Asbestos Still a Trying Issue

Homeowner questions tied to abatement and flooring prompt multilayered responses
Fridays on the Homefront
Asbestos removal, including the need for abatement companies like the one above, remains a popular topic among Eichler Network readers and our Chatterbox Lounge online forum contributors. New questions come our way often, such as: can homeowners maintain a safe home state by laying new flooring over the top of undisturbed asbestos floors? Photo: NAVFAC
Fridays on the Homefront
Photo: Asbestos Testing
Fridays on the Homefront
DIY asbestos cleanup like this can be a dangerous undertaking. Photo: Friend In Detroit


When a building material is deemed hazardous enough to be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, you would think the answers to any home-improvement questions about it would be clear-cut, black and white. When the material is asbestos, however, you would be wrong.

Perhaps this is why asbestos remains such a popular topic among Eichler Network readers and our Chatterbox Lounge online forum contributors three decades after its uses became strictly regulated—indeed, even banned entirely in countries like Japan, Turkey, and New Zealand.

An Eichler owner in the Terra Linda tract of San Rafael recently wrote with some concerns that arose when she started planning to replace carpeting in her Eichler with another surface.

"When the salesperson came over to measure the room, and we pulled up a corner of the carpet, we found the original tile underneath, and upon advice of the salesperson, I had a piece sent to a lab to check for asbestos," she wrote. "The report came back that there was 1.5 percent asbestos in the mastic."

"I guess my question is, do you know if it's necessary to lay some barrier layer down between the original floor (thin tiles over concrete) and the new flooring?…" she queried.

Actually, our inquirer and the other Eichler owners have a few other asbestos concerns as well—some addressing abatement by removal—so we consulted several experts in asbestos removal as well as Eichler flooring. Their answers were rarely a simple yes or no.

"It's not like one answer fits all," observed Jeff Lerner, co-owner of Floorcraft, a flooring retailer located in San Francisco and Burlingame.

"Each site, each location is going to be different," said a manager for an East Bay asbestos abatement company, who declined to be identified partly because of the legal ramifications with regard to this material. (Asbestos is the ongoing focus of the largest civil tort in U.S. history, with costs exceeding $200 billion.)

We spoke to Charles James, CEO of Jakela Inc., parent company of Novato-based Asbestos Control Center. He also alluded to the potential liability of dispensing advice about the material, sometimes reverting to generalities like, "Any amount of asbestos is hazardous, period."