Asbestos exposure and home remodeling can also be an issue because many homes built before the 1980s contained asbestos insulation and othe rmaterials. Disturbing asbestos during a renovation can release fibers and cause exposure. Asbestos exposure most often occurs in the workplace and can cause major health issues, including mesothelioma, but homeowners should also be careful.
Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos fibers, when inhaled, can become lodged in the lungs and airways. Once lodged there, they can accumulate and cause internal tissue damage.
Asbestos exposure is linked to several health conditions, including pleural effusion (a buildup of fluid in the space between the chest wall and the lungs), pleural plaques (a thickening of the tissue around the lungs), and asbestosis.
Asbestos inhalation is also the leading risk factor for mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. This type of cancer is aggressive, spreads quickly, and is often not diagnosed until it is advanced.
Restrictions on Asbestos in the Home
Asbestos was commonly used in construction for years. It was useful for building because it resists heat, fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion.
When scientists discovered the fibers could become airborne and cause illnesses, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed restrictions on asbestos use. However, the mineral is not completely banned in the United States.
The government initially placed restrictions on certain asbestos-containing building materials in 1973. The EPA banned it completely in 1989.
The federal court system overturned the 1989 ban in 1991. Today, the U.S. is one of few developed nations that have not completely banned asbestos. Asbestos is still used in many home-building materials, but asbestos is required to be contained to prevent it from becoming airborne.
Where Is Asbestos Found in Older Homes?
Unfortunately, at one time, the construction industry used asbestos in many materials and building components. Older homes might still have asbestos in:
- Floor tiles and glues
- Roofing materials
- Acoustic ceiling tiles
- Textured paints
- Joint compound
- Wood-burning stoves
- Chimney flues
What Asbestos Products Are Currently Banned?
Asbestos is not completely banned in the U.S. Most new uses are banned, but this doesn’t mean older products have disappeared. They linger in older homes and other buildings.
The EPA currently bans asbestos in:
- Corrugated paper
- Flooring felt
- Commercial or specialty paper
- Certain types of spray-applied surfacing materials
- Pipe insulation
- Wall patching compound
- Artificial fireplace embers
Furthermore, any so-called new uses, or products that did not historically have asbestos, are not allowed to contain asbestos.
Due to the overturn of the 1989 EPA ban, several building materials, and other products still contain asbestos:
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Cement flat sheet
- Corrugated sheet
- Roofing felt
- Roof coatings
- Cement pipe
- Cement shingle
- Pipeline wrap
- Non-roofing coatings
How Do I Know if My House Has Asbestos?
Older homes built before the mid-1980s often contain asbestos materials. Prior homeowners might have had these materials abated, but many linger.
It’s not easy for a homeowner without asbestos experience to identify asbestos products. Unless it is labeled as such, you cannot be sure.
The only foolproof way to know if and where asbestos is in your home is to hire an asbestos professional. They can identify asbestos and tell you if it is safely encapsulated or poses a risk.
Do Home Inspectors Check for Asbestos?
There are no requirements that homeowners test for asbestos before selling or that home inspections include asbestos. Most standard home inspections do not include asbestos.
Most home inspectors are not qualified or certified to find or abate asbestos. This is typically a separate job for asbestos professionals.
How to Stay Safe from Asbestos During a Home Renovation
A remodeling project on an older home should include a plan for containing or removing any asbestos discovered. If you are worried about asbestos, you can contact a licensed asbestos contractor for help.
Be Aware of Likely Locations for Asbestos
Since there are risks associated with asbestos exposure, it is important to understand where this mineral may be in your home. In many cases, asbestos is well enclosed, keeping fibers contained and protecting people from exposure.
Here are some places that are most likely to have asbestos:
- Older vinyl and linoleum floors
- Flat roofs
- Insulation around HVAC ducts, furnaces, and pipes
- Around wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys
- Outdoor siding
- Textured walls or ceilings
- Drywall patching and joint compound
If you demolish or remove something in your home and see a white, fibrous material breaking apart, it may or may not be asbestos. It isn’t possible to tell if you have asbestos unless you are an expert and know what to look for.
Avoid Disturbing Asbestos
Understanding where asbestos is in your home is essential for safety. As you knock into walls, remove plumbing fixtures and pipes, and do other remodeling work, you may be disturbing asbestos fibers and potentially contaminate the air in the house.
If you find something you believe could be asbestos, do not disturb it. Avoid using power tools to drill or sand in areas that might have asbestos. This releases fibers into the air.
When in Doubt, Call a Professional
Asbestos is very harmful to human health, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you aren’t sure about asbestos in your home, the best solution is to call in a trained professional. Asbestos abatement professionals can either contain asbestos or remove it, but you should never try to do the job yourself.
What to Do if You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos in the Home
If you disturb a material that you think could be asbestos, seal off the area immediately. Close doors, windows, and vents. Put tape around any gaps to seal them. Call an asbestos professional to deal with it.
One-time exposure to asbestos is not likely to give you any immediate health problems. The effects of asbestos exposure occur decades later. Tell your doctor about your exposure so that it is in your health record. Later symptoms might correlate with asbestos illnesses:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent coughing
- Chest pains
Contacting an Asbestos Abatement Professional
Identifying, containing, or removing asbestos must be done by trained professionals. The risks of exposure are too great to attempt to do this without professional assistance. Licensed asbestos abatement professionals can test for asbestos and deal with it safely.
As you plan to remodel your home, the best way to avoid asbestos exposure is to call a professional before you begin renovations. Find out if you have asbestos in your home and if any may become damaged before you begin. Taking these steps could save a lot of trouble and expense later, not to mention protect you and your family’s health.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.