Is There Asbestos in My Home?

How to Check and What to do if Asbestos is Found

Many homes built before 1980 contain asbestos in old floor tiles, ceiling tiles, roof shingles and flashing, siding, insulation (around boilers, ducts, pipes, sheeting, fireplaces), pipe cement, and joint compound used on seams between pieces of sheetrock (Chart, Asbestos in the Home). Some newer houses may also contain asbestos.

Some homes may also contain vermiculite attic insulation contaminated with asbestos. Property damage claims can no longer be filed against W.R. Grace for Zonolite related property damages. The deadline for filing a Canadian claim was August 31, 2009.

How Asbestos Becomes a Hazard

Asbestos becomes a hazard when it is airborne. If asbestos in the home becomes damaged, asbestos fibers may be released. For example, when asbestos insulation around boilers, furnaces, and pipes deteriorates, it releases asbestos dust. Blown ceilings containing asbestos may release fibers when they are drilled or patched. If the ceilings are in poor condition, air movement from ceiling fans and opening and closing draperies may spread asbestos dust.

Asbestos transite pipes, which have been used underground to transport water to the home and in some flue pipes, may pose another problem. Transite is an asbestos-containing cement material which deteriorates over time. As the transite deteriorates, asbestos fibers can be released from the interior of the pipe into the drinking water flowing through the pipe.

How to Check for Asbestos in Your Home

A visual inspection of your home is usually not sufficient to determine if it contains asbestos. Instead, samples of suspected asbestos fibers should be sent to a certified laboratory for analysis.

Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) are two approved methods of analysis. The National Institute for Standards and Technology maintains web lists of laboratories certified to do TEM and PLM analysis. You may also call the Institute at 800-720-4981 for information.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides detailed guidance about how to collect samples that may contain asbestos (EPA, Asbestos in the Home, scroll to "How to Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos"), the American Lung Association instead recommends that you hire a certified asbestos professional to take any samples. Hiring a professional can minimize asbestos exposure for you and your family.

What If I Find Asbestos in My House?

The method used for dealing with asbestos in the home depends upon where the asbestos is found, the condition of the material, and whether it is friable or non-friable (White Lung Association, Asbestos in the Home) Friable asbestos can be easily crumbled or reduced to a powder and can become airborne. Non-friable asbestos is more tightly bound with another material and its fibers cannot easily be made airborne unless they are sanded, cut, or sawed.

If asbestos-containing material is currently in good condition and contained such that fibers cannot be released, then it may not be dangerous at this time. However, the situation should be monitored for signs of asbestos deterioration and damage.

In some cases, asbestos-containing materials may be repaired or isolated rather than removed. For example, small tears in pipe insulation may be repaired. Asbestos material that is in good condition may be isolated from potential damage by using a sturdy, airtight barrier. This can be a temporary solution to some asbestos problems. Encapsulants have been used over sprayed-on asbestos-containing material on walls and ceilings. Encapsulants are materials applied in liquid form to provide a seal against the release of asbestos fibers. They can work well for asbestos-containing material that has not been damaged, but do more harm than good if the material is deteriorating.

Asbestos removal is the only permanent solution to the problem of asbestos in the home. However, removal poses a high risk of fiber release if not done properly. Air samples should be taken after the work is completed to ensure the safety of the homeowner. During the removal process, the contractor should use a HEPA vacuum, approved respirators, and disposable clothing.

Whether asbestos is repaired or removed from your home, it is important that you choose a competent professional who is certified to do asbestos abatement work. Many home repair or remodeling contractors do not have this special certification. Make sure that the person you choose has completed a federal or state-approved asbestos safety course. Contact your regional EPA office, your local health department, and the Better Business Bureau, for a list of professionals in your area. Also, the EPA recommends that the asbestos professional who performs the abatement work be independent from the contractor who initially inspects your home for asbestos contamination. This helps ensure that only the necessary work is done