October 18, 2019

Episode 4 - Should You Pull Up That Carpet?

Welcome to the Indoor Environmental Quality podcast. I’m Chris White, one of the Project Managers at Wynn White Consulting Engineers in Baton Rouge. Thank you for joining us for this episode.

In today's episode we're going to talk about whether or not you should try to pull up carpet when there's old floor tile or sheet vinyl beneath the carpet.

Before I dive into this, full disclosure. Environmental consulting, particularly asbestos related work, is our business. We’ve been doing this work for over 30 years. So depending on how you look at the tips I have in this episode, you might say I’m biased. I’m admitting up front that I am. But this podcast is not about getting us more work.

Why this topic, and why now?

I was on a project a couple of days ago and it was that exact situation - a contractor was pulling up old carpet and found old floor tile beneath the carpet. When they pulled the carpet, the floor tile was stuck to the bottom of the carpet. 

Luckily they stopped what they were doing. 

In my experience, some of that old flooring always gets pulled up with the carpet. Same goes for sheet vinyl flooring.

But we're not talking about one room or office - this was on the second floor of an office building, probably 5,000 square feet just on this floor.

The building owner asked us to sample the floor tile and mastic. Mastic is the glue that sticks the floor tile down, most often to concrete.

The floor tile and the mastic both contain asbestos. The good news is the floor tile wasn't broken in too many places.

This kind of thing happens all the time.

By the way, this floor tile was 12" floor tile. 

A quick tangent about floor tile:

A lot of building owners, architects, engineers, and contractors think 12" floor tile never contains asbestos. That is false.

Even if the 12” floor tile does not contain asbestos, a lot of times the black mastic beneath it does.

In the case where there’s non-asbestos floor tile over asbestos containing mastic, there’s no realistic way to remove and dispose of floor tile without having some of the mastic being stuck to the floor tile.

9" floor tile almost 100% of the time contains asbestos.

What if you have asbestos underneath the carpet, and the asbestos flooring is coming up with the carpet? And what happens if the floor tile breaks?

What risk is it to the flooring contractor, or to you?

We've seen harmful airborne asbestos concentrations in work areas like these. So even though we're talking about a non-friable asbestos containing material, this can still be a dangerous area to be in without PPE and respirators.

In the U.S. some states will allow removal of asbestos containing floor tile as long as it remains intact, and then a contractor can take the carpet and floor tile to a construction debris landfill.

If your floor guy says they can pull up all the carpet and not have any of the old flooring come with it, I doubt that. But then they're going to put the carpet and the floor tile in a dumpster and then drive it to a landfill and put it in the ground. 

You know the floor tile will break at some point during all that.

I don't care what the government says, or what the regulations allow. What if your contractor follows the regulations but people still wind up at risk?

I'd have an asbestos abatement contractor do the work and dispose of the materials properly.

OSHA violations?

EPA violations?

How do you dispose of the carpet and floor tile? What if the carpet has floor tile stuck to it?

Here are some tips for handling this situation:

Tip #1:

Before doing any renovations, find out what your local regulations are, especially those concerning asbestos. Building owners (or homeowners) often rely on contractors to tell them what problems may arise on projects, including any asbestos issues. To be fair to contractors though, no one has X-ray vision, so expecting to see beneath floors or inside walls isn't realistic.

So, what happens is the building owner relies on the contractor to give advance notice of asbestos problems, but the contractor often relies on the building owner to provide asbestos survey reports for renovation work areas. If there's no survey, the contractor might just assume there's no asbestos anywhere, and they get to work. 

Tip #2:

Try to find out in advance what potential problems are in the work area. The best surprise is no surprise. It's always a good idea to get a good asbestos inspection or survey so you'll know if disturbing or removing materials will cause you problems.  If you're working in an area with carpet, and you don't know what's underneath, get a trained and accredited asbestos inspector to check.

Tip #3:

Pick a discrete place, pull up some carpet and check underneath. If you find floor tile/mastic or sheet vinyl underneath, either sample it and find out if it's asbestos, or treat the floor underneath as if it's asbestos.

Tip #4:

If you’re not going to sample materials, it's ok to assume materials contain asbestos. It's not ok to assume materials do not contain asbestos.

Tip #5:

Get a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to remove and dispose of the carpet and flooring for you. Make sure they contain the work area. This may cost more in the short term but can help you avoid problems down the road.

Tip #6:

If you're doing asbestos abatement, have a third party company (independent of the contractor) take air samples during and after the abatement. 

Tip #7:

If it's concrete only, you should be ok. But make sure there's no other flooring underneath. Sometimes you’ll see an area with just concrete underneath the carpet, then old flooring just a few feet away – all in the same room. Take it slow, and if you notice old flooring, stop work. Find out what you're dealing with.

If you run into this and need help, send me an email. I'll do my best to help anyone you know who runs into this - for free. 

That's going to do it for this episode. if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review at iTunes or on your favorite podcast player. To contact us or to learn more about Wynn White Consulting Engineers, visit our website: www.wynnwhite.com

If you have suggestions for a show topic, please contact us.

You can find me, Chris White, on Twitter and Instagram @chriswhitepe

Please leave us a review at iTunes or on your favorite podcast player. To contact us or to learn more about Wynn White Consulting Engineers, visit our website: www.wynnwhite.com

If you have suggestions for a show topic, please contact us.

You can find me, Chris White, on Twitter and Instagram @chriswhitepe


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