What’s Wrong With This? Doesn’t Look Too Bad, Right?

deck = asbestos sheet

SO what’s wrong with this?  Doesn’t Look Too Bad, Right?

The cantilevered structure of the balconies are fine.  There’s some blistering paint on a nearby wall but thats just paint work.

The balcony iron work is in good shape, firmly attached and no rust.  Caulking could look neater but it’s doing its job.  All the balconies on the street side are like this, no rotting wood. The rear balconies are another story however.

Did you notice the garage doors?  They are roll ups but they have man doors build into them.  They haven’t been used for cars for years but they operate just fine, manually, and the man doors are functional too.

So has my miss-direction kept you from seeing the really interesting detail?…Maybe.

Here’s a close up that should tell the story:

asbestos balcony deck


The deck covering material itself. I first zeroed in on it because of how thin it was. Naturally the next question is what is it? I’ve seen it before, behind and above wood stoves and furnaces but not in this application.

Later I had the chance to ask the owner about it.

I said “That decking material on the front balconies, did you have that put on?” “Yes” he said, ” The original wood was rotting”.

I said “Yes but the material, the deck…”

“Yes it’s like.. a fibreglass..” (owner)

“You mean it’s…” (me)

“Yes..It’s asbestos.” (owner).      He admitted it, but he wasn’t going to volunteer it until I kept asking.


Asbestos. Asbestos sheet stock. Hard but very brittle.

The good news is that whole 4′ by 8′ sheets were used. There was no cutting. There is no evidence of friable conditions at the moment. Friable is the high risk condition. Dust is created. Inhaled asbestos dust is the known carcinogen pathway.

The bad news; it’s asbestos, it’s been there at least 5 years, probably longer. It will start to delaminate and breakdown. It will then be friable. Structurally it is an inappropriate material for this use. It is brittle and unless there is reinforcement underneath (plywood layer and close joist spacing) it is susceptible to impact damage. It will then be friable, instantly. The exposed edges can easily be damaged (picture an errant snow shovel hitting it.)

So if you are in the Montreal area, and are planning to buy or sell property, you need these risks identified. You can contact me for a full inspection or an issue specific consultation. I can also send samples and have them blind tested at independent laboratories.


Original blog post on ActiveRain: Link to Blog Post



Question Answer & Response ; An FAQ for YOU 


The Question;

 I am most interested in asking you some more precise questions… for example, the back porch, you mentioned it needed securing. (the rail) can you suggest how that would be done if we get a handyman?  I am concerned how to do it properly as last summer I inquired and the guy didn’t know how to do it, and felt it was o.k..  I had called because I thought it was wobbly. You mentioned how you would see it best done. Please recommend, so I can proceed accordingly with my sister’s handyman. I am cc’ing her as well. I thank you..and look forward to communicating with you again for other questions pertaining to your recommendations. D.


The Answer;

Hi D,

That centre deck post is mounted on top of the deck and secured with a bunch of small brackets. This is wobbly as it depends on the screws which are small.



(1) Restructure: The correct way to build this detail would have been with a longer post that passed down through the deck and was integrated with the support structure below. This is carpentry and you need a repairman with that experience and training.


(2) Hardware Bracket: Another way to ‘fix’ the situation would be to replace the brackets with a much more substantial heavy duty bracket that could hold the post rigidly. This is hard to achieve as the length of the post results in a big mechanical advantage when someone leans against the railing. Effectively the post acts as a lever against the bracket, loosening it.


(3) Stiff Back Reinforcement: The handrail could be modified by attaching (bolting and lag screws  – do not use deck screws) a wide 2×6 or 2×8 board on top of the handrail and flush to the inside edge. The wider the board the stiffer the rail will be. This has to be a single board for the whole length of the handrail and has to be installed with any crown inward (and cup downward) and the edge ‘fitted’ to the existing railing as each bolt hole is drilled and the bolt attached.


This is the easiest way to correct the problem and gives a nice wide rail to rest drink glasses on or place decorative plants or other ornamentation. For appearances the same detail would be done at the side railing returning to the house wall. A strap corner bracket would be installed at the corner to prevent it from opening over time. At the posts and mid-span points of the railing wood blocking would be screwed in place underneath to counter the wider boards tendency to cup (warp).


Again this is carpentry that requires a full understanding of wood technology. If your handyman doesn’t understand why the board has to be full length wide 2x stock with the crown in and the cup down then you need somebody else. The correct hardware and installation process is important too. The board should be preselected at the suppliers too.

Maintenance: You can see in the photo how snow (and rain water) will sit on the railing. It will be even more with a new wider railing top, so the board should be installed with a slight angle to shed water and of course be sealed to resist water penetration.


Should you need a referral for someone to do this please feel free to contact me.



Robert Butler






The Response;
Thank you kindly for your detailed reply.  I would appreciate a referral for this work if you please.  Thank you. I am glad to have found you as a resource!  D.






Original blog post on ActiveRain: Link to Blog Post