Home Inspection Service for Horry and Surrounding Counties

Checking your home for deteriorating asbestos materials

Asbestos shows up all over the house. It could be part of the insulation in your attic or exterior walls. It may also be contained in acoustic ceilings or floor tiles. In older homes it often is found on funaces and boilers and the ducts and pipes of heating systems.

Medical researchers have reported that exposure to asbestos can cause several forms of lung cancer - possible 40 years or longer after the initial exposure even to relatively small airborne amounts. Another lung disease, asbestosis, generally is thought to affect only asbestos workers, but even casual exposure to asbestos particles found in some building materials and home improvement products is thought to be potentially dangerous to do-it-yourselfers.

In the home, the health hazards can increase if asbestos containing materials (ACM) become friable (easily crumbled or crushed into powder) as a result of water damage, for example. When this happens, the materials can release tiny asbestos particles into the air where they can be inhaled; once the fibers enter the lungs the stay there permanently. NOTE: Although it is unlikely that everone ever exposed to asbestos will get an asbestos-linked disease, statistically the risk is considered higher than for those who have never been exposed.

Problems can be caused by some acoustic-tiled ceilings, for example, if leaking water causes them to deteriorate. Similarly, asbestos dust can be blown through your home when repairs are done to the heating systems or to surrounding areas. The dust particles and fibers are son small they can remain airborne for long periods; unfortunately, furnace filters and vacuum cleaners cannot filter them out of the air.

Remember that it takes a laboratory test ot determine if a product contains asbestos. While some experienced contractors and home inspectors will make educated guesses, if tests aren't make, it's best to treat suspected materials - such as the wrapping around heating pipes and heating and air conditioning ducts - as if they contain asbestos.

Some older furnaces (hot air systems) and most older boilers (hot water systems) are wrapped with asbestos. The packing around boilers and funaces looks like a soft plaster, while the wrapping around heating pipes looks like whitish cardboard tubes strapped around the pipes. sometimes the pipe wrapping is covered with a cloth and this may be labeled as an asbestos product. Wrapping on hot-air ducts is usually very thin (about as thick as a dozen sheets of writing paper).

Examine the heating equipment packing to see if its surface is smooth. Past or present leaks dripping onto it will mottle it and cause it to become friable. Examine the pipe wrapping and look for loose ends or pieces that have fallen off the pipes. WARNING: Old crawl spaces often have damaged pipe lagging or wrapping, and if there is an expectation of workmen using the space during repairs or construction, their health and safety must be considered.

Many experts suggest that the best things to do with asbestos when it is found in the home is to leave it alone unless it has been torn or damaged. Removal of the asbestos material often does more harm than good, because many fibers are released into the air during removal. If duct wrap or pipe wrap is damaged, it can be "encapsulated." This means wraping it up with foil-faced fiberglass insulation or other material. The insulation is taped together and this covering ends any threat of airborne particles. This is the cheapest, most practical thing to do.

Damaged asbestos packing around boilers and furnaces should be repaired or sealed over by professional heating contractors. Make sure any contractor who replaces an old boiler or funace takes proper precautions to protect the health of his workmen and your family.. The area should be sealed off with plastic, the material misted with a sprayer and everything mopped up. This is done twice. The workmen must wear protective clothing and respirators.

Most of the 9 and 12-inch square floor tiles (and even the backings of some vinyl sheet goods) that are installed in houses contain asbestos. Those in basements are usually asbestos cement (AC) tiles, while those above are usually vinyl asbestos tiles (VAT). The experts suggest that there is no cause for alarm with these tiles except under two conditions: Floor tiles that experience an enormoujs amount of foot traffic may have their surfaces worn through and contribute fibers to the air. Floor tile that are ground up or damaged with renovation efforts should be considered hazardous. Do not remove floor tiles with a floor sander. With remodeling, consideratiions is usually given to installing new flooring materials over top of any asbestos-bearing products.

Some sprayed-on or trowled-on ceilings and some ceiling tiles may contain asbestos. If theres is damage to the ceiling or if you plan remodeling that might include removal of ceiling materials, remove a small piece (be sure to wear a respiratior mask) and place it in a coffee can before taking it to a lab for analysis (look in the Yellow Pages under the "laboratories-testing" heading.) If it proves to be asbestos, consider drywalling over the ceiling or hiring professionals to remove it. All workmen should be advised that they must wear protective clothing and a respirator.

Some wall and attic insulation installed beween 1930 and 1950 contained asbestos. If renovation is contemplated that will disturb asbestos insulation, have the work done by an experienced contractor.

A crude form of encapsulation can be accomplished by lightly placing blankets of fiberglass insulation over the existing materials. NOTE: Do not use fiberglass blankets with any backing on them as this places a vapor barrier between the layers of insulation.

Other insulation can be blown in, but the potential for disturbance should be considered. If the attic is to be used for storage, consider installing perpendicular joists across the existing ones. This would provide plenty of space for extra insulation and would be easy to floor over. Beware of attics containing asbestos and unsealed return ducts for heating systems. Duct seams should be sealed with special cements.

Asbestos cement shingles have been used for roofing and siding. They look like rectangular rigid pieces of corduroy. These are apparently no problem, but if the roofing or siding is being replaced, caution your contractor to have his men wear protective clothing and respirators and be sure it is disposed of properly.

Removing asbestos from a home is not a job for amateurs, it is work for an experienced contractor (but be aware that while expert removal is available, it is often difficult and expensive to contract). many jurisdictions tightly regulate disposal of these materials and hence this can be expensive as well.