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Asbestos has been used for thousands of years in textiles and construction, due to its impressive resistance to heat, fire and moisture. Then, in the late 1800s, it became common to use asbestos in housing, as insulation, floor tiles, and other products. These practices continued into the 1980s, and such homes are still standing today. For those considering purchasing or renovating a house built before 1990, there is always the risk of asbestos in various parts of the home. Though usually innocuous if left undisturbed, when doing renovations it is important to know what to look for, and how to safely deal with any asbestos found in the process.

Where Asbestos May Be Located

Because of the numerous products that used asbestos, it can be found almost anywhere in a house, including the attic, basement, kitchen, garage, and even the exterior. It may be impossible to know where, unless the item containing it has been clearly labeled, but knowing what products are used in each area may help to reduce the risk.

In the attic, asbestos was commonly used in insulation, and is especially harmful if the loose-fill insulation was used. Patching compounds used on any ceiling or wall joints may also contain asbestos.

Down in the basement, asbestos was used to insulate oil or coal furnaces, as well as in any paper, millboard, and cement sheets on the walls and floors surrounding a wood-burning stove. Water heaters and the heat reflectors in woodstoves could also contain this product. Manufacturers also coated hot water and steam pipes with asbestos, or covered them with an asbestos blanket or tape. There are also older models of clothes driers that may contain asbestos.

As well as using asbestos insulation in the attic and basement, it was also used throughout the homes in Batt insulation, especially in the exterior walls.

In the kitchen, asbestos has shown up in some unsuspected areas. The walls, ceiling tiles, ceramic or vinyl floor tiles, their backing and adhesives all could contain asbestos. It could even be used in older models of appliances, such as stove-top pads and dishwashers.

Asbestos has even been used in decorative features. Some textured paints, room soundproofing, acoustical tiles, sprayed-on acoustical ceilings, and even the artificial ashes and embers used in gas fireplaces all have been found to contain asbestos.

Outside the home, house exterior could contain numerous asbestos products as well. For example, certain brands of cement siding, roof shingles and felt, undersheeting for siding and decks, and window putty all have been manufactured using asbestos in the past.

Though the garage doesn’t contain as many asbestos building materials as the rest of the house, asbestos has been used to manufacture numerous car parts, including brakes and clutches. If doing any vehicle repairs in this area, be sure to take the same precautions used when handling it anywhere else.

What to Do If You Find Asbestos

Though it is best to leave undamaged asbestos alone, during a renovation it may be necessary to disturb it. If this is the case, it is best to use a few safety precautions.

First, determine whether the asbestos must be removed. If it can remain where it is, there are two options. One option is to enclose it in an airtight, permanent barrier. The other is encapsulation, which is treating the asbestos with a liquid compound that will seal it and prevent the fibers from being released in the future.

If removal is the only option, then be sure to use protective gear. A respirator fitted with cartridges specifically designed to remove asbestos fibers from the air inhaled is the most important item. Wear old clothing, gloves, and goggles to keep the dust out of the eyes.

When ready to begin renovations, be sure to seal off the area, and to turn off any air conditioners and heaters to keep the dust from circulating. Wet down the asbestos with a spray bottle containing water before beginning removal. Keep the pieces of asbestos whole if possible, to reduce the number of fibers released into the air. Seal any pieces into a leak-proof bag, and place the bags into a cardboard box. When the removal is complete, take them to any landfill that permits asbestos disposal.

Do not vacuum or sweep any areas of the home that you are renovating, as doing so can stir up the asbestos fibers. Instead, wash the entire room – including walls and ceiling – with a wet mop, sponges, or cloths. Remove the clothing, discard them if possible in a similar fashion, or wash them immediately. Shower thoroughly to ensure no asbestos dust remains on any area of the body.

Though it is possible for a homeowner to do the removal on their own, it is always safer to have a professional involved, especially when small children live there. A certified inspector can test the home for asbestos, assess any damage, and advise what measures should be taken. An asbestos contractor is certified to repair and remove any asbestos from the home. These individuals are trained to ensure the project is completed safely, decreasing the risks for those in the home.

Any time there is exposure to asbestos, there is the risk of inhaling the dangerous fibers. When doing renovations, there is a higher risk, because of the likelihood of the fibers releasing into the air, where they can be inhaled. Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer found in the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart, as well as other diseases and conditions.

Stay safe when doing renovations. Always take the appropriate precautions when working around asbestos or asbestos-containing products, and contact a professional to assist in the renovation process.