Asbestos is prevalent in homes built before 1980.
Asbestos can be found in home construction products, like insulation and roofing.
During home renovation projects, asbestos can become dangerous when disturbed.
Homeowners should hire an abatement team to remove asbestos materials.
Asbestos is a hazardous mineral that can be found in thousands of products and home building materials. Tasks, such as renovations and construction projects in the home, can lead to damaged asbestos, leaving individuals susceptible to dangerous exposure. Since the mineral is not yet banned, and newer products may contain low levels of asbestos, many household products and construction materials can still pose a threat. In order to help prevent asbestos exposure in the home, individuals are encouraged to hire abatement professionals to identify and remove any asbestos materials safely.
Where Asbestos Can Be Found
Favored for its durability, fireproof capabilities and low cost, asbestos-containing products were used heavily in homes from 1900 through the late 1970s. At the height of asbestos use in 1973, there were over 3,000 asbestos products on the market, most of which were building materials for workplaces and homes. Due to the widespread use of asbestos, the mineral can still be found in millions of homes across the United States.
Asbestos materials may be found almost anywhere in the home. High-heat areas in older homes, such as boiler ducts, are likely to have asbestos-containing materials to protect the home from extreme heat. Asbestos was also used in insulation materials like pipe and attic insulation, siding and even paint products. Asbestos is not yet banned and certain new building materials and products, including insulation and roofing, may still contain low levels of the mineral.
Asbestos-Containing Materials in the Home
- Ceiling tiles
- Fireplace ashes and embers
- Roof shingles
- Vinyl floor tiles
The mineral can also be found in many everyday household items, such as talcum powder and crock pots. It can be difficult to identify what asbestos looks like in products, as its fibers are microscopic, but individuals may be able to identify what products contain asbestos based on the year in which they were manufactured or when a home was built. Individuals can also identify a potential threat if they notice structures such as attic insulation or pipes in the home are disintegrated. Any aging or crumbling products should be treated with caution, in case they were made with asbestos or other toxins. Overall, it’s usually safe to assume that any house built before 1980 contains asbestos in some parts of the home.
Asbestos can be deemed generally safe when it is left undisturbed. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that asbestos is left alone if it is in good condition in order to avoid creating a health hazard. Homeowners should always defer to a professional when identifying, handling or removing asbestos to avoid creating unnecessary exposure. The presence of asbestos in a home can become dangerous and cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer or other asbestos cancers when it is damaged over time and asbestos fibers are released into the air.
Asbestos Exposure in Homes
Since asbestos does not pose a threat when it is in good condition, materials like asbestos insulation typically become hazardous once they are disturbed, damaged or face wear and tear over time. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) notes that no level of exposure to asbestos is safe, and asbestos-related diseases can develop as a result of any amount of exposure. Due to mesothelioma’s long latency period, individuals may not know they were exposed to asbestos or have mesothelioma until the later stages of the disease, which can lead to delayed diagnosis and more limited treatment options.
Individuals are most often exposed to asbestos in the home when completing do-it-yourself projects. DIY projects often entail small renovations, interfering with floors, ceilings, walls and insulation throughout the home. One of the most popular DIY projects is removing popcorn ceilings, which contain asbestos. The spray-on asbestos material was heavily used from 1945 to 1980 and can easily become disturbed when attempting to remove it.
Individuals who complete projects such as removing popcorn ceilings, performing wall demolitions, repairs in attics or renovations on other home structures may be creating a risk for themselves or others in the home when disturbing asbestos materials. Recent studies have found an increase in malignant mesothelioma diagnoses as a result of home renovations. Researchers feel that this will continue to increase as older homes require renovation and repair as more time passes since their construction.
One of the most common hazardous sources of asbestos in the home is exposure to vermiculite insulation. Asbestos insulation was often favored for its lightweight properties and ability to expand, making it ideal to insulate attics and other areas of homes.
of all vermiculite insulation in the U.S. is from asbestos mines in Libby, Montana
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that individuals leave the insulation alone if suspected in areas of the home like the walls or attic, and avoid storing items in an attic that has vermiculite insulation. If the asbestos is disturbed, the fibers can be inhaled or ingested and can also attach to clothing, which can pose a threat to the individual, residents of the home, visitors or anyone who otherwise comes in contact with the fibers.
Handling Asbestos in the Home
Asbestos can be extremely hazardous without proper experience and equipment to handle the toxin, so homeowners should always hire someone to safely handle asbestos materials when necessary. A qualified asbestos inspector can best determine if asbestos is present in a home and if it poses any immediate health hazards, as the mere presence of asbestos is not necessarily a danger.
The asbestos inspector will typically collect samples of the material in question for analysis, as well as provide a visual inspection. The inspector will also provide documentation of any asbestos present, including the location and its extent. Homeowners should keep records of asbestos in their home should any further issues related to exposure arise in the future.
If the asbestos is deemed safe, homeowners are encouraged to monitor the area for any future damage. Prior to performing renovations or remodeling a home, it is important to ensure the areas containing asbestos would not be damaged in the process or that the asbestos is professionally removed first. If the inspector believes the asbestos needs to be sealed off or removed, they may recommend an asbestos abatement team to safely handle the process.
