Asbestos in the Home: What to Know Before You Buy

Asbestos // April 12, 2017

The hunt for a dream home can be very stressful. Purchasing a home is a big decision, so it’s important to feel safe and secure about this investment. When looking at older homes, it’s easy to become concerned about various problems with its age: an outdated kitchen, cracks in the foundation, the presence of radon. But so many buyers forget about the possibility for asbestos.

For homes built prior to 1980, it’s safe to assume asbestos is present somewhere. Asbestos was seen as a construction miracle for its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals. Over time, more and more uses were found for it until the toxin became almost unavoidable!

Today, use of asbestos is more strictly regulated with certain newer products only being allowed to contain up to 1% of the mineral. But in many older homes, asbestos remains a threat.

Disclosure & Home Inspections

Seller disclosure laws differ by state and are meant to inform the buyer about the property as much as possible. It’s also an opportunity to reveal any potential issues with the house the seller is aware of.

Federal law does not require sellers to disclose the presence of asbestos or vermiculite in the home. Many states, however, 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 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 has to be included in a home inspection and it can vary greatly between states.

Common Home Inspection Items

  • 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

These do not cover everything, and generally asbestos is not part of a typical home inspection. Asbestos is considered innocuous unless the materials become damaged. So if you see any red flags, like exposed insulation or cracks and crumbles in any walls, it’d be safer to proceed with caution and contact an asbestos professional.

Asbestos Inspection

A qualified asbestos inspector can determine if asbestos is present in the home and if it poses any health hazards. It’s important to remember the mere presence of asbestos is not necessarily a danger. Only if the asbestos is damaged in some way can its harmful fibers be released and eventually cause diseases such as mesothelioma.

The asbestos inspector will collect samples of the material in question for analysis, as well as provide a visual inspection. The inspector will provide documentation of any asbestos present, including the location and its extent.

If the asbestos is deemed safe, it would be an area to keep an eye on for any future damage. If you’re already considering future renovations or remodeling of your potential home, it’ll be important to ensure the areas containing asbestos would not be damaged in the process, or that the asbestos is removed first.

If the inspector thinks the asbestos needs to be sealed off or removed, they can recommend an asbestos abatement team to safely handle the process. Asbestos abatement can be quite expensive; however, the sellers are not required to pay for the inspection or the removal process if it is necessary. Buyers can work with their realtors to see if it’s 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.

Learn more about the health risks of asbestos

Whether or Not to Buy

So, should you walk away from your potential dream home because it contains asbestos? Not necessarily! Asbestos is not uncommon in older homes, and often times its presence does not pose an immediate danger. It all comes down to your comfort level with its presence, and any future plans you have for the home, like potential remodels that could require asbestos removal.

The best thing you can do is educate yourself as much as possible about the property and any potential problems it has. Understanding your legal rights as a buyer and discussing your concerns with your realtor can also ensure you make the best decision possible for you and your family.