Asbestos Abatement

My home was built in 1956, the basement was remodeled some time during the 60s.  During the basement remodel the ceiling in the basement was textured with  what is generally called popcorn ceiling.  Popcorn ceiling is a spray on texture that gives the ceiling a textured look.  This was done for acoustic and aesthetic reasons.

Image of popcorn ceiling from Wikipedia
It’s generally safe to assume that popcorn ceiling contains asbestos.  Asbestos is a mineral that was popular with construction up until the late 70s when it was banned because it’s a carcinogen.  Cancer sucks, and nobody wants it but asbestos only causes it if it’s inhaled (and probably in significant quantities).  It’s perfectly safe to leave it on the ceiling as long as you don’t disturb it.  Asbestos was banned from residential construction in the late 1970’s but remaining stockpiles were still allowed to be used, which means asbestos can be found in homes as late as the early 80s.
As a side effect of the home sales process in Seattle is that you don’t want to know for sure if you have asbestos in your home unless you plan on doing something about it.
This is silly but worth repeating:
You don’t want to know for sure if you have asbestos in your home unless you plan to do something about it.

This is because of RCW 64.06.020 aka MLS Form 17.
(Before we go on, I should remind you, I’m not a lawyer or a realtor and I have no idea what I’m doing so this isn’t advice and I’m probably wrong).
Form 17 is required disclosure that every home seller must fill out when selling their home.  One question in particular is of interest for the purpose of this discussion:

7.E. Are there any substances, materials, or products in or on the property that may be environmental concerns, such as asbestos, formaldehyde, radon gas, lead-based paint, fuel or chemical storage tanks, or contaminated soil or water?

Your option when filling this out is Yes, No, “I don’t know”.
If you don’t get the ceiling tested, then you don’t know.  So even though my ceiling was sprayed during the prime asbestos years, I didn’t actually know whether or not there was asbestos in the ceiling, but between us, I knew…
Since it wasn’t going to be disturbed, I didn’t do anything with it, I just left it in place for 3 years.
Unfortunately, as part of our kitchen remodel we’re planning on moving the stair case to the basement, so it’s time to get rid of the asbestos.

The first step was to get the ceiling tested, this is easy:

  1. Wear safety glasses and gloves and anything else you need to wear to feel safe.
  2. Using a water spray bottle, thoroughly wet a small section (1 inch x 1 inch square).
  3. Scrape the section off the ceiling and into a plastic ziploc bag.
  4. Place that bag into another ziplog bag.
  5. Take the sample to NVL Labs.
NVL Labs is a converted house on Hwy 99.  When you enter, you’re greeted by a pair of lovely ladies that are far friendlier than you’d think they’d be given that they’re dealing with poisonous materials all day.  They’ll take your sample and your money and you get an e-mail the next day (or sooner if you want to pay for it), telling you if you have asbestos.  The whole process cost me an hour of my time and $35.00.
In my case, my ceiling contained 9% chrysotile asbestos.  These aren’t particles I want swarming through my home killing my wife, my dogs, me…  So it was time to get some quotes. 
I received quotes from three different companies:
  • NW Solid Rock: $5,525.00 to remove 650 square feet of popcorn ceiling
  • American Environmental Construction: $2,425.00 to remove 562 square feet
  • Partners Construction: $2,058 to remove 586 square feet
Obviously the first bid was way off.  They weren’t competitive at the square foot price, and they weren’t even close on the measurements.  All three companies measured the exact same space, and I got three different measurements.  In all cases, they bid for the exact same amount of work.  My ceiling hadn’t been painted which made things cheaper.  An unpainted ceiling in the Seattle area should go for around $3.50-$4.50 a square foot, $3.50 if it’s a simple ceiling, more if there are complexities (stair wells, soffits, etc…).
I went with the lowest bid, this is highly regulated work and all three companies were licensed and certified to do asbestos abatement.  I didn’t see a benefit in paying more than I had to for the exact same work.
Amusingly, you can do this yourself, but there are a lot of rules you have to follow and you can’t pay anyone to help you unless they’re licensed.  The Puget Sound Clean Energy Agency provides instructions, I think they’re a good read and go through great pains to try to convince you to let someone else do it.
Before the abatement started I had to remove everything from the basement, including the built in shelving that was attached to the walls.  The only things left in the basement were the washer and dryer.  The abatement guys cover the walls and the floor entirely in two layers of plastic.  They then apply water to the ceiling and scrape the popcorn off.  All of the popcorn ceiling, the plastic sheeting and the hazmat suits they wear need to be double bagged in asbestos disposal bags and then taken to an approved disposal site.  They then apply a clear coat sealant to the ceiling to lock in whatever is left.
When they finish, the ceiling is pretty thoroughly scraped, I was impressed.  I could see pencil marks from when the dry wall was originally put up 50 years ago.  Unfortunately, the vent covers didn’t fit anymore and I’m definitely going to have to get the ceiling refinished.  There was also some minor damage to the walls from the duct tape and staples.  Partners had warned me this would happen.  Amazingly, it took them less than a day to do the work!
I’ve included some pictures of the scraped ceiling:
Ceiling duct after abatement, there’s nothing for the vent cover to  attach to.

Closeup of one of my funky 60’s era can lights.  Notice the sheet rock damage.

Wider shot of the basement.
Once the kitchen remodel is done, we’ll be redoing the ceiling in the basement (and hopefully getting rid of the awful wood paneling).  I’m thrilled with the quality of the work that was done and I’m glad to have the asbestos out of my house.  

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