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Guide to Asbestos in the Home

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Homes constructed prior to the 1980s may expose occupant, homeowners friends and their families asbestos materials that may be hiding in pipes, walls, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, cement and insulation. Our guide can help prevent and limit the exposure of a home that may contain asbestos within its building materials or assist you with ideas when purchasing your new home.

Is Asbestos in Your House Dangerous?

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Up close image of asbestos fibers under a microscope. Fibers are light and can easily become airborne 

Asbestos is a naturally mined material that is composed of thin fibers that when disturbed become toxic. These construction materials that contain asbestos can become a health hazard IF the asbestos is disturbed and the fibers become airborne. Generally speaking, asbestos that is in good condition and not disturbed does not pose any health hazards.

 

Long term exposure (years) of asbestos fibers may lead to the development of a cancer known as mesothelioma, which produces and forms tumors on the lungs, heart and abdomen. 

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Quick Fact

Most asbestos-related diseases are diagnosed at least 15 years after exposure.

Source: American Cancer Society

Where Can Asbestos Be Found in Your House?

U.S homes and public buildings, such as office buildings, government housing, schools, universities, industrial buildings built before 1980, may contain asbestos in the following:

  • Cement

  • Roof Shingles: Roof covering and underlayment

  • Heating components: Steam Pipes & boilers

  • Interior coverings such as: Ceiling and Floor Tiles

  • Textured Paint and other interior applications

  • Spray-on Insulation & other forms of insulation

Asbestos use in many residential buildings were phased out. Meanwhile, surprisingly it remains legal for more than a dozen other applications and uses.

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Real Estate Agents & Home Buyers

When some home buyers hear the word ASBESTOS they tend to cringe and may lose interest in the home they had their eyes on. The fact is, the asbestos in that home may not have an impact on their health or financially (depending on their future plans) on their lives . As an agent you may want to ask your buyers a few questions to get the general idea of there future remodels/upgrades to determine if suspect asbestos materials will have an actual impact. Generally speaking, asbestos is a health hazard and big expense IF removal/remediation is necessary. This may not always be the case. Asbestos in good condition and left alone is not an issue.

Before we go into the nitty gritty world of asbestos lets look at solutions and statements that may help you assist your clients when suspect asbestos material is discovered:

 

Asbestos is not illegal and there are not any legal mandates for asbestos to be removed.

Asbestos is fire-retardant, light and overall strong material. It is not considered an inferior material other then the draw backs from removal.

You may be able to floor over flooring that contains asbestos.

You may be able to skim coat over a popcorn ceiling, install sheetrock over popcorn ceilings and or install other interior covering material to conceal the asbestos.

You may be able to insulate over the asbestos insulation in an attic.

You may be able to seal/contain asbestos insulation around heated pipes

Asbestos roofing is expensive to replace. Its not a good idea to roof over asbestos shingles. 

Asbestos is found in glues, adhesives, window puttys etc.

You will most likely find asbestos in your home if it was built prior to 1980 and possibly in homes built within the mid 1980s

Not all materials that look like typical asbestos contain material actually contain asbestos.

Materials that may not look like they contain asbestos may contain asbestos. 

 

Common Exposure Scenarios 

There many ways you can expose you and the occupants to your home to asbestos such as: renovations, drilling through walls, removing insulation, flooring, tiles, textured paint and many other ways. Listed below are various scenarios where you can expose yourself to asbestos. Remember the only way to know for sure if a material does not contain asbestos is to hire a asbestos testing company or take a sample of the material and send it out to a certified lab for asbestos testing.

 

 

Attic: Installing Insulation or Installing Fixtures that Disturb Attic Insulation

While installing recessed lighting in his 1950s home, Jacob discovered insulation that resemble kitty litter. Jacob decided since he was installing recessed lighting he wanted to change the current pebble like insulation with new fiberglass insulation to increase his energy rating and save on heating and cooling costs. Jacob scooped the pebble like insulation into garbage bags and tossed it into the garbage and installed the new insulation. 

Jacob had no idea that the pebble like material contained asbestos. By disturbing the asbestos, Jacob spread asbestos fibers throughout his home and contaminated his duct work that disbursed air to his home for heating and cooling. 

