Should You Worry About Asbestos in Your Home?
Whether you’ve just bought your first home or have owned it for a while, finding out it contains asbestos is always a worrisome time for you and your loved ones. Hearing the word ‘asbestos’ usually brings fear of what can happen next and what that can mean for you as a homeowner. Most know that asbestos is a mineral that’s toxic to human health and can cause diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, to name a few. If you’ve found asbestos in your home, feelings of distress or fear about it are natural, but how much should you actually worry about it?
Asbestos is most dangerous when it’s in a ‘friable’ state. A substance with a powdery, crumbled, or otherwise broken down consistency when pressure is applied is considered ‘friable’. Insulation manufactured with asbestos that’s packed away in a well-maintained wall is not a big risk. On the other hand, open and damaged insulation that’s worn-down and crumble is a much, bigger threat. When toxins are in this state, they can easily become airborne, where tiny, spindly fibers can travel far and be inhaled.
If you live in a home that was made before the 1970s with asbestos, it may not necessarily be a problem. Unless the home is being remodeled or broken down, asbestos can be distant or contained enough from you at all times that you don’t have to worry about coming in contact with it. Do not make this call yourself, only let a certified testing company be the final say.
Where You Might Find Asbestos
Structures built before the ban on asbestos are at much higher risk for material manufactured with the toxin. Before people knew it was poisonous, asbestos was used in many industries and capacities for its durability and resistance to elements like fire and electricity. Places in your home likely to contain asbestos are:
- Boilers and water tanks
- Roofing shingles
- Textured or popcorn paint
- Tiles in the floor or ceiling
If you find your house has asbestos, it can be a scary time. You may find yourself overwhelmed with all the questions and potential options you have on what to do next.
Safety Tips for Homeowners
Here are some general guidelines for those who find any toxins in their home. These guidelines may not help everyone, and how well they may or may not work isn’t guaranteed.
Some safety tips for homeowners are:
- Avoid Contact. When possible, avoid all contact with toxins in your home. If you can, never handle or try to remove them yourself.
- Wear Protective Gear and Wash Your Hands. If contact with the mineral is unavoidable, wear protective coverings. You can use a P2 disposable mask or half-face respirator, coveralls, and boot covers. It’s also helpful if you ventilate the area, thoroughly wash hands, hair, and clothes before and after. This doesn’t guarantee safety but will reduce the level of harmful exposure. Teach children to wash their hands, shoes, and toys and keep them free of dust when possible.
- Isolate the Danger. Keep yourself and everyone else (besides licensed professionals) away from attics and basements with dilapidated, exposed, or run-down walls, pipes, vinyl tile floors, paint, or popcorn ceiling if there’s confirmed asbestos or other harmful substances present. Limit access to the contaminated area until someone can take care of it. You can block it off temporarily until the time comes when you need to completely remove or contain it.
- Inform Others. Educate your children, friends, employees, or other people who spend a lot of time in the home about the dangers of asbestos and the importance of avoiding contaminated areas.
- Get Professional Help. Only let licensed professionals test, sample, contain, remove, or otherwise handle the mineral. If you have friable asbestos, you legally must use an A-Class licensed asbestos removalist to handle the mineral.
- Know the Laws & Follow Recommended Guidelines. You assume all risks and consequences of the job if you hire someone who’s unlicensed to handle the project. When an unlicensed company messes up a job, as a homeowner, you’re liable for any injury or damage the mistake may cause to themselves, you, the property, or future homeowners. If small renovations are necessary, there are ways that you can reduce your chances of dangerous exposure. Confirm with the testing agency that this is possible and what methods they recommend for you. Every home and level of asbestos contamination varies.
- Tread Lightly and Mind the Waste. Never use power tools (saws, drills, sanders, angle grinders) or high-pressure water blasters on structures or products made or reinforced with asbestos.
- Consider All Options. Think carefully about how to handle the toxin. While repairing, sealing, or otherwise covering up the contamination is cheaper and quicker than removal, taking the shortcut now could make removing asbestos later more difficult and expensive.
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High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Activities to Avoid
You can avoid harmful levels of exposure to asbestos if you avoid high-risk activities in your home until the mineral is adequately removed. Activities to steer clear of include:
- Attic or basement renovation
- Cleaning or repairing gutters
- Extracting vinyl floor or ceiling tiles
- Plumbing and pipe maintenance
- Removing popcorn ceilings or textured paint
- Taking out or repairing drywall
These activities put you in direct contact with known, asbestos materials in a friable state by contaminating the surrounding area and environment.
What Can I Do About Asbestos in My Home?
Everyone should be aware of whether asbestos or any other harmful toxins are in their home. Usually, you can’t tell if an item contains a poisonous substance when you first look at it. If you look for them, you’ll find hints of what to avoid where you find dilapidation like tears in the wall or water damage. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that someone can only 100% positively determine the presence of asbestos with a specialized microscope.
There are a few things you can do about potential or guaranteed asbestos in your home:
Test. If you remodel or demolish your older home it has damaged parts, hire someone to test it for asbestos. The process involves you hiring a trained professional to inspect your home and send in suspected samples to a lab for testing. Do not take the samples yourself, this can be dangerous and harmful to you and those nearby. When someone samples or extracts harmful materials incorrectly, they may cause more damage than if the contaminated area were never tampered with.
Contain / Cover-up. If you only have slightly damaged materials, you can resolve the issue by limiting access to the surrounding area or fully enclosing it. This can involve covering it up or containing it. If you find vinyl floor tiles made with asbestos, cover them with wood or carpet. This also goes for insulated pipes with asbestos, which you can contain with a protective cover or sleeve.
Seal it. Encapsulate asbestos contamination by sealing the area. When sealed, a sealant compound binds or coats the asbestos fibers together so they don’t release during daily activity. Sealing can be helpful with pipes, furnaces, and boiler insulation.
Remove / Abate. In extreme situations, complete removal or abatement of asbestos may be needed. Removal is necessary when major construction or remodeling must take place in a home with contaminated material. Only a licensed, experienced, professional should handle this complicated process.
Sell. If you decide to sell your home instead of removing the toxin, there are some steps to take first. Some states don’t mandate disclosure of asbestos if it’s a non-issue, but if someone else gets exposed to the mineral and develops an illness, you could be liable to litigation. Moreover, you can sell property with asbestos, but it’s best to disclose that information to the potential buyer. Then you can sell the home ‘as is’ for cash. You may only benefit from this if asbestos removal is absolutely necessary and too costly.
For most abatement projects, inspectors and contractors are the two main types of certified asbestos professionals you can hire. Inspectors do just that, they evaluate the home or structure and conditions, sample material, and recommend how to move forward. Contractors are the next step in the process if the homeowner decides to move forward and repair or remove contaminated materials.
Cost of Testing
The cost of testing varies from state to state, but onsite testing ranges from $250 to $750, while mail or offsite testing is between $50 and $180. If you or an inspector think there are asbestos fibers in the air, you could order an air monitor test, which ranges from $300 to $1200.
How to Find an Accredited Asbestos Testing and Removal Company
Do research on any company you consider, even ones recommended by others, and never have your friends do it. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a helpful list of state asbestos contacts that can provide you with local, certified, asbestos testing and removal companies you can rely on.