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DIY asbestos abatement for fun and profit
September 26, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Best practices for DIY asbestos-wrapped duct removal?

I'm considering removing the antediluvian gravity-fed furnace in my basement to clear the way for a new furnace. The ducts are wrapped in asbestos and have to go too; the HVAC contractor won't touch them, even if the asbestos were encapsulated.

It's my understanding that I can save a lot of money by removing the asbestos myself, and that done correctly it's not a huge safety problem. Let's not recommend professional abatement here, please, because the additional cost would make the whole furnace replacement adventure a financial non-starter.

The internet has lots of conflicting information, so I'm turning to AskMe. What are the best practices for DIY asbestos duct removal?

Here's the plan so far:

1. Seal the basement (and vents) from the rest of the house.
2. Wear an asbestos respirator
3. Thoroughly drench the asbestos with a misting attachment hose. Wet asbestos releases a lot less fiber into the air.
4. Scrape of the wet asbestos, then tear out the ducts.
5. Garbage goes into thick, sealed plastic bags.
6. Check with local waste disposal for appropriate disposal site.

Am I missing anything? There are no children in the house.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It's my understanding that I can save a lot of money by removing the asbestos myself, and that done correctly it's not a huge safety problem. Let's not recommend professional abatement here, please, because the additional cost would make the whole furnace replacement adventure a financial non-starter.

This is the equivalent of saying "I want elective surgery, but cannot afford it. Please tell me how to perform liposuction on myself safely."

You are risking the health of yourself and of future occupants of your house if you remove asbestos yourself. So yes, get professional abatement or else leave it in place. Both are safer than the DIY approach.
posted by zippy at 2:22 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


What are the best practices for DIY asbestos duct removal?

Don't.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:22 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would do step 6 first, and confirm that you can dispose the asbestos yourself.

Where are you located? A lot of municipalities in the US require that asbestos be removed only by licensed professionals, your financial concerns notwithstanding.
posted by dfriedman at 2:23 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Depending on where you live, it may actually be against the law.
posted by DWRoelands at 2:30 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's not recommend professional abatement here, please, because the additional cost would make the whole furnace replacement adventure a financial non-starter.

How about the additional costs of asbestosis and mesothelioma? While a one-time exposure might be low-risk, this really wouldn't be one-time exposure. I can guarantee you that you will leave some behind and it will pose a continual exposure risk. Think you got it all? Well, guess what? Asbestos fibers are often invisible to the naked eye because they are too small.

I have attended my fair share of depositions of plaintiffs in asbestos cases, including one where I questioned a plaintiff in his hospital bed. You don't want to be there.

I also join the legal concerns. Your idea may not be lawful where you live.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I removed asbestos-containing Vinyl Asbestos Tile from the back room of a garage. It was illegal for others to remove it without all the licenses & the landfill (actually transfer station) wouldn't take it from pro removers, but in Santa Cruz, California, the rules for a homeowner removing asbestos-containing materials (tile, not sure about others) from his or her own house is legal. Properly wrapped, it's accepted for landfill disposal.

This tile contains the asbestos fibers reasonably well if you don't break it, so the directions were mostly about getting it up without cracking by using hot water (the water also keeps any fibers that do break off from blowing around) to soften the vinyl for easier running-under w/ a putty knife.

The disposal rules were tiles in a thick garbage bag, inside a corrugated cardboard box, inside another garbage bag.
posted by morganw at 2:35 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I would do step 6 first

Yeah- I'd check the removal & disposal rules before starting. Encapsulation is usually preferred over removal & in my case it was only my own stubbornness that prevented me from just putting a new layer of flooring over the dastardly tiles.
posted by morganw at 2:37 PM on September 26, 2012


You'll probably need a disposal permit. I don't know what the application process looks like, but I wouldn't be surprised if you need certification and training for handling of asbestos as a hazardous material.

Questions concerning asbestos abatement projects should be directed to the New York State Department of Labor, State Office Building No. 12, Albany, NY 12240 at (518) 457-1255.

Beyond legalities, how much is your life worth to you? There is no established safe exposure level or limit. So if you don't know what you're doing and you are coming to Ask Metafilter for advice, you are very likely increasing your odds of exposure if you follow through with this — and accordingly making yourself very sick down the road.

This has Bad Idea written all over it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:39 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're on the right track with your safety measures, although I agree that you should check out the disposal options first.

If there's a way you can wear a respirator (yes, it should really be your own fit-tested respirator, but any improvement over no respirator would be better), and be sure to thoroughly wash all clothing before heading up to the "sealed" part of the house, that would help, too. Bag up the clothes you wore, hose yourself down, put the towel you use in the bag afterward, too. Then streak up to the shower, use that thoroughly, and wash or throw out all of the clothes and other towel.
posted by ldthomps at 2:42 PM on September 26, 2012


Tompkins County doesn't accept asbestos at their Household Hazardous Waste facility.

New York does allow (but doesn't recommend) homeowners to remove asbestos-containing-materials from an owner-occupied home, but I can't find a good ny.gov source other than one about flood disaster-area-declared areas.

One thing not mentioned so far is disclosure if you ever sell your house. You probably need to disclose that "unprofessional" abatement was done. I neglected to do this with the house I tackled. Oops!
posted by morganw at 2:46 PM on September 26, 2012


Asbestos waste is not legal to dispose of in a regular landfill in many areas, and as dfriedman notes, you can't legally remove it yourself in many jurisdictions. Your local county environmental health people might have some info/suggestions for you about your jurisdiction specifically.

