by Cheney Hines
Asbestos was once an extremely common material used in building homes. It can be contained in insulation, shingles, flooring, ceiling tiles and even in flashing, siding, cement and joint compound. A majority of homes built through the 1970s contain at least some asbestos somewhere in the construction. Even some newer homes still contain the material. It is important to check for asbestos in older homes, especially if you are a potential home buyer.
In older buildings, materials containing asbestos can flake and crumble, releasing fibers and particles into the air which can be inhaled. This can cause all manners of environmental and health problems, from respiratory infections to cancer. Insulation around furnaces and pipes can deteriorate, and blown insulation in attics can be circulated through the home by fans through air ducts.
How to Check
Unfortunately, asbestos cannot generally be found by simply looking for it. It’s not possible to look at a floor or ceiling tile or insulation and spot the asbestos used therein. Rather, laboratory analysis is usually needed.
When you are looking at a home, usually you will schedule an inspection. In addition to standard safety inspections, you can also have asbestos inspections done. While this will sometimes create an additional expense, it can be well worth it.
There are two means of microscopic examination that are commonly used to identify the presence of asbestos. These are PLM and TEM, or Polarized Light Microscopy and Transmission Electron Microscopy, respectively. The EPA has specific standards for removing samples to test for asbestos, but it is highly recommended that you contact a qualified asbestos professional to gather materials, to protect you and the existing homeowners from exposure.
What to Do
If the testing comes back positive, you will have decisions to make. In general, you do not want free asbestos in your home. The health risks are too great. Asbestos material in tiles, siding and the like may still be safe. Such materials can be solid and contained in such a way that fibers will not be released. Insulation, on the other hand, can present a lot of danger. You should consider the recommendations of the testing company and home inspector in this regard.
Sometimes airtight sealants can be used to isolate asbestos from being released into the air. In other situations, it has to be removed entirely. You should never attempt to remove asbestos on your own. If asbestos needs to be removed or repaired, you should seek the services of a qualified asbestos abatement company. These services are well trained and equipped to handle the removal of toxic materials in homes in a safe and thorough manner.
Asbestos is a highly dangerous material but is also a very common element found in construction, especially in buildings created before 1980. If you are purchasing a new home and believe there may be asbestos used in the construction, do not be afraid to have it looked at. Our experts are here to help. Give us a call with any questions you may have.