Question: I've purchased a house built in 1965, with that cottage-cheese-type acoustic material sprayed on the ceiling. I wonder if it contains asbestos that might be harmful. Is there a place that will test a ceiling sample for asbestos content?
Answer: There are two ways of testing, according to a source at Smith-Emery Co., a multifaceted testing laboratory in downtown Los Angeles. You can take a sample to them for testing or a "sniffer" can be put in place that will detect asbestos fibers the way a trained dog can detect illegal drugs.
The latter method sounds better to me, but you might contact Leo Raab at Smith-Emery Co., 781 E. Washington Blvd., for his advice. There are other Southland testing laboratories, of course. They are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Asbestos."
Q: We recently remodeled our home, with fairly extensive electrical work. The contractor gave us a basic price and told us--nothing in writing--that any "extras" would add to the cost. Unfortunately, the extras--including items that we asked for in the new bathroom--were more than the basic cost. Where did we go wrong?
A: Join the crowd! Those so-called extras are a major problem with contracting, both for the contractor and the homeowner. You should obtain a written estimate of the work from the contractor, along with a detailed itemization of the cost of the extras.
For instance, if the electrician installs a heat/vent fan in the bathroom, make sure the cost includes the materials and the labor. Get everything in writing, something I neglected to do at a surprise cost of more than $500 on a recent job!
Of course, you should make certain that the contractor is licensed. The Contractors' State License Board maintains a computerized list of all currently licensed contractors; check with the nearest district office listed in the government section of your white pages telephone book.
IN THE MAIL: My Jan. 10 column on gas earthquake valves prompted a letter from Edward Saltzberg, a Van Nuys-based consulting mechanical engineer. Accompanying his letter were documents detailing the problems of fitting gas earthquake valves to typical residential applications. It seems that these valves are sized--and priced accordingly--for commercial or institutional installations.
"What you have not mentioned," he writes, "is that the high internal pressure loss created by these valves may make the gas appliances malfunction and the gas system not work correctly. Due to these problems, these valves cannot be installed in an existing gas system, and there are problems trying to engineer them into a new system."
His address: Edward Saltzberg & Associates Inc., 14733 Oxnard St., Van Nuys, Calif. 91411.