I’m fat and I’m old and my arms are really, really tired and asbestos is incredibly hard to cut!
The day after my first serious Chow Gar training session in a couple of months (back injury + flu + colliding family issues = lots of weeks of missed training) was not a good day to spend literally hours cutting less than 1m of old asbesto sheeting.
In the bathroom I’m renovating with Ceramilite, when we were busy banging on the wall whilst fitting the sheet over all the shower and bath taps spouts, a nasty trickle of water emerged from behind the wall. Nasty, because the only explanation for it was a leak somewhere inside the wall over which I was about to install some fairly expensive sheeting. So, a plumber was called, ugly hole bashed in the wall and a T-joint of indeterminate age and very moderate quality replaced. During the visit, he mentioned that the material was asbestos sheeting, which is why he’d just bashed a rough hole rather than neatly cutting with a power saw (breaking edges doesn’t generate dust) and, incidentally, left me with a wonderful non-programming debugging problem.
The next morning after the plumber’s visit, I got a rather distressed call from the tenants explaining that the hot water was sort-0f working. As Sri-Lankan refugees, their English is highly variable but the explanation was pretty hard to follow. I went over and found a combination of circumstances that indeed were hard to follow in person!
- the hot water system is an instant gas heater which has a pilot light and goes on when someone turns on a hot tap
- turning on a particular tap made the main burner light (I had my face about 4cm away when we worked that out, which was an interesting discovery for someone balanced on a chair in the garden)
- turning on others didn’t make the burner light but they delivered hot water if the magic tap was turned on first
- the hot water was luke-warm
I was about to give up on the entire idea and call the plumber back when I did a last-minute debugging look at what about the situation has changed? Apart from the obvious bloody great hole in the wall, the plumber had also fitted brass stoppers on the shower and tap spouts so they were sealed. Why?
I didn’t have an immediate answer why the spouts were sealed but it did lead to the thought that with a sealed spout, I couldn’t tell if the taps were turned on or not…. Eureka! all four taps were turned on full.
With the spouts sealed, having the taps either side turned on meant the hot water system was connected to the cold water system, rather than gushing out the spouts. This had two effects:
- there was sufficient pressure on the hot water side, from the higher-pressure cold-water, that opening most taps didn’t cause enough pressure drop to fire the instant heater main burner
- even when the burner was running, hot water was being diluted by higher-pressure cold water hence delivering lukewarm water elsewhere in the system.
Back to the asbestos…
after reading lots of scary health regulations for removing it, I bought a qualified respirator, suited up in white I’m a character in a bad nuclear power station drama style and started cutting, figuring about an hour of hard labour. Hah!
Lessons learned with the help of a couple of spotty youths at hardware store:
- Health department regs say no power tools – they generate and distribute fine dust which you really don’t want in your lungs or to have to clean up. Having seen one incredibly fit acquaintance die an ugly and painful death from Mesothilioma, I’m a bit paranoid
- Professionals apparently cut sheets with some gigantic shears that look perfect for a minor persuasion scene in the next Tarantino movie. Wonderful if you have the sheet out in the open and just want to trim it.
- Nobody has any bright ideas or super-sharp manual saws for cutting across old sheets that are on the wall on a bathroom where you’re working into a corner.
- My cheap keyhole saw ultimately cut more efficiently than a big fine-tooth wood saw.
- You can spend an incredible amount of time cutting millimetres across the sheet.
- When you’re breathing somewhat vigorously inside a proper filter mask whilst taking a break from sawing, you really do sound like Darth Vader, or someone testing a scuba regulator out of the water!
- When you lose your temper and hit old asbestos sheet with chisel, really really hard, it does cut but is likely to split at about 45 degrees from your cut.