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VERMICULITE IN ATTIC

I have a friend who wants to add A/C to her 1450 square foot ranch. The house was built in the early 1950s and has radiant heat (still working) from that era. An HVAC contractor quoted her an electric heat pump based system with air handler and ducts in the attic. The local utility has an energy conservation program that offers free air sealing and subsidized insulation upgrades which were recommended by the inspector. Unfortunately, the inspector found vermiculite in the attic and that put a hard stop on any upgrades until the vermiculite is removed. If she decides not to have the vermiculite removed (at a net cost of about $10000 after partial reimbursement from the Zonolite fund)), what are the group's thoughts on an A/C solution in this situation? Thanks

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,924
    Well, the first thing to do is to determine if the vermiculite is a problem. Contrary to the hype, pure vermiculite is not harmful in any way. It is possible that it may not be pure, however, in which case it is possible that one of the impurities is trace amounts of asbestos. Since people are in a state of total panic about asbestos, if it is tested and if it does contain asbestos, you have two choices: remove it completely or live with it. Since the regulations -- like those for lead paint -- are pretty draconian for contractors, I don't blame the contractor for refusing to do anything which might disturb it.

    Which will make work in the loft space, even running ducts down from there into rooms, very difficult indeed.

    Probably your best bet is to investigate mini-split type heat pumps, with several active heads in various rooms as needed. That will need no work in the loft at all, and should work quite well.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    DDCmattmia2
  • DDC
    DDC Member Posts: 2
    Thanks, Jamie. That was my intial thought, but she would prefer not to have the indoor units mucking up her wall space. I also saw a youtube video mentioning PTACs. Anybody have experience with those?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,759
    PTAC's as in motel room use?
    They work, but a big hole in the wall, lots of fresh air and noise, (usually).

    Really just a permanently mounted window AC.

    And bigger "muck up" on the walls.
  • jad3675
    jad3675 Member Posts: 114
    DDC said:

    Thanks, Jamie. That was my intial thought, but she would prefer not to have the indoor units mucking up her wall space. I also saw a youtube video mentioning PTACs. Anybody have experience with those?

    There are other options besides high hung wall units -Fujitsu makes a low floor/ceiling unit. I wish these had been available when I did my minisplits; I ended up with a hidden cassette units.

    https://www.fujitsugeneral.com/us/products/split/floor-ceiling/index.html
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,512
    There are mini split units that can mount in the ceiling.

    There is good reason to be concerned about acm. I had a friend who had a contractor that ripped out a wall with asbestos containing plaster without testing or containing it. The contractor that came in to build the replacement did test and ti turned out that dust had contaminated the house to the point that it was less expensive to tear down the house than to decontaminate it.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,924
    @mattmia2 's comment there about asbestos contaminated dust is very true. As I hinted, the regulations surrounding asbestos contamination are really fierce -- if anything, worse than lead -- and not only can the homeowner be on the hook for some really impressive bills, the contractor can be facing fines which are eye-watering. And bankrupting.

    There are a lot of other things out there which are a lot more hazardous, but asbestos got the press and the lawyers, and it is what it is.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 11,992
    Vermiculite only has a trace amount of asbestos in it and that is only if it came out of a specific mine.

    I sold my house last year and part of the attic had Vermiculite in it. The buyers inspector found it even though I had covered it with fiberglass LOL.

    The buyers were "horrified" over this hazardous material.

    And I got a quote of 10-12K to remove it.

    Funny, after I knocked off a few K the buyers decided it wasn't really a problem and the sale commenced.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,512
    I mean did anyone test it to find out if it was one of the kinds contaminated with asbestos?
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 688
    edited October 2021
    mattmia2 said:
    There are mini split units that can mount in the ceiling. There is good reason to be concerned about acm. I had a friend who had a contractor that ripped out a wall with asbestos containing plaster without testing or containing it. The contractor that came in to build the replacement did test and ti turned out that dust had contaminated the house to the point that it was less expensive to tear down the house than to decontaminate it.
    That's insane, and scary at the same time.
    How could it possibly be that far contaminated? Dispose all furniture, rip out carpet, and wash down every surface. Hell just painting and damp moping the floors would capture or encapsulate just about all of it. Ductwork might be a little hard to clean though. And what about all these old houses with asbestos duct work and pipe wrap that were worked on and beat on and cut up before the lawyers got their hands into it all. Should all these houses be demolished too? How many asbestosis and mesothelioma cases are there that can't be traced back to heavy and or prolonged exposure?
    Now with all that said I have vermiculite in one corner of my attic. I had it tested and it came back as non-acm but did contain trace amounts below that threshold. But contractors still won't insulate or rewire the house with it present. And even if it was, as a homeowner one can legally remove acm in Ohio, but that is not true in all states.
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 688
    mattmia2 said:
    I mean did anyone test it to find out if it was one of the kinds contaminated with asbestos?
    If his friend qualifies for the zonolite fund that means a sample was sent in and identified as asbestos from the Libby Montana mine. 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,924
    It is scary, @JakeCK . But that is the way things have been -- and are being -- set up. I have no desire to get into the politics; that's just not my thing any more! -- but fear is the greatest motivator, and power is the great objective, so if you can persuade people to be scared and allow you to seize power to make them "safe", you've got a winning ticket.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • FStephenMasek
    FStephenMasek Member Posts: 25
    Asbestos really is deadly, and western civilization has known that for a century. The "problem" is that it does not kill right away, as would many solvents, acids, and such. Yes, there no need to freak-out over a small amount of it, especially if in good condition and undisturbed.
    Author of Illustrated Practical Asbestos: For Consultants, Contractors, Property Managers & Regulators
    mattmia2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,512
    The issue about tearing it down vs decontamination is that they have a process to tear down and contain abandoned houses that is relatively efficient which made it cheaper than decontamination.
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 688
    Not disagreeing, just saying that it sounds excessive.

