Installing wood floor over old asbestos tile
6 May 2006
Q. There was a flooring article in The Capitalís Spring Home and Garden -2006 section April 9th that I'd like your thoughts on. It was entitled "Flooring choices each have different advantages" and contained some quotes from Springfield, IL, flooring st
ore owners. One quote about the installation of hardwood that concerns me is, "It should not be installed over, for example, vinyl asbestos tile, which the homeowner may prefer not to disturb."
In the mid-1960's we put vinyl asbestos throughout our home that we were renovating. It was installed over a new concrete slab in the basement, on the main floor above that, and over a crawl space in the older part of the house on that main level. Gene
rally we were pleased with it, but for several reasons I realize that it was a bad decision. Now I'd like to have hardwood floors throughout the house and wonder how to go about it. Many years ago the kitchen floor was redone and plywood was first put
down with the new vinyl whatever - definitely not asbestos - installed over that. I don't remember about subsequent jobs in the kitchen, but the level is definitely higher there than in the remainder of the house.
The original tile has cracked, particularly over the crawl space and chunks are missing. Furniture has caused additional tile breakage and the basement has suffered water damage over the years. Some tiles actually came up, while others had pieces broken
off, and I tried to remove additional tiles with limited success. It turns out that the less expensive tile floors that were softer (I think they were asbestos, just lower quality) haven't cracked, so three rooms on the main floor are basically OK brea
A local flooring company didn't think that the original tile would be a problem and they'd install the wood planks over the tile, except for the basement. There they'd have to do a "floating" installation because you couldn't nail into concrete.
Now I want to know the real story. How messed up am I? What is the sane way out of this vinyl asbestos mess? Can you just install plywood over the vinyl asbestos whatever its condition and then install the hardwood? Should the bigger empty places be
replaced with some kind of tile to even things up or should the vinyl asbestos tile be totally removed?
Your articles indicate that you give practical advice as well as considering the safety of the various courses of action, so I'm asking what you would recommend.
A. I think, all in all, you are in pretty good shape. The vinyl-asbestos tile (VAT) you installed way back when used asbestos as a matrix into which the vinyl was forced as a binder and a surface upon which to add he colors and designs. The asbestos is
so bound up with the vinyl that left alone is it not friable. Friable means that the asbestos has loose fibers that if disturbed become airborne and then and only then does asbestos become a health problem and thatís if the fibers are inhaled.
Although itís true that the majority of people who have been adversely affected by asbestos exposure had two things in common; they both worked with it in their jobs or work environment and they smoked. You may do neither but nevertheless one errant airb
orne asbestos fiber lodged in the wrong spot in your lungs could potentially cause trouble. That being said, what we learned when the adverse asbestos knowledge had us closing buildings and schools down all over the place to rip the stuff out that maybe
the better course was to leave it alone and if it was friable, say on heating pipes as a insulation wrap, then encapsulate it with a thick adhesive paint. Leaving it alone is the best course of action and the flooring installers that recommended that t
o you are on the mark as far as I am concerned.
In some situations, removal is the only course of action. In that case it should be done by those who know what they are doing and the dust generated by removal controlled and the waste disposed of properly, which can be pricey. And you should be out o
f the house should that happen.
I think the admonition of the Illinois flooring folks may have had to do more with a potential of moisture forming between the tile and the wood and that can be from either below or above. If your basement and crawl spaces are dry then you have no probl
em-- if you drop a vase of flowers and water then get the water up as fast as you can or you might get some warpage of the wood floor in that area. The floating Pergo-like floor over the concrete is a good idea.