Kits
While DIY asbestos testing isn’t an option for homeowners, DIY lead testing is actually quite simple! There really is no reason why a homeowner can’t use a commercial test kit to check for the presence of lead-based paint. Here at EnviroTest, we recommend the 3M ™ LeadCheck ™ Swab, because it easy to use and works fast!
When to Hire a Lead Testing Professional
When testing for lead-based paint in your home, the best reason for hiring a professional to do the testing is to take advantage of their experience, both in knowing where lead-based paint was likely used and in interpreting the results of the test.
Tell Me About Your Project
If you’re planning a home remodeling or demolition project and have questions about the environmental testing services you need, give me a call at (503) 780-0536 or contact me online. With almost 40 years of construction and environmental testing experience, I’m always happy to answer questions and help you with your project.