Asbestos in the Home
The dangers of asbestos are common knowledge to most people. Once hailed as a “miracle” material for its insulating, strengthening, and most of all, its fire resistance properties, asbestos was used in nearly all building materials that it could possibly be put in. These include wire insulation, plaster, drywall, roof and siding shingles, flooring and ceiling tiles, and all types of insulation. It was even mixed in cement products for added strength. There is barely a manufactured building material that hasn’t at one time or another contained asbestos.
There’s evidence that American manufacturers knew about the inherent respiratory dangers in mining and working with the material long before the rest of us did. The UK began regulating ventilation and the protection of workers involved in the use of asbestos in the 1930s. In fact the very first medical diagnosis of asbestosis was in England in the 20s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the U.S. began restricting its use, and the banning and general phasing-out of the material was began in 1989. You may be surprised to learn that there are still consumer products on the market today containing the mineral.
Should you be worried? Well, it depends. It depends largely of the form the asbestos is in, the concentration involved, and how prone it is to becoming airborne. Materials such as floor tiles and siding are the least dangerous, as the asbestos is mixed in with other materials to form a cohesive, solid piece. In order for the asbestos to become airborne in these materials, the pieces would have to be pulverized. As long as reasonable care is taken when removing siding, floor tiles, or roofing shingles, there is little danger. Even when the asbestos is in a form in which it can easily become airborne, in most cases, it poses little threat as long as it isn’t disturbed. The most common, dangerous, and easily identifiable use of the mineral is in duct and pipe insulation. It usually appears as a whitish, fibrous wrap, often encased in another material, such as sheet metal or fabric. As long as the material is intact and covered, there is no reason for concern. However, when you see suspect materials flaking and falling, it’s time to act.
When you decide to remodel, or add onto your home the risk of encountering asbestos issues will almost certainly arise. The altering, demolishing, and replacing of asbestos-containing materials nearly always becomes necessary during these operations. While most experienced contractors are aware of the potential presence of the mineral based on the age of your home, few are trained in the identification, containment, disposal, and remediation of these materials. A competent contractor should stop when he encounters a questionable component and consult with a specialist for testing and obtaining costs for removal or encapsulation if needed. The removal of asbestos can be expensive, requiring the services of licensed professionals, and its best to know the potential costs before they arise as a surprise. It’s wise to have your home tested prior to beginning a home improvement project if you suspect the presence of asbestos. This way a plan can be developed to deal with the problems and costs ahead of time, and possibly an alternative to avoid the problems altogether can be established. Don’t depend on your contractor to know how much, and where the asbestos is in your home. If your home was built in the late 19th century to the early 20th century there is probably asbestos everywhere. This is not most contractors’ area of expertise. They will, however, know what will and what will not need to be disturbed.
Take care to protect your home and family. Always do the homework before jumping in.