How to spot and control asbestos in your home

July 27, 2015

This guide shows you how to quickly and easily spot and take care of asbestos in your home.

How to spot and control asbestos in your home

Asbestos basics

  • Asbestos is a mineral fibre that was widely used in home construction before the 1970s, when it was banned for most household purposes.
  • When inhaled, microscopic asbestos fibres have been shown to be a health risk, capable of causing cancer and chronic respiratory illness.
  • Asbestos is only dangerous if it becomes airborne and is inhaled. The risk is considered very low so long as the materials are in good condition and are not disturbed.

Know where asbestos is found

Here are some common locations for asbestos in the home:

  • Pipes and furnaces, especially older ones, may be wrapped in a lightly-coloured insulation that looks like cardboard. That insulation is probably asbestos.
  • If your attic has loose, fluffy, gray-coloured insulation on its floor and was built between 1930 and 1970, it may contain asbestos.
  • If you have textured paint on your ceiling or walls and your house was built or painted between 1945 and 1970, it may contain asbestos fibres.
  • Some older patching materials and joint compounds also contained asbestos.
  • Older asphalt, vinyl tiles and vinyl sheet flooring probably contain asbestos if installed before 1986.
  • Fire-retardant surfaces, like sheets used to protect walls from heat and door gaskets for wood stoves, often contain asbestos.

Basic asbestos treatment

If you see something that looks like it may be asbestos, and it's loose or cracked, the simplest solution is to ensure it remains undisturbed. For pipes, wrap the insulation. For walls and ceilings, cover over with new drywall, wallpaper or two coats of paint.

For removal, call the professionals

  • If you're determined to remove it, call in a certified asbestos inspector to examine it and other parts of the house.
  • The inspector may remove pieces for testing. If asbestos is found, consult with an asbestos abatement contractor or your health department.
  • You may need to hire a certified specialist to remove and dispose of it in a designated toxic dump site, an expensive and disruptive proposition.

Asbestos is a common yet dangerous material that's often found in older homes. But if you know what to look for, and how to handle it, you can stay safe and healthy.

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