Date Published: March 26, 2019
Asbestos is a hot topic when buying older homes. It can be hidden, it can be expensive to mitigate, and is present in many building materials in houses built prior to the 90s. Plus there are many different types of building materials that contain asbestos.
Because of this, we decided to write this asbestos guide to help people better understand asbestos and the different forms it takes, whether it be asbestos tile, asbestos insulation, siding or some other common material.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos itself is a mineral substance. It is naturally occurring and can be broken into soft fibers that can be used to create products. When asbestos was first used and marketed in building materials, it was revered as a “magic material” as it could resist heat, was a good insulator and was virtually fireproof. Asbestos and insulation went hand in hand.
In the middle of the 20th century, asbestos demand peaked and the hardy asbestos fibers were mixed into hundreds of products across multiple industries.
However, most of us know how this story ends. In the ’70s and ’80s, reports started to emerge that inhaling the small fibers of asbestos could cause health complications. Once the fibers enter the body, they never dissolve, and because the fibers are microscopic, they have no smell, taste, and cannot be seen.
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing in high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer in the forms of mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
Since then, the U.S. government has restricted the use of high concentration asbestos in all types of asbestos. But that still leaves us with many decades of asbestos products in homes that we need to be aware of.
So let’s break down its many shapes. Many products were made with asbestos. However, we are going to cover some of the most common, and then some.
Many Types of Asbestos
The majority of the products that we see in a home that might have contained asbestos in the past include:
- steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly;
- resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers, and so may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal;
- cement sheet, millboard, and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers, and so may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation;
- door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use;
- soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly or water-damaged material may release fibers, and so will sanding, drilling or scraping the material;
- patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may rel