Renovations Have Homeowner Asking: Could Asbestos be Lurking in My Older Home?

The quick answer to this homeowner’s question is:  Yes. Asbestos could be lurking within the walls, ceilings, floors and other materials inside any older home.

Where Asbestos May Be Present in a Home

Many people automatically think of insulation as the main source of asbestos in homes. It is true that houses built between 1930 and 1950 may contain asbestos as insulation. But, asbestos was also used in many other home building materials before the 1970’s. And asbestos continued to be used in certain building materials through the 1980’s and even the 1990’s.

Although labeling of asbestos is required today, it is not illegal to install some asbestos-containing building materials. Regardless of when your home or building was built, you should sample prior to impacting. 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers this list of other locations inside homes where people may be surprised to learn it’s possible to find asbestos-containing materials:

  1. Asbestos cement may be in some roofing and siding shingles.
  2. Prior to 1977, asbestos was used in textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints.
  3. Asbestos may be in artificial ashes and embers used in gas-fired fireplaces.
  4. Some flooring may contain asbestos including:
    • Vinyl floor tiles
    • The backing on vinyl sheet flooring
    • Adhesives used in flooring
  5. Older products such as stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.
  6. Hot water and steam pipes in older homes may be coated or covered with asbestos-containing materials.
  7. Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may be insulated with asbestos-containing materials.

Owners of older homes who are concerned about the many areas where asbestos may be lurking contact us to inspect their homes for the presence of asbestos or asbestos-containing materials. Renovations are often the catalyst for concern, as was the case with our client, Jamie.

Home Renovation Causes Concern About Asbestos

Jamie came to us concerned about the potential for the presence of asbestos after the chimney in his Portland home had been demolished. His house had been built in the 1950’s, which is well within the time period when asbestos was consistently used in home construction materials.

When Asbestos is Dangerous

Asbestos generally isn’t considered to be hazardous unless it is disturbed or damaged. Asbestos becomes harmful when its fibers are released into the air where they can be easily inhaled into human lungs. Breathing in asbestos fibers – especially repeatedly – can cause serious illnesses and potentially fatal lung diseases.

The potential for asbestos to become dangerous greatly increases if it is disturbed. That’s why it’s important to have your home inspected when you are planning a home renovation or any type of work which might potentially disturb asbestos and asbestos-containing materials.

Asbestos Testing Reassures Homeowner

Jaime was concerned about the potential for asbestos exposure after the chimney demolition in his home. We sent one of our highly trained and accredited asbestos inspectors to Jamie’s home to perform a limited inspection for asbestos-containing materials and to collect asbestos air samples.

At Jamie’s request, the scope of the work was limited to only the areas that had been impacted by the demolition of the chimney. We tested for the presence of asbestos in:

  • Three separate brick and mortar samples from the chimney debris pile
  • A multi-layer vinyl flooring sample from the bathroom
  • A drywall and joint compound sample from the bathroom

We also conducted asbestos air sampling in the living room and in two nearby bedrooms of Jamie’s home. These results would tell us whether elevated levels of asbestos fibers were potentially airborne in Jamie’s home.

Our limited inspection indicated that no asbestos was present in any of the materials sampled from the bathroom or the chimney debris pile. Results from the asbestos air sampling showed that concentrations of asbestos in the living room’s air and the bedrooms’ air were below all federal, state, and local thresholds.

Putting it all together, we could thankfully say that the asbestos testing and inspection results showed that the chimney demolition in Jamie’s home had likely not put him or his family at risk for harmful asbestos exposure.

The Importance of Professional Asbestos Inspection and Testing

Professional inspection and testing are important because you can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos just by looking at it (unless is it labeled).

“A trained and accredited asbestos professional should take samples for analyses since a professional knows what to look for and because there may be an increased health risk of fibers released,” the EPA says on its website. “In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone.”

Having a trained and accredited professional perform asbestos testing and inspection in your home not only protects the validity of your test results; it also ensures you aren’t putting you and your family at risk for potentially harmful exposure to asbestos fibers.

Healthy Home’s professionals are accredited by the EPA to provide safe and effective asbestos testing. We perform asbestos inspections and testing using best industry methods and practices. If you are considering or have recently performed a renovation project in your older home, contact us to conduct safe asbestos testing and provide results you can trust.

Dan Rouse