Asbestos In Your Home
By Adam Solko, Home Inspector and Licensed Radon Professional
Wondering, “Do I have asbestos in my home?” We’ll help you identify where to look.
If you are buying or living in a home that has materials that were manufactured prior to 1980 there is a chance that there is asbestos in the home. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is made up of heat resistant fibers known for being very durable and insulating. Because of its ability to strengthen and make items heat resistant, it was commonly used in many products from the late 1800s through 1978. These common materials can still be found in many old homes in the form of floor tiles, vermiculite insulation, pipe/duct insulation and other products.
Asbestos is the number one cause of a cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that forms in the lining of the lungs, heart and abdomen with a poor prognosis once it is diagnosed. Most commonly this disease occurs from prolonged and repetitive exposure to asbestos but is also possible to contract with a single large dose exposure.
What does this mean for you?
Asbestos is only harmful to the human body when it becomes airborne in its fibrous form, this is also known as friable. This means that asbestos products become dangerous when someone tries to remove it from the house, normally during remodeling or replacement projects. Due to the durable nature of asbestos there are still many products in the home that are over 100 years old and become problematic when updating the home.
Identifying asbestos in your home
One of the most common forms of asbestos that Honest Home Inspection sees is asbestos flooring. Thankfully, this is normally easily identified and poses little to no threat when left intact.
Vinyl and asphalt tiling that contains asbestos is normally found in a 9”x9” size but can also be seen in 12”x12” and 6”x6”. It is best to consider that sheet vinyl flooring or tiling that is thought to have been manufactured between 1920 and 1980 could contain asbestos and should be treated as such. The best solution in this instance is to simply leave the produce in place and place your new flooring over top of it. If this is not possible then an asbestos removal expert should be used to handle the removal of the flooring.
Another common form of asbestos is the heat resistant materials that were used to cover and protect boiler and furnace components before the 1980s. If your home has a large old boiler that is wrapped in a white cast like material, it most likely is asbestos. Likewise, if there are cement panels between the boiler pipes and the ceiling/walls they may contain asbestos. Insulating cast-like materials on boiler pipes or furnace ducts are another common source. If this material is in good shape it has a low likelihood of doing harm. But, if it begins to fray and fall apart then it should be encapsulated by a professional. If your large boiler is in need of replacement or you want to upgrade then an asbestos mitigation professional will be needed for the appliance and material removal.
The most well known and dangerous form of asbestos is in the form of vermiculite attic insulation. This insulation can still be found in nearly 35 million homes in America and is identified by its brown-gray or silver-gold color in a pebble-like form. While not all vermiculite is harmful, nearly 80% of vermiculite insulation is known to come from the Libby, Montana mine that produced the product “zonolite” that did contain asbestos. This product is the most dangerous for two reasons. First, the type of asbestos that it contains is 10 times more dangerous than the type that is commonly found in the tiling and wrapping insulation described above. Second is the ease of the product becoming airborne. Simply disturbing the insulation while moving in the attic or installing lights in the ceiling can be dangerous to your health.
The best course of action if vermiculite is found in your home is to have a small sample sent to a testing lab to identify if it is zonolite. If it does contain asbestos then it is recommended to have the product professionally removed and replaced with modern insulation. Thankfully, there is a fund that is designed to help the cost of the removal. The fund will help with up to 55% of the removal cost.
There are additional items in the home that could contain asbestos if the house was built or remodeled prior to 1980. For a full list of potential materials see the Minnesota State website.