 

Prior to removing the insulation Jacob should have hired a local asbestos testing/sampling company to test for asbestos. 

As of today, there are no currently approved testing method to confirm that vermiculite as non- asbestos. The New York State Department of health states that this type of attic insulation must be assumed to contain Asbestos and should be removed as such.

 

Common Exposure Scenarios 

Kevin recently went on vacation with his family and decided to hang a few pictures that he took on vacation on walls. He measured carefully and started to penetrate the walls with a few screws and anchors. 

He had no idea that his home constructed with drywall that contained asbestos. As Kevin drilled through the walls he disturbed asbestos fibers that were in the drywall and they became airborne  throughout his living area. Kevin should have hired a asbestos testing company to test for the presence of asbestos prior to drilling holes. 

This example is obviously on a smaller scale and would not expose you as much when compared to knocking down walls that contain asbestos. 

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Attic insulation may contain asbestos. Prior to removing and disturbing attic insulation you should have the material tested for asbestos by a certified asbestos testing company

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Some drywall may contain asbestos

Removing Vinyl Floor Tiles

Autumn purchased (built in 1950s) a fixer-upper in his home town . Her first project was remodeling the master bathroom. She decided to begin her remodeling with removing the vinyl floor tile. She decided to scrape away the existing tiles with a scraper and proceeded to install the new tile. Asbestos was a common substance in floor tiles produced in the 1950s. Using a scraper created airborne asbestos fivers while removing the floor tile. Autumn should have hired an environmental asbestos testing company or installed the new flooring over the old flooring. Asbestos is a health hazard when disturbed. 

 

 

 

Popcorn Ceiling Removal

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Asbestos may be in flooring materials and the adhesives

Jeff was tired of the pop corn ceilings in her living room and kitchen, so Jeff decided to scrape off the popcorn texture, patch and paint to get a smooth finish. After he put on his eye protection and a dust mask, he grabbed a chair, reached up and began scraping away. After days of scraping and hours of sanding along with careful painting, he was finally finished. 

 

Various textured ceiling finishes, including but not limited to popcorn ceilings contain concealed asbestos. While Jeff was scraping off the popcorn ceiling finish he released asbestos fibers that easily passed through Jeff's dust mask. Jeff should have hired a licensed environmental asbestos testing company to test for asbestos then a licensed asbestos remediation company for asbestos removal. 

If Jeff decided to test the pop corn ceiling himself he could have. The sampling process consist of taking a small portion of the material and  shipping the sample to a certified asbestos testing lab. Jeff would have to wear the very least an N95 mask and eye protection.  A dusts mask that is not rated as an N95 mask will not filter out asbestos fibers. 

 

Cutting Insulation on Pipes

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Popcorn ceiling may contain asbestos

When replacing an old boiler of his late - 1820's Victorian home, Earl discovered the insulation around some of the hot water pipes was loose and starting to deteriorate. Earl thought about all of the heat loss that was not happening and wanted to fix the problem by replacing the insulation. To avoid losing heat efficiency he cut into the old insulation as far as he could reach with a utility knife and replace it with new and improved fiberglass insulation. Earl didn't know that many older homes plumbing system contain insulation that has asbestos. Earl potentially was exposed to asbestos fibers when removing the insulation. Earl should have contacted an Environmental asbestos testing company to test the insulation to determine if and how much asbestos was present. Earl could have hired a licensed asbestos contractor to seal the insulation instead of removing it. This method of sealing is significantly less then removal. 

 

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Plumbing insulation may contain asbestos

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What Can I Do About Asbestos in My Home?

 

If you discover a material in your home that you think may contain asbestos, don't touch it.

Even if the suspect material is in serviceable condition the best thing to do is leave it alone.

If suspect material is damaged and or you feel that future activities could disturb it, contact an Environmental Asbestos testing company to test a sample to determine if in fact the material contains asbestos. 
 

If the material does not contain asbestos you may be able to correct the issue on your own without hiring an asbestos remediation company.

If the material does contain asbestos there are a few options you may need to consider

Do I HAVE to disturb and or remove the asbestos containing material?

