A house containing old vinyl or linoleum floors installed prior to the 1980s can be suspected of containing asbestos fibres. Because the only way to tell for certain if a floor contains asbestos is to have a sample looked at by a lab, resulting in a potentially hazardous removal of some tiles, most professionals recommend treating suspected asbestos tiles as if they are asbestos tiles. Asbestos tiles and asbestos floors do have some characteristics that can be identified. Tiles with these characteristics should be treated as if they contain asbestos and removed or encapsulated accordingly.
Attempt to determine the date at which the tiles were installed. Asbestos floors were very popular during the 1960s and continued to be manufactured through the mid 1970s. Warehouses were not completely emptied of these materials until the early 1980s, which means any tiles or sheet flooring installed through this time period may contain asbestos.
Measure the tiles. Asbestos tiles frequently measure nine inches or 13 inches square, although some sheet flooring may be scored in 12-inch increments. Non-asbestos tiles installed during this time period more likely measured eight or 12 inches.
Look at the colour of the tiles. Dark tiles or black tiles are more likely to contain asbestos than light or white-coloured tiles. The tar and pigments that gave dark floors their colour was made with asbestos.
Look at the tile adhesive, if exposed. Black, tar-like adhesive is likely to contain asbestos fibres. Do not attempt to remove a tile to look at the adhesive, only check those areas already missing tiles.
Look for patterns on the tiles. Simulated wood grain, embossed patterns and plastic-appearing surfaces produced in the 60s or 70s are likely to contain asbestos fibres.
A floor in good condition containing asbestos can be encapsulated without removal. A floor with loose, flexing or crumbling tiles must be removed by a professional hazmat team. Do not attempt to remove suspected asbestos tiles, even for sample testing, yourself.