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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
"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 <deleted link> can help protect you and others from exposure."
"We strive to connect mesothelioma patients and their families with the they need most. Our team has two decades of experience and has helped over 1,000 families affected by mesothelioma.
<snip> 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."
Well, shame on me. I should have done some research before I posted the links previously included above.
After I posted the March update, with links to external groups, I started getting even more emails from other organizations and different websites asking to be included here as well. At some point I noticed all the emails had the same subject line and the same street address in their signature. That's when the alarm went off, and I finally looked into it. One says they are focused on veterans, and another is all about lung cancer, and so on. They have various names, but I soon realized that they are all operated by the same marketing company and are sponsored by multiple personal injury lawyers.
To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a lawyer and advocating for clients, but that is not what I thought I was supporting by giving those backlinks. I thought they were more along the lines of nonprofits, and public proponents of cancer research, and proper health care, and for educating the public about safety. It turns out they are simply fishing for new clients to bring lawsuits.
I should have vetted them before posting the links but I didn't. So, I apologize to anyone who may have been misled. I removed the links but left everything else in the interests of transparency. This is an example of how Kensa operates: owning and fixing mistakes, maintaining complete transparency, and always moving forward in a positive way. Onward!
Founder, Kensa Inspections