    Just about every abandoned house in Cleveland that I've seen torn down has involved just a bulldozer and a big hose from a hydrant to keep dust down. A good many of these houses had asbestos siding still up. I hope their process where ever you're at is better than that.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=08JEkM0Qp_o
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,512
    there were lots of questions that weren't adequately answered like why the first contractor's insurance wasn't liable for it.
  • FStephenMasek
    FStephenMasek Member Posts: 25
    Besides the federal EPA and OSHA asbestos regulations, many states have regulations, and some local areas have regulators with their own regulations. The problems with just using a fire hose and a bulldozer are that the whole waste pile is asbestos waste, and compliance with the OSHA construction industry asbestos regulations is still required (29CFR1926.1101, which came-out in 1994).
    Author of Illustrated Practical Asbestos: For Consultants, Contractors, Property Managers & Regulators
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,924
    A brief comment for @FStephenMasek . At one point in my somewhat chequered career, I was involved in hazardous materials evaluation and assessment. At that time -- over 20 years ago --there were over 40,000 elements and compounds known to be cancer causing -- asbestos being one of them (so is broccoli). Almost everything else was toxic.

    In fact, I can't think of an element, mineral, or compound which isn't toxic or carcinogenic or both at some level.

    In short, everything out there is deadly to some degree or other -- and, by the way, we will all die of something, sooner or later.

    Trying to get people to engage in reasoned risk evaluation has proven to be quite hopeless.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    EBEBRATT-Ed
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,283
    Yeah but, the goal is always to die later-preferably of old age. Right? ;)
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,924
    SlamDunk said:

    Yeah but, the goal is always to die later-preferably of old age. Right? ;)

    Is it? Everyone has to find their own balance between more or less hare-brained risk taking and cowering under the covers. Not always easy to do...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    EBEBRATT-EdbburdPC7060
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 3,174
    & if you can make a buck in the meantime...

    Follow the money.

    EBEBRATT-Ed
  • FStephenMasek
    FStephenMasek Member Posts: 25
    ratio said:

    & if you can make a buck in the meantime...

    Follow the money.

    I won't paste my whole book here, but ancient Greeks and Romans knew they had people dying from asbestos, and medical people knew it was deadly in the early part of the 20th century (19xx). In 1918, Frederick Hoffman a Vice-President of the Prudential Insurance Company of America prepared a document titled Mortality From Respiratory Diseases in Dusty Trades in which he stated “It may be said, in conclusion, that in the practice of American and Canadian life insurance companies asbestos workers are generally declined on account of the assumed health-injurious conditions of the industry." Yes, people who help others deal with asbestos make money, but that is no different than people who help anybody with anything else.


    Author of Illustrated Practical Asbestos: For Consultants, Contractors, Property Managers & Regulators
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,924
    Kindly note, @FStephenMasek that I didn't say that asbestos wasn't dangerous. It is. So, however, are a tremendous number of other compounds, elements, and minerals -- many of which are naturally occurring, and some of which are even absolutely necessary for life in the proper amounts. A number of which are significantly more dangerous than asbestos, at least if measured by the LD50 dose for toxic compounds or the mass/time exposure/incidence relationship for carcinogens.

    And I certainly don't fault you for emphasizing the hazard -- from your signature I gather that it is your business. As @ratio says, follow the money, and I freely admit that for a number of years I was in the hazardous waste and environmental contamination remediation business and did quite well -- at some of it. That doesn't prevent me from being quite cynical about it, and very doubtful about much of the "scientific" argument.

    Some of the elements, however, are remarkably toxic (arsenic is a nice one) and simply can't be remediated in parts of North America, since it is naturally occurring at levels above the EPA standards. No money to be made there, so nothing is done.

    Radon is a slightly different example -- quite as hazardous as asbestos, but there is no one to sue since it is naturally occurring, so while there is a thriving trade in remediation there is very little publicity (less than there should be, in my opinion) and there isn't much money in it.

    Asbestos was and remains a mineral which is a known hazard but for which there was a wealthy target for litigation. So -- publicity, litigation, lawyers made out like .. follow the money.

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England