Asbestos Testing for Homes

Buying a home comes with many uncertainties. Asbestos contamination shouldn’t be one of them. Yet, because the mineral was never banned in the U.S., ACM is still present in many houses and buildings today. Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends asbestos testing when a homeowner comes across damaged tiles, pipes, insulation, or other materials they think might be contaminated.

There’s no way to tell if something has asbestos just by looking at it. Also, asbestos doesn’t have a smell.

Federal law doesn’t require sellers to disclose asbestos-contaminated areas (though state and local regulations may enforce it). In most states, non-residential buildings and multi-family units must be tested when disturbing potential ACM during construction. However, lapses in air testing and other types of asbestos tests often delay move-ins and leave homebuyers stuck with high abatement costs.

How Do I know If Asbestos Is in My Home?

Asbestos is present in many older homes and can still be found in new builds. After overturning the 1989 ban on making new ACMs in 1991, the mineral was never removed from many products. Subsequently, even houses built after the EPA’s 1989 rule may have asbestos-containing construction materials.

Known asbestos-containing building materials include:
  • Cement flat sheet
  • Commercial and specialty paper
  • Corrugated paper and metal
  • Drywall
  • Flooring felt and tile
  • Pipeline wraps
  • Plaster
  • Popcorn ceilings and textured paints
  • Rollboard
  • Roof coatings
  • Siding
  • Shingles
  • Vinyl floor tiles

Sometimes, ACM has a warning label that tells you the item is dangerous if torn or broken. Usually, as is the case in asbestos-containing cement products, the carcinogen is completely mixed into the product and cannot be removed. So, there’s no way to know if asbestos is present in your home without paying for a professional asbestos testing service or buying an at-home test kit and sending the sample to a lab.

Unless the suspected material is crumbling or frayed (or you’re planning to renovate suspicious materials), the EPA doesn’t recommend testing all materials. Undamaged asbestos isn’t likely to threaten your health. Moving, touching, and possibly breaking ACM poses a much greater health risk.

How Do You Test for Asbestos?

According to the EPA, if you suspect your home has asbestos contamination, you shouldn’t disturb or try to move it. For example, if you find vermiculite insulation in the attic, take steps to protect the members of your household from breathing in airborne fibers. Then, look up certified asbestos testers in your area by searching your state or county’s public health department website.

The EPA encourages amateur renovators to hire a testing firm instead of attempting to test ACM themselves. Many nationwide department stores (like Home Depot) and online retailers (like Amazon) sell home test kits for asbestos (samples are sent to a lab for analysis). However, the EPA does not recommend testing asbestos yourself because it could expose you to its toxic airborne particles.

Think you’ve worked or lived somewhere with high asbestos risk? Request a case evaluation to assess your chances for exposure.
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Hiring Testing Professionals

To protect yourself and your family from airborne contamination, hire an asbestos testing company to analyze the affected areas of your home. Professionals may refer to a test as an asbestos survey or inspection.

In the U.S., the average cost of asbestos testing is between $225 and $800.

The typical survey includes the following steps:

  1. Inspecting high-risk areas
  2. Taking samples
  3. Sending samples to a lab to test
  4. Reporting results of sample tests

Different types of asbestos tests incur separate costs. Air testing, for instance, costs about $500. Most professionals call these air analyses asbestos air quality testing. These tests measure the concentration of tiny asbestos fibers in the air (usually too small for the human eye to see). In many cases, a general air quality test also measures asbestos contamination levels.

In the past, companies referred to asbestos testing as either Type 1 or Type 2 tests. Today, surveys normally include both types.

Type 1 An inspector identifies which materials are likely to contain asbestos but doesn’t test them.
Type 2 A tester takes samples of the identified high-risk areas.

FAQ About Asbestos Home Testing

Frequently asked questions you may have about testing for asbestos in your home or a house you’re thinking about buying.

  • Is asbestos testing required for my home renovation? Currently, there are no federal laws that require homeowners to test materials in their house that may be contaminated. However, state and local regulations still govern home renovation. Check which laws apply to your construction project before beginning work to avoid civil fees and/or criminal penalties.
  • Wasn’t asbestos banned in 1989 and homes built after 1990 are safe? A partial ban on asbestos was enacted in 1989. However, in 1991, the decision was largely overturned. As a result, many construction materials were made with asbestos for years afterward. Older homes and even newer houses are at risk of contamination.
  • Am I still at risk of buying asbestos-containing materials (ACM) today? Some materials are still manufactured with asbestos in the U.S. and internationally.
  • Do sellers and real estate agents have to disclose there was asbestos in plaster or other materials used to build the home before they sell it? While federal law does not require asbestos disclosure, some states (like Alaska) require extensive disclosures to be filled out before offers accepting offers. Alabama, on the other hand, holds the buyer responsible for initiating contamination testing.

If it turns out you’re in a situation where you have to remove asbestos from your property, never do it yourself. Just as you have to hire a certified testing agency, you should also hire a certified asbestos removal company.

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