You know that asbestos is something to avoid, but do you know exactly what it is, and how common it is to find asbestos in homes that are more than 30 years old? It’s a type of naturally occurring mineral found in rock and soil. Because it’s resistant to heat and corrosion, asbestos has been used in many different kinds of building materials, including insulation, cement and tiles.
The microscopic fibers in asbestos are released into the air in the dust that is formed during the manufacture of asbestos-containing products, and during construction and renovation projects when these products are present.
The use of asbestos in construction materials declined in the U.S. during the late 1970s and into the 1980s as awareness of the health hazards associated with asbestos increased. Although its use is now heavily regulated to limit exposure, it still is not entirely banned in this country.
Asbestos Is Still in Many Homes. Is Yours One of Them?
Homes, offices and other buildings built before 2004 may still have asbestos-containing products in them unless efforts have been made to remove these potentially harmful materials. If the materials become damaged, the asbestos fibers can be released into the air and pose a risk to anyone who breathes them in. Once asbestos has been inhaled, the body cannot dissolve or fight it.
If you’re not already familiar with the health hazards associated with asbestos, you’re probably wondering what kind of illness asbestos dust can cause.
One of the main types of illness is a chronic lung disease known as asbestosis. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to scarring of the lung tissue, which in turn results in the loss of lung function and shortness of breath. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of asbestosis don’t usually appear until many years after continued exposure to asbestos.
The other illnesses associated predominantly with asbestos are lung cancer and a malignant form of cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the tissue surrounding the lungs and other organs. The Mayo Clinic says mesothelioma can take 20 to 60 years or longer to develop after asbestos exposure.
So where do you find asbestos in homes? There are many possible places and types of materials that can contain asbestos. We’ll cover several of the top possibilities.
Common Household Asbestos Locations
Homes built prior to 2004 can have asbestos present anywhere from basement to rooftop. In most cases, if the products containing the asbestos are in good condition and in a place that is unlikely to be disturbed, the risk for exposure is probably minimal.
But eventually, you may want or need to repair, replace or update some of these items. That’s when the asbestos fibers can become airborne.
If you’re concerned about where to find asbestos in your home, here are some of the most usual places.
Many homes have vermiculite insulation installed in the attic (and sometimes in the walls), filling in the spaces between ceiling joists. It’s a loose-fill type of insulation and can be a mix of gray, brown, silver and gold pebble-like pieces that are soft, like popcorn.
If your home has this type of insulation in the attic, it’s recommended that you leave it undisturbed — which means staying out of the attic and not using it for storage. Home renovation projects, whether you do it yourself or hire a professional contractor, can cause the asbestos particles in the insulation to become airborne unless proper precautions are taken.
If you decide to replace your attic’s vermiculite insulation with a more efficient type, it would be wise to have the old insulation tested before disturbing it.
Most people don’t give a second thought to drilling holes in their home’s drywall (also called sheetrock) if they want to hang or mount something on the wall — like artwork, or a large screen TV.
If you live in an older home, though, you really should have the drywall tested to see if it contains asbestos. That’s because up until the 1980s, asbestos fibers were commonly added to drywall during the manufacturing process to make it stronger, lighter and more resistant to fire.
Drywall that’s sealed with paint poses little risk, even if it does contain asbestos, but if you start drilling or sawing drywall, the dust you create could very well be filled with asbestos particles.
In decades past, vinyl sheet flooring and vinyl tiles were common choices for kitchen, bathroom and laundry room floors. Although the sheet flooring itself most likely was not made with asbestos, if the flooring has a felt-like backing, that might contain asbestos. Most vinyl tiles made between 1920 and 1960 contained asbestos, and even after that, up until 1980, some still did. Plus, the glue used to apply the tiles might have asbestos in it.
If you have vinyl flooring, you might be planning to tear it up before installing new flooring at some point. In doing so, you could end up releasing asbestos particles that could be distributed throughout your home. Instead, as long as the vinyl flooring is in good condition, you may be able to install the new flooring on top of it. Otherwise, it’s best to have the old flooring tested.
Does your home have popcorn ceilings? If it was built during the 1950s to the 1980s, it very well might, since this type of ceiling was very popular back then. Even though popcorn ceilings were no longer made with asbestos after about 1978, existing inventory was still allowed to be sold, so if your home was built in the early to mid-1980s and it has popcorn ceilings, asbestos may still be a concern.
You can’t tell just by looking at them whether they contain asbestos, so before you decide to scrape and sand your popcorn ceilings to make them smooth, or drill holes in the ceiling to install new light fixtures or ceiling fans, it’s best to play it safe and have your ceilings tested.
Incidentally, ceiling tiles can also contain asbestos. Although ceiling tiles are mainly found in schools, office buildings and other non-residential buildings, some homes do have them in the kitchen and other rooms.
Pipe and duct insulation
For decades, asbestos was commonly used in pipe wrapping and even in certain types of pipes themselves. If the pipes in your older home are wrapped with a white or grayish white material, like a paper tape, plaster or corrugated cardboard, that is pipe insulation and it could very well contain asbestos.
As with other asbestos-containing materials, if the pipe insulation in your house is in good condition, it most likely is not dangerous as long as you leave it alone. It could be nearing the end of its lifespan, though, and if it is starting to crack or crumble, then it may pose a risk to you and your family.
There are many other places where you can find asbestos in homes built before 1980, and occasionally even in homes that are newer. Rain gutters, roofing materials, siding and stucco, sink bottoms, certain paints, spray coatings and patching compounds, water heater insulating blankets — these can all contain asbestos, making them a potential threat to your health.
How Can You Tell if There Is Asbestos in Your Home?
The short answer is you probably can’t — not unless you have a professional inspector come in and test your home for asbestos, that is. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to tell whether something has asbestos in it just by looking at it.
If your home was built before 2004, it’s possible that some areas in your home contain asbestos. Knowing where to find asbestos is a good place to start. Knowing what to do about it is even more important.
In general, if the materials that contain asbestos in your home are in good condition and they’re not in high-traffic areas where they could become damaged or worn, then you may be able to get by without any problems. Having said that, all home construction materials decompose over time. Even if your home was built as late as the 1970s, it’s still at least 40 years old.
Having your home (or business) tested for asbestos will either set your mind at ease if there is no asbestos or give you the foundation for developing a plan if asbestos is found. Alpha Environmental can inspect and test your home for asbestos, remove the asbestos-containing materials if necessary and properly dispose of them.
Getting your home tested is particularly important if you have any renovations or remodeling projects planned.
To get the process started, call us at (503) 292-5346.