About Asbestos
February 7, 2022
About Asbestos
February 7, 2022

Asbestos takes many shapes because it had (or has) many uses. For example, most people are surprised to learn the wide range of products where asbestos may be found, such as car brakes. This article is not an exhaustive discussion about absestos itself.  There are many resources online for learning about the history, usage, health effects, and related information.

The first important thing to be aware of is that there is no way to be certain that something contains asbestos without testing it. With that caveat in mind, there are some common materials thare are easy to spot that are all but certain to contain asbestos, such as exterior siding and pipe insulation. Other materials are much less clear, such as ceiling tiles and floor tiles.

Regardless, whenever there is a potential concern, your Kensa inspection report will always mention "suspected asbestos," with a recommendation to follow up with an asbestos professional for testing.

TESTED POSITIVE?

Don’t panic!  Generally speaking there are a few options, according to the EPA:  1) Leave it alone if it is undamaged; 2) Seal or encapsulate it if it has minor damage; or 3) Remove it, such as when doing major renovations.  

Here’s an overview of useful information for homeowners from the EPA, which is quoted below:  Protect Your Family From Exposures to Asbestos

Asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk. Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos-containing material alone if it is in good condition.


With that context, here are some examples of where asbestos can be found in a typical New England home:

SIDING

Asbestos siding has a distinctive look.  It is extremely durable and can last for decades, which is why many homes still have it in place on the exterior.  Here’s an example of moderate damage that should be repaired to help prevent water intrusion.

an example of moderate damage that should be repaired to help prevent water intrusion
a variation with distinctive scalloped edges; the siding here was in good shape overall

PIPE INSULATION

Asbestos was used for many years as insulation on distribution pipes for steam boilers that connect to cast iron radiators in the finished space above.  Kensa’s founder Ken dealt with this at his first house many years ago when it came time to replace his boiler, so he has firsthand knowledge of this situation.

an example of older asbestos pipe insulation; note that it is not encapsulated/wrapped
the cloth wrap on this insulation has deteriorated and the insulation is falling out
this distinctive corrugated material is a generally reliable sign of asbestos

FLOORING

The tile size (9x9 is typical) and the age of the home usually prompt your Kensa inspector to note suspected asbestos in your report.  There are other sizes with asbestos, and sometimes the asbestos is in the glue used to adhere them, but this is a common scenario in our area.

notice the newer flooring on the right, which is an example of mitigation by simply covering/enclosing the asbestos tiles

this flooring has become very worn and damaged over the years and should be addressed

ATTIC INSULATION

It's never a surprise to find vermiculite in an attic. It can complicate things when there is an AC air handler there, which is also common. Ken once found pieces of vermiculite inside an air duct, an obvious health concern.

Vermiculite was a common insulation in attics, used roughly from the 1940’s to the 1980’s
Here's a rare find -- original bags of vermiculite in an attic. This particular brand is Zonolite, which has a trust established that helps with the cost of removal.

CEILINGS

Two ceiling materials that may contain asbestos are drop ceilings and popcorn ceilings.  There have been many variations of ceiling tiles sizes and textures over the years. They are usually found in basements that have been finished to use as living space, or during interior renovations of older homes.  Popcorn ceilings were used throughout interiors as the original finish for a number of years, also through the mid 1980’s.

this popcorn ceiling was repaired at some point, but is generally undisturbed
An obvious water problem here above this drop ceiling.  It’s a relevant factor because now the tiles must be moved / disturbed in order to assess and repair the problem.
note the different size, shape, and pattern of the holes in these tiles

SPECIAL SCISSORS :)

Lastly, just for fun, here’s another rare find in a client's basement.  This tool was used to cut asbestos to size for installation. You can see a zoomed in view in the banner image above.

The 3 C's

Hopefully we have helped you understand how common asbestos is and where it can be found in a typical older home.  It’s certainly not the end of the world, and you have options for how to deal with it. This is just one of the many ways Kensa gives you the Calm Clear Context you need to understand the safety and condition of your future home!

Update, 3/13/22

This article got the attention of two organizations who provide services regarding asbestos, both of whom asked me to include information here about their resources. As Kensa's founder I am always glad to provide useful information for my clients. Four types of cancer have struck my family and friends, so there is a deeply personal aspect to this topic as well.

I have not done any research on them, but both of these organizations appear to have extensive histories of providing a wide range of services and information for anyone who wants to learn more about asbestos:

Asbestos.com

"Homes built before the 1980s could expose homeowners, their families and others to asbestos possibly hiding in cement, floor tiles, insulation, walls and pipes. Our Guide to Asbestos in the Home can help protect you and others from exposure."

Mesothelioma Hope

"We strive to connect mesothelioma patients and their families with the resources they need most. Our team has two decades of experience and has helped over 1,000 families affected by mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Hope also helps families find health care and financial benefits to help them pay for their treatment and secure their family’s financial future. Our team can also connect patients and their families with emotional support options to help the whole family navigate the unique journey that is a mesothelioma diagnosis."