Basement Project #4: Asbestos Abatement

Unfortunately our basement floor dropped 3 inches from one end of the basement to the other. It had a big dip at one point where there used to be a floor drain that had been capped off many years before. In the 60’s the previous homeowners remodeled our basement into a “wreck room” for their children and covered the floor with tile. Like most vinyl tiles of that era ours contained asbestos. Our tile was also chipped with some pieces loose or missing. It would have been great if I could just put a new floor over the old but that wasn’t possible. The asbestos tile had to be removed in order to tear out the old concrete floor and pour a new concrete floor.

Asbestos tile is not hazardous if it is in good shape and if left undisturbed. But tearing them up releases “friable” asbestos fibers into the air. These fibers are so tiny they can’t be seen but they are easily ingested into the lungs. They don’t immediately make you cough or feel sick. It can take 10-40 years to develop an incurable form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma or asbestosis.
Asbestos abatement can be really expensive—thousands of dollars. Although it’s probably best left to professionals, homeowners are allowed to do the abatement themselves. I visited the Minnesota Department of Health’s website to see how to do it safely.  It seemed doable.

Famous last words!

It turned out to be grueling work and much harder than I could ever have imagined. I allocated a couple of days but it took me a week.

Sealing the walls, ceiling and doors with plastic was easy enough.

But no amount of soaking with soapy water helped in removing the tiles. I pushed my body to the limit physically because I had to muscle and chip the tiles up with a 9” blade.  Each tile shattered into hundreds of pieces. It was hard to breathe through the mask and I got more than a little claustrophobic being in a sealed room.

When all the tiles were finally removed, I realized that the mastic (adhesive) was going to be even tougher to remove. (It too can contain asbesto fibers.) In tears, I got on the phone to see if there was some “product” I could use to remove the mastic. I didn’t want to use anything caustic. I was working down in a basement where there was no airflow because the windows were sealed off with plastic.

Knowing they carry many healthy products, I called Natural Built Home on Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis. Lo and behold they had something called Beano that is intended to soften the mastic. 

Wow, did it ever! It turned the mastic into a liquid. Soon I was walking in what felt like an inch of oil, but at least I didn’t have to scrape and chip any more. I used the bag of terry rags I had purchased on the recommendation of the Health Department to sop up the liquefied mastic.  
Disposal of asbestos is really important. It can’t be mixed in with other construction materials. I had to bag all the asbestos tiles and rags in plastic bags, enclose the bags in cardboard boxes and then wrap each box in plastic, wiping them down to make sure no asbestos fibers remained on the outside. The plastic covered walls and ceiling also needed to be washed down to remove any fibers. When the plastic was finally removed it too was discarded using the same process-- plastic bag, box, then plastic wrap. 

The whole kit and caboodle had to be hauled to a special dump. Homeowners are limited to just a few disposal sites for dumping hazardous materials. I drove my boxes to Vonco II in Becker, Minnesota, a trip that took about 3 hours round trip. Be sure to call first to make sure weather conditions are acceptable that day for dumping. The fee was about $60, money well spent.

I learned a lot of valuable information doing my own asbestos abatement – but I’ll never do it again!


Basement Project #3: Pack Rat—It's Both a Condition and a Solution

Pack it up!

 I’m a pack rat—I admit it-- but after starting this basement remodel I’m in the 12- Step program. I am a designer who didn’t take my own advice. Since I didn’t first purge or plan well I have moved items multiple times from the basement into the storage container, into the attic, the garage, and even my living room and then had to shift them again for various reasons. What’s worse is that I involved my husband in schleping these things around from place to place and he was hoping the remodeling process would not require his involvement. Ha!

Because most basements become gathering places for all those household things we need, think we need or can’t bear to be without the question to ask before a basement remodel is: What are you going to do with all that stuff?

First, organize as much as you can ahead of time. Purge unnecessary junk from your basement. Make a pile of items you don’t need anymore and invite your friends and kids to come and take what they want. Group like things together so you’ll find them easily later.

Throw out (recycle) those 10-15 year old cooking magazines you’ve been saving.  Recipes are on Epicurious.com now!

Protect the keepers from the inevitable dust and grime that remodeling stirs up. (Think dust cloud that mixing Portland cement with water is going to cause.) Find suitable storage containers when possible. Stackable clear plastic bins are ideal but even cardboard boxes work. Try not to have loose items; put them into something. Large heavy duty contractor bags work well for awkwardly sized items. Use that fun label gun to mark things so you know where to find them later. To protect any larger furniture pieces that remain wrap them in drop cloths or with the plastic tape that professional movers use. This all sounds logical, but it takes time and you really have to plan ahead to do it.

In my case I needed to move the entire basement collection out because a new concrete floor was going to be poured in the largest room of the basement and the foundation walls everywhere were going to be redashed so the workers requested at least 3-feet of accessible space in front of them in which to maneuver.

My temporary solution was to rent a Pack Rat, or temporary storage unit, for one month.  (Other companies with temporary storage units include U-Pack and PODS). It was placed in my driveway near the basement walk out and was filled after what felt like 50 trips up the stairs.

I highly recommend this solution but remember that the project will probably take more than one month to complete so the rental can get quite expensive.  (I ended up moving all the contents of the Pack Rat into the garage --ugh!)

If it isn’t feasible to move out of the basement, pack and stack everything in an out of the way location, keeping in mind where electricians may need access for adding new outlets and/or plumbers will run heating pipes off the furnace, etc. Cover everything well with plastic wrap and seal with tape.

Just remember that absolutely everything in the basement gets very dirty during the demolition and reconstruction process. Vacuuming and washing demolition dust from tons of items won’t be your idea of fun—especially when all you want is to just move into and enjoy your new space. 

Packed up? Now you’re ready to let the games begin…..