Asbestos in the Home

Expert Fact Checked

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Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

Asbestos was used in many homes built before the 1980s. Some of those homes may still have flooring, ceiling tiles, insulation or other materials with asbestos. This puts residents at risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Homeowners can take measures to prevent exposure.

01. Dangers of Asbestos in Homes

Why Is Asbestos in the Home Dangerous?

Asbestos materials in the home can pose a danger to residents. Over time, asbestos-containing products can become worn or damaged. Disturbing these materials can cause microscopic asbestos fibers to become airborne. Anyone in the home may inhale or ingest the airborne fibers.

Asbestos exposure is linked to several diseases, including malignant mesothelioma.

Exposure to asbestos in the home may cause:

Preventing asbestos exposure, in the home or on the jobsite, is the best way to prevent asbestos-related diseases.

When Was Asbestos Used in Homes?

Asbestos was commonly used in thousands of products and home construction materials before the 1980s. From the 1930s to the 1970s, building materials, vinyl products and other products contained asbestos. New regulations in the 1970s and 1980s limited asbestos use. But stockpiles of asbestos materials may have found their way into homes up to the 1990s.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 30 million tons of asbestos were used between 1900 and 1980. Some of these past uses are still in materials and products people may come into contact with today.

Asbestos is not banned in the United States, but the EPA did ban the use of asbestos in some new products after 1989. Older homes built before 1980 may be more likely to have asbestos, and there is less asbestos risk in newer homes.

02. Where Is Asbestos in Homes?

Where to Find Asbestos in Old Homes

Asbestos-containing materials may be found in all areas of older homes. From the 1930s through the 1970s, asbestos was included in many different building materials. The mineral was popular because of its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals.

Common asbestos-containing materials found in the home include:

The varied uses of asbestos before the 1980s put many in danger of asbestos exposure in their homes.
Asbestos Locations in the Home

03. How to Identify Asbestos

How to Identify Asbestos in the Home

Homeowners may want to know how to identify asbestos in their house. It is not possible to identify asbestos-containing materials with the naked eye. However, there are signs of asbestos homeowners can look for. These clues may hint toward the presence of the mineral in certain products.

For example, homes built before the 1980s likely have asbestos in them. If the home has popcorn ceilings or vinyl flooring, it may have asbestos. A simple rule is the newer a home is, the less likely it has asbestos materials. Homes built before 1980 should be assumed to contain the mineral somewhere.

There may be signs or visual clues of asbestos in the house, but homeowners should never touch anything they think may have the mineral. Homeowners should have a trained asbestos professional inspect and manage potential asbestos. Proper handling of the mineral will prevent asbestos exposure.

Visual Clues to Help Identify Asbestos in Houses

Homeowners may find visual clues that help identify asbestos in their homes. They won’t be able to see asbestos itself because the mineral consists of microscopic fibers. However, the age of the home and some construction materials may suggest if a home has asbestos.

Another complication to visually finding asbestos is the different types of asbestos that may have been used. These asbestos types can range in color and appearance. But asbestos-containing products may not have visible asbestos fibers. In many cases, asbestos was used as a component in the product, making it impossible to see asbestos fibers. Still, some visual clues may suggest materials may contain asbestos.

Examples of Ways to Possibly Identify Asbestos in the Home

Popcorn Ceiling

The texture applied to walls and ceilings that was then painted over often contained asbestos. Popcorn ceilings were popular between 1945 and the early 1990s. Homeowners should assume all popcorn ceilings from this period contain asbestos.

Dimpling of Construction Materials

Asbestos causes dimpling in certain products’ surfaces. Products that may show dimpling include shingles, roofing materials or pipe insulation. Dimpling may often mean the material has asbestos and should be tested by an asbestos professional.

Homeowners should remember that asbestos is a microscopic fiber that becomes airborne after being disturbed. If homeowners suspect potential asbestos in their home, they should hire a professional to inspect materials and recommend next steps.

Check Surplus Materials for Labels Identifying Asbestos

Surplus materials may have asbestos in them. The packaging may help identify which products contain asbestos.

Asbestos vinyl tile can be found in homes built before the 1980s.

For example, spare boxes of vinyl floor tiles may have a stamp on the box or the back of the tiles that states they contain asbestos. These products came in a variety of shapes and sizes, and not all used asbestos in their production. A date included on the packaging may also indicate that they were manufactured during the height of asbestos use (1930s – 1980s).

Handling the tiles or other surplus materials may carry exposure risk. Homeowners should only inspect the outside of the packaging for a label. If there are no packages, it is best to assume any flooring or other construction materials installed before 1980 contain the mineral. Homeowners should treat these materials with caution.

While visual clues like labels can suggest the presence of asbestos in the home, it is not a fool-proof method to identify asbestos. Only asbestos abatement professionals can properly test for asbestos and safely handle any asbestos materials.

04. Testing for Asbestos

How Do I Know if My House Has Asbestos?

