Asbestos has been around for millions of years, and its use by humans dates as far back as the ancient Greeks. It’s fireproof, insulates wonderfully, and was readily accessible.
However, since asbestos has been linked to respiratory diseases and cancer, it has been outlawed for use in home construction for years. Although still used in certain applications (mostly industrial), it can be a potentially serious safety risk in homes. Here’s a guide to identifying asbestos in a home, and what your home inspector may find.
First, let’s look at the terms that inspectors use to describe asbestos:
ACM is an industry term for any material that contains (even small) amounts of asbestos. If your Home Inspector refers to “Possible ACM”, it is probably one of the below listed types. Note: A good Home Inspector will always refer to asbestos as Possible Asbestos – the only true way to determine the percentage and danger is by testing the material in a lab.
Friable is a state of asbestos – if something is Friable, its is damaged, chipped or otherwise deteriorated, and the fibers of the product can enter the air and be breathed in. Non-Friable asbestos is generally safe, however you should always consult with a qualified asbestos contractor to determine safety concerns.
Duct wrap is common in older homes – it was used to increase the efficiency of forced-air heating systems by insulating the metal ducts, thereby reducing heat loss. The problem is, by now most of the insulation has sagged, collapsed or is friable. It looks and feels like dense cardboard. Most duct wrap that is still around today should be removed.
Duct tape, or joint sealant tape, is white and looks like a mix of cloth and plaster around the joints of the ductwork. I often find this material in good shape. However, if it becomes friable (ripped or torn), it will need to be fixed or removed.
Vermiculite Insulation is a type of wall and attic insulation that often contains asbestos fibers. It looks like tiny granite-colored stones, and is usually seen in attics. It’s generally safe, however if you disturb it (renovations, demolition, repair work), it can become airborne and is unsafe. Testing should be done with vermiculite, as not all of it contains asbestos fibers.
Old 9″ floor tiles often contain asbestos. It’s best not to disturb them – they’re not usually harmful unless disturbed / removed. If you decide to remove them, an Asbestos Abatement Company should be called.
Textured (or Popcorn) ceilings are unique – up until the late ’90’s there is a chance they may contain asbestos. If you are considering removing the texture, don’t do it yourself unless you know what you are dealing with. Take it in for testing, or have a contractor remove it professionally. My customers are constantly surprised that a home built in 1989 would have asbestos, but it’s a possibility.
If you don’t disturb a popcorn ceiling, it is not a safety issue.
The most important thing about buying a home with asbestos in it is to find out ahead of time. Hiring a professional Home Inspector to evaluate your home and identify any possible risks, is the first step in determining if the home of your dreams might be hiding any surprises. You may be able to negotiate a reduction in the price from the seller, or at very least you can budget for any removal or repairs.
Author David Fairbairn is a certified, licensed home inspector serving Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. He has been featured in the media and has contributed to "24" Newspaper, and Global TV. He has spent years working with residential and commercial building projects, and holds a Power Engineering License in BC. Why not give him a call for your next Home Inspection? Call 604 395-2795 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today!