Q. When we bought our house, the home inspector said the heating ducts in the attic might be insulated with asbestos. He advised us to have the material tested by an expert. So we hired an asbestos inspector, and he said we may also have asbestos in the popcorn texture on our ceilings. He was surprised our home inspector reported one source while ignoring the other. What standards do home inspectors use when checking for asbestos in a home?
A. Most home inspectors do not check for asbestos-containing materials because environmental hazards are excluded from the standards of practice for the home inspection industry. In fact, most home inspection reports and contracts specifically disclaim responsibility for such disclosures.
Inspections for environmental hazards, such as asbestos, lead, mold, etc., are separate and specialized fields and are not addressed by the home inspection profession. Some home inspection companies offer asbestos inspections as an added option, but most do not, because they typically lack the certifications necessary to perform those services.
Home inspectors who are not certified as asbestos inspectors cannot legally provide consultation, evaluation or even opinions related to asbestos-containing building materials. Inspectors may indicate the likelihood of asbestos content, if they include a recommendation for further evaluation by an asbestos specialist. However, such disclosures can expose home inspectors to legal liability. This is why most inspectors avoid the subject.
When a home inspector identifies any particular material as likely to contain asbestos, as your home inspector did with regard to the air duct insulation, people who read the inspection report may reasonably assume that such consideration was uniformly applied to other components of the building, such as the popcorn ceilings. If no other materials are mentioned in the report as potential sources of asbestos, one might assume all other materials are alleged not to contain asbestos. In such cases, an inspector could be held liable if other materials are later discovered to contain asbestos.
My advice to home inspectors who are not certified asbestos inspectors is to avoid this tricky area. However, if an exception is made by reporting one potential source of asbestos, the inspector should clearly state that other sources of asbestos might be present in the building and that “further evaluation by a qualified asbestos inspector is advised.”
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