The only way to know for sure if your house has asbestos is to test the home. The best way to test is to hire an asbestos abatement professional. Anyone with a home or planning to buy a house built before the 1980s may want to consider having their home tested, especially if they plan to remodel.

A trained asbestos abatement professional can test for asbestos while minimizing the risk of exposure. They will also offer advice on the proper way to handle any asbestos-containing products present. Options may include leaving it as is, removing it or encapsulating it. Encapsulating asbestos involves leaving it in place and sealing it with a protective barrier.

Home asbestos tests are available. However, the homeowner could expose themselves and anyone living in the home to asbestos by using these tests. Many experts recommend leaving the asbestos testing to the professionals. They have the needed training to test for asbestos and handle next steps, such as removal, to prevent exposure.

How Much Does Professional Asbestos Testing Cost?

The cost of professional asbestos testing varies. The number of samples needed, type of testing completed on the samples and part of the country can all impact cost. According to data from Essel Environment, the national average for basic asbestos testing is $600.

Trained asbestos professionals should remove all asbestos-containing materials.

Comprehensive testing will cost more, but it is more in depth. Comprehensive asbestos testing includes:

  • Air quality testing
  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) inspection
  • Initial test and sampling
  • Full inspection after asbestos is detected

Homeowners may consider having asbestos testing done before conducting any renovations or home projects. The cost for comprehensive testing may be worth the peace of mind from knowing that dangerous exposure could be prevented.

Comprehensive testing costs can vary depending on location. These examples can help homeowners understand the cost variations.

Example Costs of Professional Asbestos Testing

West Coast
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Average Cost: $2,668
Middle America
  • Location: Austin, Texas
  • Average Cost: $2,420
East Coast
  • Location: New York State
  • Average Cost: $3,534


05. Asbestos Exposure in Homes

How Does Asbestos Exposure Occur in Houses?

Asbestos exposure at home may happen whenever asbestos-containing materials are disturbed or damaged. This can happen through normal wear and tear or as a result of renovations. Other common ways for asbestos products to be disturbed include:

  • Maintenance projects
  • A fire or natural disaster
  • Flooding or water damage

According to one study, an estimated 20% of all mesothelioma diagnoses in industrialized countries happen outside of the workplace.

Asbestos exposure can occur anywhere in the house. Common sources of asbestos exposure in the home include:

  • Attics
  • Basements
  • Ceilings
  • Crawl spaces
  • Floors
  • Roofs
  • Walls

Asbestos in the Attic

Asbestos may be in insulation found in the attic. One of the most notorious sources for asbestos came from vermiculite attic insulation. This type of insulation looks like small pebbles that have been put down on the floor of the attic. Vermiculite attic insulation, such as Zonolite insulation, has well-documented ties to asbestos contamination.

The EPA suggests up to 70% of the vermiculite sold in the United States between 1919 and 1990 came from Libby, Montana. Much of it may have been contaminated with asbestos.

If a home has vermiculite insulation, homeowners should be careful not to disturb it. They should call an asbestos abatement professional to test and remove it. Because so much of the vermiculite came from Libby, homeowners should assume any vermiculite insulation contains asbestos.

Asbestos in the Walls of Homes

Homes built before the 1980s may have wallboards and texture that includes asbestos. Wallboards go by many different names, like drywall, gypsum board or sheetrock. During the manufacturing process, asbestos was mixed with other materials and sandwiched between two sheets of paper. Asbestos in wallboards can be disturbed when drilling through it or if the outer paper is damaged.

Asbestos cement sheets were also sometimes used for interior walls. On the outside of older homes, these sheets were used for roofing and siding. Over time, these materials can start wearing out, exposing residents to asbestos.

If a homeowner wants to remodel or needs to do maintenance, they should take precautions before starting on any work in homes built before the 1980s. A professional asbestos abatement company should test the area first.

Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings and Vinyl Tiles

Popcorn ceilings and vinyl tile floors were popular starting in the 1940s. Both, however, may have asbestos in them.

Builders liked popcorn ceilings because they could hide some imperfections, and they provided some acoustical insulation. These types of ceilings could have 1 – 10% asbestos content. As they began to age and break down, pieces of the covering could flake off and become airborne.

Vinyl tiles provide an easy-to-maintain floor option. They can come in a variety of colors and patterns. However, during the manufacturing process, the vinyl may have been fused with asbestos. The adhesive used to glue the floor down may also have asbestos. If a homeowner ever wants to update the floor or needs to repair it, they risk exposure.

An asbestos abatement professional will be able to test and safely remove both popcorn ceiling and vinyl tiles.

Other Examples of Asbestos Exposure at Home

Insulation on Hot Water Pipes

  • Asbestos was commonly used as an insulator.
  • The mineral can be found in pipe insulation in older homes.
  • Homeowners should not remove or replace pipe insulation on their own in homes built before the 1980s.

