Rip out and possibility of asbestos

Q: I have a 1964 ranch in Charlotte, NC that has original wood floors throughout, except in the den. I would like to replace carpet with hardwoods in the den and am getting different stories from different potential installers. I am concerned with the possibility of asbestos.

One wants to remove carpet/pad, old vinyl and luan and any possible other subflooring and say they have no concern with asbestos. Another wants to just remove carpet/pad and place Aquabar B Moisture/Sound Barrier over the vinyl. It’s less to not remove the vinyl but I am worried it wouldn’t be a good idea over an old floor? Thoughts on both methods? THANK YOU!

A: What is under the den? A well ventilated, possibly insulated crawl space? My first concern is if it is a crawl space that is wet or very damp that moisture is going to rise to the wooden structure, sub floor. Moisture does migrate through wood but if it happens slowly it’s no big deal. If it gets trapped that is a problem in the long run. Are you concerned the vinyl may be reinforced with asbestos? It’s my understanding there are extremely strict laws in the U.S. regarding asbestos removal. If there is a chance asbestos is present, given the risk to health in the long run and the laws with huge impact when one gets caught I would be inclined to leave it in place. Unless there are moisture issues with a crawl space. The installer should make sure his cleats or staples will penetrate and hold to the existing sub floor.

Follow-up Q: Yes, a crawlspace with insulation under the floor (ceiling of crawlspace) and standard ventilation that I leave open most of the year. My other floors are wood (or ceramic tile) and I don’t have an issue there.

I am concerned from what I’ve read about pre-1977ish construction that the vinyl may have asbestos reinforcement, but I don’t know that for sure.

One installer is saying they will remove the carpet/pad, vinyl and what they are saying is a chipboard subfloor and then install felt paper and the hardwoods. They say the staples they use would cause the chipboard to break apart.

The other installer is saying he won’t take the chance of disturbing any possible asbestos there for his crew’s or my health concerns. He said there shouldn’t be any issue laying the Aquabar over the vinyl and nailing it into place. So you think this shouldn’t be an issue?

There’s the staple vs nail too – one says one is better the other says the other.

The more quotes I get the more confused I get! Thank you so much for your input.

A: Vinyl is usually installed over 1/4″ poplar or 1/8 mahogany sheeting, not aspanite (chip board). What is all that sitting on? What is directly on the floor joists?

Follow-up Q: Unfortunately, no idea. I guess we wouldn’t know for sure unless it would all be pulled out.

They looked under a corner of the carpet and saw the vinyl and said they saw the chipboard, when I talked to them today. I don’t know how since the vinyl is there.

The other guy didn’t even look, I guess because he’s not planning to pull it up.

A: Okay, well, I have to assume there is another sub floor under the chip board because the one guy is going to rip that out but nothing is mentioned about what he is replacing it with. If there is real plywood under that chip board and with no other issues I think I would go on top of the vinyl. If it is chip board on joists I think I would screw 1/2″ spruce sheeting over the vinyl provided it won’t cause any height issues with cabinets, doorways etc. My thinking is this: chip board doesn’t hold fasteners well at all; no fasteners! At least you will get some extra grab with the plywood. This would eliminate the issue with asbestos contamination. I’m also not a great fan of staples. They do hold tight but this can be a problem with certain types of wood in areas where there is a large swing in humidity. They can cause the tongue to rip right off the board. Cleats do allow a bit of stretch and movement. Unless the first guy knows the chip board the vinyl is on is only a skin I’d leave everything there and go over top if possible.

Follow-up: Good point about them not mentioning putting anything in to replace the sub floor. This is a pretty solidly built home, so I think whatever is under there is probably decent quality. I have also been reading that about staples as well. We have a lot humidity here most of the year, so I was worried about that too. I think I will go with the company going over the vinyl. All seems to point to them and of course it’s less expensive too!

Thank you so very much for your time and unbiased opinion. So kind of you to take time out of your day to answer all of these questions!

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