The costs of removing it safely by yourself may be higher than you are estimating. A good asbestos respirator can run $350+ and you really should have it fit-tested to be safe. Asbestos disposal costs money. HEPA filters cost money. You also likely don't have the ability to conduct air clearance sampling, which will tell you if the air is safe to breathe after you're done; asbestos jobs create a lot of dust. (Especially if the material is friable. This material looks friable. Floor tile is generally non-friable and is a very different beast.)

At the very least, I would ask a couple abatement contractors for bids. They may beat your costs.

Two quick questions:

1) Is there an alternative place you can put the new boiler, so you can just encapsulate the asbestos and leave the old boiler in place? I have seen many people opt for this as the far cheaper option.

2) Has the material actually been tested and found to be asbestos? If not, it might be worth getting someone to actually test it, especially if parts of it look more like fiberglass. Sometimes only the elbows are actual asbestos.
posted by pie ninja at 2:47 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


re: legality

I will verify the legal aspects of this before proceeding. With this question I'm more interested in the actual best practices for removal.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:48 PM on September 26, 2012


1) Is there an alternative place you can put the new boiler, so you can just encapsulate the asbestos and leave the old boiler in place? I have seen many people opt for this as the far cheaper option.

Yes, I can entomb the boiler where it stands, but the asbestos-wrapped ducts still need to go because the HVAC contractors will not touch them.

2) Has the material actually been tested and found to be asbestos?

No, and this is a good idea. I will have it tested. The home inspector said "There's a 99% chance that's asbestos, but I'm not legally certified to tell you it is for sure".
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:56 PM on September 26, 2012


It is important to note the reason why the HVAC contractors won't touch it is that, in addition to the small risk to themselves, they would be opening themselves up to all kinds of hellish liability. In doing this project yourself, you are volunteering to pay all of the people you hurt including the next occupant of your house if you do not disclose the amateur removal.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:02 PM on September 26, 2012


Would an air clearance test by professionals afterwards be sufficient to establish that amateur removal was successful? I have no intention of hiding this from future home-buyers.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:05 PM on September 26, 2012


At step 4, DON'T scrape the asbestos off the ductwork. Just take out the ducts intact, disturbing as little as possible (after wetting and taking the other precautions you mentioned.)

Some very old ductwork has soldered joints, so you may need to cut it with tin-snips. If so, try not to bleed too much.

The local landfill here (where homeowner self-disposal is perfectly fine) has you call ahead and they dig a special hole to dump your carefully-sealed bags in. There's a little bit of paperwork to do, too. Get all the rules before you touch anything.
posted by fritley at 3:49 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


We had asbestos removed from our basement by professionals. Here's some feedback based on that experience:

Step 1 included the installation of some sort of filtered high-power exhaust system to reduce the air pressure in the room. The idea is to make sure that any leaks in seals you've created around the space cause air to be sucked into the room, not out of it.

You are missing step 7, which is to thoroughly test the air in the space multiple times before removing the sealing material.

I don't have the records handy and it was several years ago, but I believe the cost for this job was $3,000 per boiler + associated ductwork. I was surprised it wasn't more than that, and was very happy to have the material out of the house.
posted by alms at 6:13 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Generally pros are best, but I too have an old home and am just going forward with our renovations as if some things contained asbestos and cleaning up on my own, but I know I don't have anything as nasty as insulation containing asbestos, the worst i may have is some old plaster with asbestos.

Anyway buy a shop vac with a filter rated to contain asbestos and treat this whole thing as contaminated. Use the vac all the time, don't scrape anything, just remove the pipe in section and only use hand tools (except for the vac) as they will disturb much less and spread much less dust around. buy some old clothes and only use those in the area and trash them with the duct work (or buy a couple of tyvek suits and trash them). Make an airlock for the area you will be working in. Don't neglect to seal off the runs you will be working in to remove the duct work and when you unseal them use your vac to get every loose piece of material you can. then use wetted paper towels to clean up the dust. You are going to generate a LOT of trash to dispose of.
All this waste is reason the pros charge so much-most of the stuff that is exposed to the asbestos needs to be disposed of-its a one use item.

I do think the exposure risk you are looking at is not that great-most of the people who have the problems have a lifetime of working with the stuff in hot, sealed enviroments with little to no protection. You are looking at a one time exposure in a controlled enviroment. Humans are not that fragile (it seems some people thing just touching asbestos, or some other 'toxic' substance is just a sure sentence of long hideous death. Be smart, be thorough, accept it is going to take a LONG time to do it, you are going to be hot, tired and clumsy with the protective gear (and do wear the gear-while i don't think the chance is huge, why not reduce it as much as possible?) and make sure you ahve all the stuff you need before hand and a plan to get more if you need it without spreading the stuff around. Good luck.
posted by bartonlong at 6:41 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


In my area home removal/disposal is legal.You will work in small areas, perhaps 2 linear feet at a time. After wetting the asbestos with water and soap or some other surfactant like glycerin, make or tape a see-through bag over the work area. The bag should have holes in the bottom or side, where you have taped some disposable gloves. Work inside the bag to remove the asbestos. Pass through another opening in the bag a hand spray bottle and some rags. Wet down the exposed duct. Wipe it down with the rags. Then carefully remove the entire workbag into another bag and seal.

Also a Hepa filter on a shop vac, and negative pressure in the workspace. running the shop vac exhaust to the outside would work.
posted by Gungho at 7:43 AM on September 27, 2012


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