Vehicle Repairs in the Home Garage

  • Asbestos was often used in friction materials, such as car brakes, made before the 1980s.
  • Brakes or other car parts from this period should not be repaired in home garages.
  • Some foreign car parts may also still contain asbestos and should be handled by a mechanic.
06. How to Handle Asbestos in Homes

What to Do if You Have Asbestos in Your Home

If a homeowner believes their home has asbestos materials, they should contact an asbestos professional to conduct a test. If the home does have asbestos, the homeowner may need to hire a contractor to remove it.

In general, asbestos materials are considered safe when they are in good condition and there are no signs of damage. If the material is damaged or worn, a professional may suggest removing or encapsulating the product. Encapsulation involves covering the materials with a sealant to prevent airborne fibers.

At no point should a homeowner attempt to remove asbestos on their own. 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Improper asbestos handling could release fibers into the air, creating a health hazard.

Asbestos Safety Dos and Don’ts

Asbestos in the home can be very dangerous if disturbed or damaged. Homeowners need to know what to do if they suspect their home has asbestos.

Homes built before the 1980s may be built with asbestos-containing materials. Suspected asbestos-containing materials should be handled by professionals to avoid dangerous exposure.

How to Approach Asbestos in the Home

  • Avoid asbestos-containing materials.
  • Do not damage asbestos-containing materials.
  • When buying a home, talk to the home inspector and realtor about any known asbestos in the home.
  • Hire asbestos abatement professionals to complete all testing, removal or encapsulation of materials.
  • If razing a home, have the home inspected before demolition to ensure all hazardous materials are handled properly.

How Not to Approach Asbestos in the Home

  • Don’t sand, saw, scrape, drill or otherwise disturb asbestos-containing materials.
  • Don’t use a vacuum or broom to clean disturbed asbestos materials.
  • Don’t attempt to collect samples of suspected asbestos-containing materials for testing.
  • Don’t have asbestos-containing materials removed by professionals unless encapsulation is impossible.
  • Don’t throw asbestos-containing materials in your regular trash.

Why You Shouldn’t Use an At-Home Asbestos Test Kit

Asbestos materials are dangerous any time fibers are airborne. Unqualified homeowners attempting to test suspected asbestos materials on their own can cause a larger health hazard than undisturbed asbestos materials.

At-home test kits can put homeowners and their families at risk of dangerous exposure. To collect samples for testing, the suspected hazardous materials must be disturbed. This can cause fibers to become airborne. As such, it may be in the best interest of homeowners not to use an at-home asbestos test kit.

If an at-home asbestos test kit must be used, homeowners should:

  • Turn off the heating and cooling system to prevent the fibers from traveling through the home
  • Wear an N95 respirator
  • Wear disposable gloves and wash hands afterward
  • Ensure no one else is in the room
  • Wet the material before testing it
  • Dispose of asbestos material according to state and local laws

*More tips for at-home removal are on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website.

Although at-home asbestos test kits may seem more economical than hiring a professional, the costs related to asbestos-related diseases are far greater.

07. Actions to Protect Homeowners

Preventing Asbestos Exposure in the Home

Preventing asbestos exposure at home is the best course of action homeowners can take to protect themselves and their families.

Homeowners should not attempt to remove asbestos from their homes on their own. Without proper handling and safety precautions, removing asbestos can cause exposure and lead to illness. It is important to hire a trained professional, so the asbestos materials can be handled and disposed of properly.

Many cities and states have regulations in place for the proper disposal of asbestos and materials containing asbestos. It is important to understand these asbestos regulations to protect anyone in the home, workers and neighbors from exposure.

Federal Regulations to Help Protect Homeowners From Asbestos Exposure

Federal regulations have reduced the amount of asbestos used in construction and manufacturing. In 1973, the United States used more than 800,000 tons of asbestos, compared to only a few hundred tons today. However, there is no full ban on asbestos.

Reducing asbestos use has helped, but homeowners are still at risk. It is imperative for homeowners to understand:

  • Where asbestos-containing materials are most likely to be found
  • What common products may contain the mineral
  • How to protect themselves and others should they come into contact with asbestos

The EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) help protect air quality and reduce health risks presented by various contaminants, such as asbestos. These regulations create safety standards for many home projects, including renovations. NESHAP also covers asbestos waste transportation and disposal.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also has several bans in place related to certain asbestos-containing materials, such as artificial ashes and embers found in gas fireplaces. The asbestos in artificial ashes and embers glowed red when heated to give the fake logs the illusion of burning. Both were banned in 1978.

Asbestos in the home can be serious. Asbestos regulations are an important part of safety.

What to Do if You Think You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos in the Home

Anyone who believes they have been exposed to asbestos while working on a project at home should consult their doctor. A doctor can help monitor for signs and symptoms of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

Monitoring for mesothelioma may include regular imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans. Early detection may allow patients to have more treatment options, which may impact life expectancy.

Prevention is the best protection against asbestos exposure. Homeowners who have a house built before the 1980s may want to speak with an asbestos abatement professional. Homeowners should also consult with a professional before undertaking repairs or a remodel of their older homes.