Asbestos in Homes
Asbestos is present in nearly 80 percent of houses built before 1980. Although asbestos use has been strictly regulated since the late 1970s, it still exists in many homes throughout the United States.
Asbestos exposure has been linked to mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer, as well as other diseases. Because of this danger, it is extremely important for homeowners to understand where asbestos may appear in a home, and what they can do about it.
Common Household Locations for Asbestos
Before asbestos was regulated, it was used widely in home construction. The most common household material containing asbestos is insulation, although it may also be present in a number of other materials.
Some common places asbestos may have been used in your home:
Attic & Exterior
- Insulation (roll, spray, “popcorn,” etc.)
- Roofing Tiles
- HVAC duct insulation
- Pipe insulation
- Stoves (wood, coal, etc.)
- Ventilation insulation
- Water heaters
Main Living Area
- Decorative textures
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Joint compound
- Lighting fixtures
- Window glaze
Not all of these household products definitely contain asbestos. If your home was built after 1980, asbestos products are less likely to be present. Also, any areas of the home that were renovated or remodeled after 1980 are less likely to contain asbestos.
Dealing with Asbestos in Your Home
Asbestos products only present a danger when broken or disturbed. Asbestos is a friable material, meaning it easily is broken into tiny particles that can become airborne.
Any asbestos materials that are unbroken and enclosed are probably safe, so long as you do not disturb them. However, any asbestos materials that are fractured, crushed, or otherwise damaged may be harmful to you and your family.
Steps for Dealing with Asbestos
- Do Not Disturb – Leave it alone. Never try to remove asbestos materials on your own.
- Test It – Contact a qualified asbestos inspector to determine if the material contains asbestos, or send a sample to a reputable testing facility.
- Have It Removed – If the material contains asbestos, find a qualified asbestos abatement contractor to remove it safely.
Important: Amateur removal of friable asbestos products can be hazardous to the health of homeowners and their families. Homeowners who perform home renovations in the presence of asbestos may be at risk of developing mesothelioma.
Asbestos and Home Renovations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed a set of air quality standards known as the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). These standards apply to asbestos, as well as a number of dangerous chemicals and materials.
Each state’s health agency is responsible for enforcing NESHAP standards on its own. Therefore, it is extremely important when renovating your home to contact your state’s health department to make sure you know what rules must be followed with regard to handling, removing, and disposing of asbestos.
Licensed asbestos contractors will know the laws that pertain to the state(s) where they are licensed to work. Not every state requires asbestos contractors to be licensed; however, it is always a good idea to hire a contractor who has experience dealing with asbestos in homes.
Some municipalities and county governments also have their own (often stricter) regulations with regard to asbestos. For example, Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania has additional rules that must be followed when renovating a building within that county.
If you are unsure about whether your local area has any additional asbestos regulations, contact your local code enforcement officer before doing any home renovations.