What Do I Do With Asbestos in My Home? Our Complete Guide
Just hearing the word “asbestos” in a conversation about your home is enough to make you feel a little panicky. Asbestos is an all-too-common contaminant that has the potential to cause serious health problems—and it can lower the value of your property. Fortunately, it’s possible to deal with asbestos safely. You just have to know what you’re up against.
Here’s everything you need to know about asbestos: what it is, where it may be lurking, and what to do if you find it.
Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos has been linked to many health problems. Asbestos fibers are very tough and difficult to break down. Though this makes them very useful for construction applications, it also means the body cannot process and eliminate asbestos fibers. Unlike a splinter or bit of bacteria, your immune system can’t get rid of asbestos.
The most common place for asbestos fibers to enter the body is through the lungs. Once trapped in the lungs, asbestos is known to cause three major diseases:
- Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a condition caused when asbestos fibers lodge in the lung tissue and cause scarring. As the lungs scar, they become less and less able to take in oxygen. The result is a crackling feeling in the lungs, shortness of breath, and the potential for cardiac failure.
- Cancer: Because asbestos is a carcinogen, prolonged contact with the fibers in the lungs often leads to lung cancer. In addition to causing breathing problems and chest pain, cancer can also spread to other tissues in the body. Lung cancer is the deadliest disease caused by asbestos, though it has also been linked to cancer of the colon, esophagus, kidneys, larynx, mouth and stomach.
- Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a specific type of cancer. Though it’s relatively rare, almost every case can be traced back to asbestos exposure. This cancer affects the membrane that protects the abdomen, chest and lungs.
One of the biggest problems with asbestos-related diseases is that they take a long time to develop in the body. Because the majority of these diseases aren’t diagnosed until at least 15 years after the first exposure, people often fail to realize that they’re in harm’s way until it’s too late.
Where Does Asbestos Come From?
Asbestos is a blanket term for several different types of minerals that are mined in the western portions of the United States, as well as in Tennessee and the Carolinas. The minerals are known for having thin fibers and for being extremely durable and fire-resistant. Asbestos is not an artificial chemical; however, being a natural product does not make it safe.
Why Did People Build With Houses With Asbestos?
Before the dangers of asbestos were understood, it was considered a miracle material.
Asbestos is lightweight, which made it easy to work with and ship across the country. It’s strong, so it was added to many construction materials that require durability. It also has excellent insulating properties, so it was used in thermal insulation, fireproofing, and even in some clothing.
Asbestos was abundant and inexpensive, so it was the material of choice for nearly seven decades.
Is There Asbestos in My House?
Maybe. If your house was built before 1980, there’s a good chance that at least some of the building materials used contain asbestos. Asbestos was in high demand between 1900 and the late 1970s, when it was banned from many products.
Even if your house was built before 1900, it may have been renovated with asbestos products at some point in the 20th century.
Where Can I Find Asbestos in My House?
If you live in an older home, you could have asbestos in many areas, from the basement to the attic. Here are the most common places for asbestos to be lurking:
- Ceiling Tiles: Dropped ceilings with soundproofing tiles were often made with asbestos due to its insulating qualities.
- Cement Surrounds for Wood or Gas Stoves: Cement board used as a fireproof surround for heating stoves often contains asbestos as a fire retardant.
- Exterior Shingles and Siding: Asbestos shingles were once common on the roof, and as a replacement for cedar shakes to side houses.
- Furnaces, Boilers and Ducts: Asbestos insulation was often used in or around these products to make them more efficient.
- Interior Vinyl Floors: Older floor tiles made of vinyl, asbestos or rubber, as well as the backing on rolled vinyl flooring sheets, often contained asbestos.
- Spray-on Insulation: From the 1930s through the 1950s, attic asbestos insulation was very common. Asbestos may also be found in the walls for this purpose.
- Steam Pipe Casings and Insulation: Older homes with steam heat may have asbestos in the pipe casings. Hot water pipes wrapped in asbestos insulation are also common.
- Textured Paint: Popular on ceilings and walls, textured paint as well as some older joint compounds and patching materials often contained asbestos.
Am I in Danger of Asbestos Exposure?
When it comes to asbestos, the greatest danger arises when small, loose fibers are released into the air. It’s easy to inhale the fibers, which leads to serious lung diseases.
Friable asbestos—that is, asbestos in forms that can be easily crumbled—is the most dangerous to humans, because can easily float up in the air and be inhaled. This makes spray-on applications the most dangerous. Asbestos that is encased in hard materials, such as floor tiles, is less dangerous.
However, there is no level of asbestos exposure that is considered safe.
How Could I Be Exposed to Asbestos?
DIY projects have exploded in popularity over the past decade or two, and that has caused many homeowners to be unwittingly exposed to asbestos. Any time you break down an old wall, probe with a drill, or dig around in an attic, you could be releasing asbestos fibers into the air. Even certain “safer” applications of asbestos can become harmful if you cut into them and release the fibers into your home.
For example, you might expose yourself to harmful asbestos if you:
- Disturb Attic Asbestos: Loose attic insulation with asbestos will release fibers into the air if you disturb it or try to remove it.
- Drill Into Walls: Walls may encase asbestos insulation, or they may be covered in joint compound or wallboard made with asbestos. If you tear down the wall or drill into it during a home improvement project, you can release asbestos into the air.
- Remove Popcorn Ceilings: Older popcorn ceilings were often made with textured paint made with asbestos. Scraping the texture from the ceiling will release dangerous fibers.
- Replace Pipe Insulation: Tearing away pipe insulation made of asbestos can allow the mineral to crumble and be released into the air.
- Scrape Up Floor Tiles: Removing old vinyl or asbestos flooring to get down to the sub-floor will break the tiles, allowing floor tile asbestos to escape into the air.
How Can I Tell If I Have Asbestos in My Home?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell if something is made of asbestos just by looking. You can make an educated guess based on the age of your home and the types of materials you see, but an official determination requires asbestos testing.
To do this safely, you should hire a trained, licensed asbestos inspector to collect samples of suspect materials. The professional will then send these samples for testing and let you know the results.
How Do I Remove Asbestos From My Home?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly recommends that you call a licensed asbestos removal contractor for any asbestos abatement project. The risk of contamination is high, so workers should be trained to keep asbestos contained and prevent fibers from entering the air.
Additionally, asbestos is a hazardous material that needs to be properly disposed of. It’s not okay to simply throw it out with the trash. Asbestos professionals have the proper equipment to prevent contamination of your and your neighbor’s property, as well as appropriate gear to protect themselves from harm. They also know how to work within state and local laws about asbestos removal.
How Does the Asbestos Removal Process Work?
First, the contractor will test for asbestos if you haven’t already done so. If they locate any, the workers will seal off the area using special plastic sheeting to keep the asbestos from getting out.
After they remove all the affected materials and place it in sealed containers, they will send it off for proper disposal. The workers will thoroughly clean and decontaminate the area before removing the plastic sheeting to ensure that you’re left with a clean slate.
Lastly, they’ll perform a one more asbestos test to be sure the work was done right. Throughout the entire process, the crew will wear protective suits and breathing masks to stay safe.
Where Can I Find a Great Asbestos Removal Contractor?
Proper training and in-depth experience are key. For safe, clean asbestos removal, trust Asbestos Project Management to do the job. They’re fully licensed and offer everything you need for fast and efficient asbestos testing and removal.Back To Blog