Asbestos in homes

Most of Silicon Valley has pre-1978 homes,  and most of them contain some amount of asbestos, commonly on the HVAC ducts and, more visibly, in some popcorn or acoustic ceilings. It can also be in less known areas, such as vinyl flooring or perhaps the glue under the flooring.  Homes built after 1978 are far less likely to be effected. Asbestos can be found in almost any product, especially in older parts of the home where fire retardancy would be beneficial.

Very few people test their for asbestos in homes. Seeing that a seller has “no reports” on items like asbestos or lead on their home is not uncommon, but it does not mean it is not there, particularly in older properties.

Undisturbed asbestos is not supposed to pose a health risk. I know for a fact that my 1977 built home has asbestos on the boots, where the ducts come up to the heat register. Since it is on the external part of the ducting, not the inside, the air in our house should be clean and free from asbestos.

What is it?

Like mold, asbestos is a naturally occurring substance found in some soils, and sometimes mined. (Click on the image below to see a map of sites in California in which there is or is suspected to have asbestos present.) In the San Jose area, it’s known that asbestos was found or mined at the New Almaden Mine and also in the area near Communications Hill where KB Homes built a large subdivision.

Santa Clara County - naturally occuring asbestos

Asbestos is the common name for a group of silicate minerals made of thin, strong fibers, best known for their use as excellent fire retardants. Not many realize that it occurs naturally in certain areas, including California. The most common naturally occurring Asbestos is Chrysotile, often found in serpentine, common to the Sierra foothills and the Coast Ranges.

What does that mean? Since Asbestos are minerals, that means they are generally stable and will not evaporate. However, the mineral can be crushed into a fine dust which will float in air – this is referred to as friable asbestos. Friable asbestos, suspended in air and breathed by humans is a carcinogen linked to the development of lung cancer.

What are the risks of asbestos in homes?

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Silicon Valley real estate topics written about here

magnifierEvery once in awhile, someone will object to content that I’ve chosen to include in this website, mostly something I’ve spent time researching that involves an unpleasant angle of living here in Silicon Valley. Luckily complaints are exceedingly rare! But the question may arise of “why is she writing about THAT?” The answer is simple: it’s what I’m encountering in my real estate practice, it’s something I’ve been spending time on with my buyers or sellers.

High voltage electrical power lines and towers

Recently I wrote about high voltage power lines that run through Los Gatos, Cambrian, and Almaden and their relationship to public schools.  Why there? Why that topic?   Because that’s where many of my home buyer clients are buying, as these are all wonderful areas, and this is a topic that has been raised repeatedly by them.

  • one client wanted to be “at least four houses away” from any high voltage lines
  • another wasn’t sure how far to be, but said 1/10 of a mile was too close
  • another eliminated all public schools with high voltage power lines adjacent or within a block away (and chose to live in Willow Glen instead)
  • and another wanted to live at least a full mile from the lines

When something comes up again and again, I think it’s fair to raise it in this blog, because it is relevant to consumers, even though I know it will step on some toes. I don’t have an answer as to whether you should or shouldn’t buy a home within any particular distance of the towers or lines (or a mine, flood plain or anything else).  Every house has pros and cons.  I would say that if you get the EMFs tested, you might be surprised that the emissions are higher in front of your microwave than they are near the lines, so I do encourage home buyers and home sellers near the wires to get the facts and to see the numbers from a reputable source.    If you’re buying with FHA backed financing, of course you will need to be aware of the high voltage electrical tower fall zone – if for some reason the tower fell in an earquake, the FHA folks want to make sure your new home won’t be in its path.

Not every home buyer cares at all about the lines, the towers, or even a substation.    For home sellers near any of them, it’s important to understand that it is a potential home buyer concern, and that could translate to a lower sale price (depending on the market).  For home buyers, even if there’s no real concern for health and safety, it is important to appreciate that if you are super close, it could be a resale issue in the future.  All of these make it a topic worth discussing, not to be alarmist, but to be discussing what concerns real estate consumers today.

Natural hazards: mercury, asbestos, earthquake faults, liquifecation zones, unstable soils, flood plains and other scary things

Another topic that I covered recently, which also may have bothered some readers of this blog, is mercury mines in the west valley areas.  In the past I’ve written about other natural hazard zones too. (more…)