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We are in the process of having our kitchen redone. It is a 1942 colonial in West Hartford, CT. Over the years, several layers have been added to the floor. We had a handyman demo the floor down to the original hardwoods and the final layer before the wood was linoleum with a black adhesive. The handyman called it tar paper and said one hardwood guy he called won't even touch it. Picture is below.

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Questions are:

  1. How likely is it that this contains asbestos? I'd rather not test it. The reason for this is simple risk analysis. There are virtually two meaningful outcomes: it is asbestos or it is not. If it is not, all well and good. No benefit or loss except for about $50 which is not a great sum for me. If it is, my actions would probably not change since the damage would already have been done at this point and I'd have taken action long before a week goes by to get the results. At that point I'd have waiting LONGER with the stuff in my house than if I hadn't tested when I could have been removing or covering it. Another potential downside is that it becomes material fact, which is subject to disclosure to the next buyer. If I cover this with backer and tile or remove it anyway, it poses no danger to the next buyer, so I see no need to open myself up to potential loss of value when I finally sell the place. Testing therefore provides little upside and large downside both to my health if this IS asbestos and to my home value indirectly by limiting the buyer pool when I go to sell.

I'm open to probabilities being given to me by knowledgeable people about whether this is or is not asbestos but I'd like to keep it a non material fact.

  1. How concerned should I be about exposure? For context, my wife and I do not smoke and the handyman has been scraping it off the kitchen floor for about two days. The area is about 200 sq. feet.

  2. Should we even bother refinishing this? This would take into account cost, time, and safety. The alternative is to put backer and tile over it. We had a tile picked out already, but once we found the wood, we considered just refinishing them. Now we are not sure due to this tar/mastic/whatever.

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    You should treat it as if it does contain asbestos until you have it tested. This page might help ID the old flooring:inspectapedia.com/hazmat/Sheet_Flooring_Identification.php There was a link to another site with test kits on that page. It's worth the money to test. – NothingToSeeHere Oct 3 at 19:55
  • Knowledgeable people will tell you to have it tested. But if you have been removing it for two day then that horse has left the barn. – Alaska Man Oct 4 at 4:46
  • There have been a few references to testing. I don't see too much upside to this. If I have a negative test result, that's great. If I have a positive one, it just confirms what I already suspect plus now it's a material fact and subject to disclosure. Damage at this point is already done. I'm mostly looking for what to do next. – Robert Miller Oct 4 at 14:34
  • How did you correlate "one hardwood guy he called won't even touch it" to asbestos? That floor would be an absolute nightmare to sand down and refinish because the tar or whatever would just keep clogging up the sandpaper. – MonkeyZeus Oct 4 at 14:44
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Given that you said "I'd rather not test it" then don't test it; it's your health at risk, not mine. So I'm really not sure that you'd listen to advice telling you to do otherwise.

Asbestos fibers cannot be identified by the human eye and require a microscope for identification. If asbestos fibers were released into the air then they can remain airborne and breathable for days. Asbestos is carcinogenic so you won't notice any immediate effects but if you develop mesothelioma in your later years then this could have been one culprit.

Realistically though, getting it tested costs about $50 and you can get results very quickly. Is $50 really going to sink your project?


Based on your update I think you've answered your own question.

Don't disturb it any further and cover it with new material.

If you really want to refinish the floors then keep calling flooring guys until one of them doesn't have an issue in doing the work. I think the price difference of refinishing versus covering is negligible.

If you cover it up and go to sell, then who's to say that the flooring guy or handyman won't cause you issues out of spite by bringing up that there might be asbestos per their professional opinion and that you neglected to test it while it was easily accessible.

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    Exactly, my biggest concern is that the OP is overly concerned about a $50 test that takes a couple days. I just had testing done, and got results in 2 business days. If OP is that concerned over $50, what else is being skimped on that could become a bigger problem down the road. – J Crosby Oct 4 at 14:45
  • The true cost is not $50. I'll edit my post to clarify this as there seems to be a large amount of misunderstanding regarding this. – Robert Miller Oct 4 at 14:49
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    @RobertMiller Please do – MonkeyZeus Oct 4 at 14:55
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    @RobertMiller As for your mesothelioma note; tell it to the flooring guy that refused to do the work, maybe he'll reconsider, lol. – MonkeyZeus Oct 4 at 15:36
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    @RobertMiller I agree, that scenario is about as likely as mesothelioma :-) – MonkeyZeus Oct 4 at 18:24

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