- Limit activity in areas where asbestos materials are present
- Hire qualified professionals to handle asbestos
- Do not sand down or use abrasive pads on asbestos flooring
- Avoid drilling holes or otherwise tampering with asbestos materials (walls, flooring, etc.)
- Do not vacuum or dust debris that may contain asbestos
Homeowners Insurance and Asbestos
Homeowners insurance policies vary, but asbestos generally isn’t covered. Many policies contain a pollutant or contaminant exclusion. Asbestos has been deemed a toxic material or pollutant by laws and insurance companies. Asbestos is likely included under the contaminant exclusion in these policies, even if it isn’t specifically named, which means that the removal of asbestos materials may not be covered. Buyers and homeowners should discuss with their agent to better understand their policy coverage and determine if asbestos abatement is included.
Examples of Policy Exclusions Regarding Asbestos
- Pollutant Exclusion: Common in homeowners insurance policies, this exclusion typically includes asbestos and means removal of asbestos materials will not be covered.
- Contaminant Exclusion: Contaminant exclusions are also common in homeowner policies. Since asbestos is often considered a contaminant in homes, removal of the mineral may not be covered. These exclusions are often worded ambiguously and may require clarification.
- Asbestos Exclusion: Although it is a less common exclusion in homeowners insurance policies, it is an explicit exclusion that states asbestos removal will not be covered by the insurance company.
The purpose of these exclusions is to protect the insurance company from the cost of environmental cleanup in the event that a hazardous material is released into the air. All policies should be read, reviewed and discussed carefully, especially for those considering buying a home that is likely to contain asbestos materials.
What to Consider When Buying a Home
When it comes to buying a home built before 1980, buyers should note that many are likely to contain asbestos in certain areas. Seller disclosure laws differ by state and are meant to inform the buyer about the property as much as possible, while also providing the seller with the opportunity to reveal any potential issues with the home.
Asbestos Home-Buying Checklist
- Review seller disclosures
- Conduct a house inspection
- Review your homeowners’ policy
- Identify potential areas with asbestos
- Contact an asbestos abatement professional
Federal law does not require sellers to disclose the presence of asbestos or vermiculite in the home. Many states, however, do require sellers to disclose any information on potential environmental hazards in the home, such as asbestos. But even in an older home, the seller may not be personally aware of any asbestos-containing materials used and wouldn’t be held liable for not disclosing the information.
In addition to reviewing any information on the disclosure, the buyer should always have a full home inspection completed before moving forward with the purchase. There are no federal requirements for what is included in a home inspection, which means it can vary greatly between states.
Areas Included in a Home Inspection
- Structural elements, like the foundation or any visible sagging
- The exterior, like the condition of the siding, doors and driveway
- Condition of the roof, including the shingles, chimney and clear ventilation
- Interior of the home for any leaks, rot or defective construction
- Heating and air conditioning
- Condition of the plumbing and electrical systems
Typically, asbestos is not part of a home inspection, though inspectors may be able to identify potential warning signs of asbestos, such as exposed insulation, cracked or crumbling walls, dated popcorn ceiling or ceiling tiles and much more. Buyers can perform their own research to better understand asbestos red flags and determine whether or not an asbestos abatement professional should be called to survey the area.
If asbestos abatement is needed, it can be quite expensive, however, the sellers are not required to pay for the inspection or the removal process. Buyers can work with their realtors to potentially see if it is worth negotiating the purchase price after receiving a removal estimate, or see if the seller would be willing to cover part or all of the remediation expenses.
Asbestos Laws and Regulations
It is important to note that although asbestos products aren’t being manufactured as heavily as they were in the 1900s, asbestos is not banned entirely and can still pose a threat in thousands of homes. Asbestos legislation is put in place in an attempt to protect homeowners, the general public and the environment from harmful exposure.
Legislation to Limit Asbestos
- Asbestos Information Act (AIA): Passed in 1988, the Asbestos Information Act was implemented to provide the general public with more information about asbestos. The AIA requires companies to report production of their asbestos products, providing transparency into what household products may be carrying levels of asbestos.
- Clean Air Act (CAA): The Clean Air Act (CAA), which was passed by Congress in 1963 and revised several times since, was set in place to provide air quality standards and limit pollutants. These limitations on asbestos include pipe or block insulation on boilers or hot water tanks, as well as spray-on materials, due to the fact that fibers can easily become airborne with the methods used to apply them.
- Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA): This act, first passed in 1966 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, requires specific labeling on certain products that contain asbestos and other harmful ingredients. Materials such as asbestos-containing patching compounds and artificial ashes and embers used in fireplaces are included in the list of products that require labeling to indicate asbestos is present. The FHSA also bans asbestos garments, as a label would not adequately protect consumers.
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): Under the EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a partial ban of asbestos was implemented in 1989. Under this rule, the EPA banned the manufacturing, importing and distribution of some asbestos-containing products. This did not ban all asbestos-containing products, but the EPA banned new uses of asbestos to prevent the mineral from becoming prevalent in other industries. The TSCA continues to undergo modifications to potentially expand the list of illegal uses.
Over the years, federal agencies have worked to limit asbestos use, as well as provide safety recommendations for asbestos products. Since asbestos is not entirely banned in the United States, homeowners and the general public should be mindful of the products in their home, as well as the new products they may be using in the home.