Let's start off with a story.
I started my asbestos abatement company, DK Environmental LLC, in 2018. Prior to that, I had been working in the property damage restoration industry for around 12 years.
Like all new business owners in the home services field, my first and main objective was acquiring leads. Google, Yelp, Angi, etc. are typically the first places new contractors will look for work. You don't realize how competitive these platforms can be.
I was constantly beaten by other contractors as far as lead conversions. Sure I would win some here and there.
I am getting a bit side-tracked with my story...
In 2019, I was messaging multiple potential customers. During this time, I had gone on a much-needed vacation, and in all honestly, I got off-track in keeping up with my leads. My messaging feature on this particle platform was temporarily disabled. This is standard practice. Essentially, I was penalized for not replying in a timely manner. I agree with this course of action given the circumstances.
When I returned from my vacation, I went back to follow up with my leads. I was over a week late in replying back to some of them.
The conversation I had with one customer, in particular, was especially interesting.
They had requested a quote on scraping two rooms of asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings approximately 200 square feet each. If they liked the quote they would like to proceed in the next 2 weeks, they said.
Obviously, as I mentioned above, I was on vacation and had missed the timeline. I apologized and replied that if by chance they were still interested or still needed the work done, a ballpark figure for a job of that size would be in the neighborhood of $3-5000.
The reply I received: "I got this done for $1600. Thanks"
I guess the point of replying with more information than what was needed or a simple, "I already had this work done. Thank you." was in a way to shame me. Possibly, this potential customer thought my price was too high. With folks who do not understand asbestos abatement or the required procedures, it is easy to assume they would not understand the costs of such a project.
Here is where it gets interesting.
$1600 for a job of that size is....well...amazing. What a deal. Seriously. That is a bargain and a half. Especially in a high-cost city like Seattle, WA, it's no wonder this lead chose this particular company. Lower cost is better, right?
Unfortunately, this scenario is quite common.
Let's break down the elements of a project of this type.
Is Cheaper, Better?
The abatement or removal of asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings (acoustic ceilings) is considered a Class I project. This type of project involves asbestos materials that are considered to be highly friable.
Key Job Costs to Consider
The asbestos-containing material is required to be disposed of lawfully and correctly at a licensed waste facility. There are only a handful of them in Washington. The only two that I know of and use regularly are run by Republic. There is a premium fee to dispose of friable material. After all, it is not common household waste.
The waste must be packaged in clearly-marked asbestos-labeled bags. The name of the generator, in this case, the property owner, must be written on the bag, along with the date, address, and contact information. Furthermore, the waste facility will require yet another layer of 6 mils (another bag) to go over the top of that for a total of 12 mils.
We aren't done yet.
Finally, the waste must be documented via a manifest showing the information above and a bag count. The waste facility will require this manifest along with a copy of the clean air agency notification in order to allow you to proceed with the disposal.
2) Notification Costs.
Depending on the project, notices must be filed with the local clean air agency and LNI (Labor and Industries). I find it irritating when a customer tells me that there is another company that can do the job as soon as tomorrow. If the work requires notification, the prospective contractor is failing to mention this for what I assume would be selfish reasons.
Unless it is an emergency, such as water damage or other disaster or situation causing extreme inconvenience or damage to the structure, LNI requires a 5-day prior notification before starting the work.
3) Decontamination Shower
This weird science project-looking thing pictured on the right is called a 3 stage decontamination chamber. The middle chamber has a shower. All workers are required to shower before leaving the work area. Crazy, right? These chambers run about $300 or so. This is for material only, not including the cost of setup and smoke testing (required). A water heater must be set up for workers to have access to warm water. The shiny box next to that is a shower filter. The dirty, contaminated water is required to be filtered before being evacuated.
As you can see the costs are piling up...
4) Negative Pressure and Pressure Monitoring
Referring back to the photo above, the "regulated area" is the work area, or the area on the other side of the plastic. This regulated area must be pressure controlled with the use of a negative-pressure air filtration device. Negative pressure will prevent any contaminants or fibers from exiting the work area. Instead, the work area air is filtered and then pushed outside the home.
The pressure inside must be measured constantly using a manometer. This will ensure the pressure remains constant and any drop in pressure can quickly be addressed.
The negative pressure must remain until the project is completed and air clearance is received from the laboratory. Clearance, you say? What is that?
It is yet another cost to the project.
5) Air Monitoring and Clearance Testing
Monitoring the air inside and outside the work area is a requirement. This is achieved using sampling pumps that are constantly collecting air to be analyzed by a laboratory.
Once the removal work is completed, a clearance sample should be taken to ensure the air is safe to breathe.
Asbestos Abatement is Highly Complex
As you can see, there is quite a bit to asbestos abatement. The key points above are only a few of the requirements.
I am not saying it is impossible to complete a project like the one above for that price. I am only inferring it is highly unlikely all the regulatory requirements were followed considering all the associated costs. I would have to assume there was a fair amount of corner-cutting on that particular project.
There are so many reasons a project could be bid that low.
It could be the contractor is not an actual licensed asbestos contractor. It could be they don't understand their cost and profit ratio. It could be the employees or workers were not properly trained. There are so many factors to consider.
A low bid isn't always necessarily a good thing.
Ok Great. So How Do I Validate a Contractor?
Thankfully, there are steps you can take.
1) Check their reviews. This is typically a good indicator but not always.
2) Ask for prior job photos.
3) Ask if they are required to file notices and if they will be taking air samples.
4) Ask if you can obtain copies of the documents above.
Any hesitation to the questions above indicates a red flag.
Perhaps the most powerful thing you can do is to use LNI's Verify a Contractor tool.
This tool will allow you to view if a contractor is licensed for asbestos abatement. Bonding, insurer information, and most importantly the violations and citations record.
Keep in mind companies make mistakes. If a contractor has violations on their page it doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't hire them. A company with an egregious track record of serious violations will be clearly evident. If this is the case and you received a bid that is too good to be true, you now have all the data you need to make your decision.
I hope you enjoyed this read!!
C) Since it is popcorn, or a Class I friable material I'm sure the contractor built a 3 stage decontamination shower with a waste load out. What is that you ask? It's the science project looking things in the photo to the right. This chamber and the work area must be on negative pressure with the use of a negative air machine, more equipment, for the duration of the project until air clearance is received. Air clearance another things. Oh, and this chamber has to be smoke tested for leaks before use.
Also this work area was completely quartanited with negative pressure.
D) the work area was clearly cleared via clearance testing.
You see were I am going with this? There is no chance whichever company this person decided to hire, performed this project in a trustworthy manner unless of course they worked for Unicef.
All that for $1600 wow. What a steal.
Obviously I am poking fun. The point is there aremany fly by night companies out there. There is a lot on Yelp too....I have a story of a Yelp representative doing a screen share and showing me his rockstar abatement company that had over 30 reviews. I had to inform his that his rockstar company was advertising and booking on Yelp without a valid asbestos license. But that's a blog post for another day.
If the pricing seems to good to be true, it probably is.
There is no way a project like that could be sold for $1600 without there being some funny business going on.
So what can you do? As a consumer what measures can you take to protect yourself from ba companies.
Well for starters, our great state of WA has the department of Labor and Industries. They have a handy contractor look up tool so you can vet your prospective contractor before you decide to hire them. You can find that page here.
Now don't get carried away with this tool. Companies can make mistakes. Employees can have good intentions and violations are not completely avoidable, but when you see a company has an absolutely agreious safety track record, its probably time to move on.
This concludes my Ted Talk. Thanks for reading.
As any new