For example do you have to remove asbestos piping in your basement? If your not removing or replacing your pipes you could consider having your asbestos insulated pipes sealed and wrapped by a asbestos remediation company.

Example 2: Do you have to remove the asbestos flooring in your bathroom? Is it in serviceable condition? Can you floor OVER the asbestos flooring?

Example 3: Do you have to remove the asbestos pebble like insulation in your attic. Can you install insulation OVER the asbestos insulation in your attic?

Example 4: Can you sheet rock OVER a pop corn ceiling? Although you still may disturb the asbestos you can reduce exposure and expenses hiring a qualified contractor to install sheet rock OVER pop corn ceiling that contains asbestos. 

 

The best way to reduce or avoid asbestos exposure is to be knowledgeable about the possibly asbestos containing materials in your home, knowing the location of these materials and observing the current condition of the material.

If you know for a fact a material contains asbestos the best thing you can do is leave it alone. If are purchasing a home and you plan on performing remodeling and or renovations the best thing you could do is test the suspect materials to confirm asbestos is not present. 

 

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You cannot rule out any material unless tested by a asbestos testing company. Although some materials may be more obvious then others. You may be surprised what materials contain asbestos. Above is insulation below a sink to prevent condensation. The asbestos insulation may become brittle over time.

What Can I Do About Asbestos in My Home?

Although some materials are easily to identify as asbestos just by a visual inspection, the only way to be 100% sure is to hire a asbestos testing company to send samples to a lab. Homeowners can collect asbestos samples and send them for testing but it is much safer to hire a licensed and experienced asbestos testing company.

Search the web for "Asbestos inspection" or "Asbestos testing companies" to find licensed asbestos companies.

How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Harmful?

Generally speaking, it required a lot of repeated long term exposure to asbestos for health related issues to occur. It is very rare for an individual to get sick from asbestos products in their home but it very much is possible.

Most asbestos related disease are developed by people who were exposed to asbestos usually in the work field for years. As much as 20% of people who were exposed to asbestos for long period of time end up developing health related conditions. 

Additionally, heavy short term exposure have been the cause of health complication from asbestos. According to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report on asbestos, “No evidence of a threshold or safe level of exposure has been found.”

 

 

 

 

Asbestos Safety Dos and Don’ts

Dos

  • Avoid contact with damaged asbestos materials.

  • Take precautions to prevent damage to suspect asbestos materials

  • Talk to your home inspector real estate agent, asbestos testing company about any known asbestos risks in your home. The only way to know is to test.

  • Only hire licensed and trained asbestos companies for testing, repairs/removal 

  • If you are planning on a demolition, contact your local government agencies to make sure you are in compliance with all applicable laws. Your local licensed asbestos company may be able to help.

Don'ts

  • Don’t sand, scrape, drill or damage asbestos containing material.

  • Don’t sweep, blow, dust or move around dust that may contain asbestos.

  • Don’t collect asbestos samples unless you are well trained. It is best to call a local asbestos testing environmental company

  • Don’t perform any work on or near asbestos materials unless you have been trained and certified to do so. Although home owners may be able to remove asbestos within their single family homes it is best to hire a asbestos remediation company

  • Don’t remove asbestos unless you have to. It is best to leave asbestos alone. You may want to consider concealment by an asbestos remediation company to reduce exposure and risk

  • Don’t dispose of asbestos materials with normal household waste.

How Do I Get Tested for Possible Exposure to Asbestos?

If you believe you were exposed to asbestos (especially long term) , start by speaking with your primary care Doctor. There are not any tests that are out that determines if you've been exposed to asbestos. But your primary physician may tests to detect asbestos related disease. Keep in mind asbestos related conditions are difficult to detect and not all primary care doctors have the tools and experience to discover and diagnose them. 

If you are certain you were exposed to asbestos, its a good idea to consult with your Doctor to see if you should seek annual screenings for a lung specialist such as an occupational pulmonologist. Typically asbestos related diseases are diagnosed at least 15 years after expose, although diagnoses prior to 15 years after exposure do happen. 

 

 

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Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified asbestos expert on all asbestos or suspected related concerns Albany Asbestos is not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information.