Interior wall of a home under construction, unfinished walls with ladders and construction supplies
Interior wall of a home under construction, unfinished walls with ladders and construction supplies

Asbestos Risks in Your Home

This is the first in our series of home inspection issues to look out for during an inspection. First up, Asbestos! If you live in an older residence or are considering buying one, it is crucial to be educated about the dangers of asbestos. When making changes to an old building, no matter how minor, you may disturb the asbestos used in building materials and release its fibers into the air. Though asbestos-related diseases are relatively rare, doing research and knowing the risks can prevent harm to you and your family!

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of flexible fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion. Its most common uses are in building materials, particularly insulation of homes, wiring, and pipes and if disturbed can become airborne and dangerous if inhaled. We now know being exposed to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma and other types of cancer such as lung, ovarian and laryngeal cancer. Though the use of asbestos has been largely banned in the United States, your home may still contain some asbestos if it was built before the 1980s. 

Where is Asbestos Found in the Home?

Asbestos is most commonly found in exterior asbestos siding, floor tile, popcorn/textured ceilings, or insulation. It is also found in brake components of cars due to its heat-resistant properties. Generally, you will not be able to tell which materials contain asbestos unless they are explicitly labeled or tested. If you are not planning to disturb any of these materials in your house, you and your family should be safe from the dangers of asbestos. If you are planning on any sort of DIY renovation, installing new insulation, repairing or removing asbestos siding, or replacing a pipe, you should take the appropriate measures to mitigate your risk of exposure. 

How Do I Prevent Exposure?

If you plan to make any DIY renovations to your home, be sure to do so in a way that will not disturb any potential asbestos. For instance, using a scraper to remove old vinyl flooring can release dangerous asbestos fibers. If you can install new tile on top of the old, you will not run the risk of releasing the fibers into the air. This advice cannot be used in all instances, such as the removal of batt insulation or the replacement of an old insulated pipe. If your existing building materials are damaged, or you plan on damaging them in a DIY project, you should get them tested. 

A trained asbestos professional can visit your home and determine if materials contain asbestos. Homeowners can also collect samples of materials and send them to a lab to determine their contents, but this process may expose the homeowner in the process. Trained professionals can also properly repair or remove the materials, which can be dangerous to do on your own. 

What Should I Do if I Have Been Exposed?

There is no test to determine if you have been exposed to asbestos, but there are ways to determine if you have contracted an asbestos-related disease. Most of the health problems caused by asbestos are diagnosed at least 15 years after exposure. Generally, these health issues are caused by long-term repeated exposure to asbestos, but you can never be too careful. Short-term intense exposure has also been linked to disease. Contact your primary care physician if you are concerned about your risk of developing mesothelioma.

My Experience With Asbestos

In 1996, my wife and I purchased a home with old vinyl tiling in the basement which contained asbestos. When we decided to remove it, it was quite a process. Asbestos can be difficult to remove, leaving a sticky residue from the tile cement and being difficult to handle. We hired professionals who were able to tent off our basement and remove it completely without contaminating the air we breathe. 

If asbestos comes up on a home inspection, it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. It’s an important thing to discuss the financial and health implications associated.

In general, try to avoid damaging materials that may contain asbestos in your home. For the safety of everyone in the home, conduct extensive research and contact a professional before beginning DIY renovations, regardless of how minor they may seem.

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