Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dealing with Challenges - Asbestos Removal

When we first looked at this house, I wondered if the white wrapping on the heat pipes could be asbestos.  So I guess I wasn't surprised when Steve Broadhead from Northeast Test Consultants came out and confirmed my suspicions.  They think it's a Johns Manville product that was widely used up until the early 1970's to insulate pipes.  We also discovered that our furnace was wrapped in an asbestos blanket and it too needed removal.  Why is asbestos a concern?  When it's disturbed, the tiny particles become 'friable' or airborne.  If they get in your lungs, they stay there for a long time and can cause major diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Add that to the fact that this is the single biggest budget item on our project, it certainly has our attention!  I'd heard some horror stories of asbestos removal, so wanted to make sure we were doing it right.  Steve walked me through the process and I started to get an appreciation of how big a task this is.

So here's the rundown:

1)  Notify the State of Maine of the upcoming asbestos removal.

2)  Prep the property for asbestos removal.  This requires multiple steps.  First thing, build a custom decontamination unit to allow the workers to get in and out of the work area.  The unit has 3 distinct areas:  A clean room (used to change out of street clothes into personal protective equipment), a shower (which has to have hot and cold running water) and a dirty room for changing out of the contaminated suits.
Triple Layer of Plastic Draping

Next, all openings to other areas of the house have to be sealed off.  Each of the doorways  sealed with plastic and notification signs.  The hole from the old drain in the first floor bathroom?  Yep - sealed off.  And the the basement door egress - sealed with 3 layers of plastic and signs notifying people of asbestos removal.

What about the actual removal steps?   They used a 'wrap and cut' method, which involves wetting the coating, wrapping it in plastic and then using a 'glove bag' to cut the pipes and remove them with the wrapping still intact.  They all wear the proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment - suits, ventilators, etc) through the job.  And they continuously monitor the air to ensure there is no contamination.  Of course I'm not certified to do the removal, so I wasn't able to take any 'in process' photos.

Air Sampler
Glove Bag Kit - so the asbestos is constantly wrapped in plastic and can't become friable
Finally, after removal, the pipes and asbestos covering are carefully wrapped up, labeled and disposed of in a state approved landfill.  The set up took a full day and then on day 2, they did the actual removal.  About mid-way through the project the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) showed up for a surprise inspection.  But it wasn't an issue, because we were following all their guidelines.

The last step was getting the old furnace out of the house.  They wanted to take it out in one piece, so none of the asbestos would get disturbed.  It gets wrapped and sealed in plastic first,  Then the approach was to rent a fancy dolly that's rated for 1200 pounds and can go up and down steps.  Good idea - but it didn't work.  That is one huge, heavy furnace!  What did they do?  They brought in an excavator to pull it out.  With that kind of equipment, they made quick work of it.  And kudos to the team for doing what it takes to get the job done in a safe manner!

Finally, I'll get a final report with all the details of the project, including plans, air sampling data, DEP  logs, etc.  This is great for a future homeowner to understand that we used all the appropriate precautions.

We're glad to have behind us!  Now we can get ready to install the new furnace and all new PEX tubing, to replace the old heating pipes.

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  1. did they have to do the same process on each unit?

  2. Thankfully, we only needed to do one side - the other side of the house has an entirely different heating system!

  3. You Go Sopo! I am a new reader and fan and i always admire how much effort you put in your builds,that is also why in the end they all turn out super gorgeous! much love and also! Bon courage!

  4. Honestly, I would tare down a house if I even suspected nasty asbestos was in proximity to it (after safely removing it that is). Professional as the workers were in the removal, I doubt you can ensure a house to be safe after so many years of contamination. Same goes for lead. And I blame the government for neglecting to ban these dangerous materials altogether at an earlier stage of time.


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