You’re ready to make the most of your Basement.   Is it finally time to replace that Kitchen floor?  You’ve got the ideas and the motivation…but wait!  What’s under that layer of Vinyl Floor?  What are those basement floor tiles made of?

What about…Asbestos?  What do you do now?

First, Don’t panic!  Usually the best thing to do is leave materials that are in good condition alone.  Generally, materials in good condition will not release Asbestos fibers.  Asbestos is the name of a group of naturally-occurring minerals that separate into strong, very fine fibers. The fibers are heat-resistant and extremely durable, and, because of these qualities, asbestos became useful in construction and industry. In the home it may or may not pose a health hazard to the occupants, depending on its condition. When it can be crushed by hand pressure or the surface is not sealed, to prevent small pieces from escaping, the material is considered FRIABLE. In this condition fibers can be released and pose a health risk, such as lung cancer from inhaling the fibers. However, as long as the surface is stable, not damaged, and well-sealed against the release of its fibers and not damaged, the material is considered safe until damaged in some way.

Examples of Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found In The Home

  • Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement.
  • Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
  • Attic and wall insulation produced using vermiculite ore, particularly ore that originated from a Libby, Montana mine, may contain asbestos fibers. Vermiculite was mined in Libby, Montana between 1923 and 1990. Prior to its close in 1990, much of the world’s supply of vermiculite came from the Libby mine. This mine had a natural deposit of asbestos which resulted in the vermiculite being contaminated with asbestos. (See EPA’s 2003 brochure on Current Best Practices for Vermiculite Attic Insulation).
  • Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling  joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
  • Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
  • Older products such as stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.
  • Walls and floors around woodburning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets.
  • Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
  • Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with  an asbestos blanket or tape.
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

What Should Be Done About Asbestos In The Home?

If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic. Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone.

Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers.

Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don’t touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing, or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow.

Sometimes the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stove-top pads, or ironing board covers. Check with local health, environmental, or other appropriate officials to find out proper handling and disposal procedures.

If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house  remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.

How To Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos

You can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If  in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look  for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is  not recommended. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone. Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be sampled.

How To Manage An Asbestos Problem

If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal.

Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material.

  • Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the  asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained  to handle asbestos safely.
  • Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.

With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major  or minor.

Asbestos Do’s And Don’ts for the Homeowner

  • Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.
  • Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.
  • Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by asbestos professionals.
  • Don’t dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
  • Don’t use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never  use a power stripper on a dry floor.
  • Don’t sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs  replacing, install new floor covering over it, if possible.
  • Don’t track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area, or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.

The Bottom Line – When in Doubt, Have it checked out!

Contact an experienced Asbestos Professionals with any questions.