Asbestos is a name given to a series of fibrous minerals containing silicate compounds. Due to its high-heat resistance and superior tensile strength, the material has been mined and used in industrial applications for many centuries. Unfortunately, its fibre-like structure has been diagnosed as a carcinogenic agent, especially when the tiny fibres are inhaled through the lungs. Despite these unhealthy properties, asbestos is still mined today but its use is mostly limited to automobile parts. The most common places asbestos might be encountered around an old house are in pipe insulation, exterior siding, loose-fill insulation and floor or ceiling tiles.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- OSHA-approved respirator
- Work gloves
Check your hot water lines for the presence of asbestos-containing insulation. This type of insulation is usually white in colour and at least an inch thick. It was often installed in older houses, before 1960. The insulation is of prime concern because heat from the pipes can break down the material causing it to break up and fall to the floor. Then the carcinogenic fibres are released into the air. If present it must be removed by a technician trained in the process of handling asbestos materials.
Look for surfaces coated with an asbestos paint or plaster-like material, which was often used to improve insulation values of flat surfaces. It is best to have a professional inspector do a search, even if you do not believe that you have such materials in your home. This search needs to include materials such as caulk, putty, spackle, furnace cement, roof patching, textured paint and boiler coverings.
Examine the interior walls, floors and ceilings for asbestos material. Things to look for include fireproof wallboard, vinyl floor tiles and acoustical ceiling panels. In most cases these items can be covered up with paint or another type of floor material. But if any of these items are in disrepair, contact a building professional for advice. Many of these items, especially fireproof wallboard, were used well after the '60s.
Check the exterior siding for the presence of asbestos shingles. Typically these materials were installed from 1930 until the '50s. Unless the shingles are falling apart they can be left in place and painted. If removal is necessary, it should be undertaken by a contractor experienced with asbestos removal.
Search for loose-fill vermiculite insulation in your wall cavities. This is another potential trouble spot for the release of asbestos fibres. Problems here will only occur if the vermiculite is disturbed and exposed to air circulation. This type of material becomes a much larger concern during the remodelling process.
Tips and warnings
- In many cases asbestos-containing building materials are not a major threat to someone's health, unless the substance has started to deteriorate.
- If you think you have asbestos materials in your house, it is best to consult with a professional inspector to confirm the situation.
- Asbestos material should be removed by someone who has been trained to handle the material.
- In some instances, the immediate removal of the asbestos material can be more dangerous than leaving it in place. This is especially true with removing floor or wall tiles that might break apart during demolition.
- Remodelling activities can pose a high risk for asbestos exposure among homeowners.
- Asbestosis is a chronic disease of the lungs that makes breathing difficult.
- Mesothelioma is a cancer that results from asbestos exposure to the membranes that line the chest and abdomen.
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