Asbestos was used in thousands of building products and hundreds of thousands of buildings throughout the United States. While asbestos has been banned for many uses since the late 1970s, it is still hiding in buildings and homes all over the US. Damaged asbestos tiles, dilapidated asbestos insulation and other asbestos products are the only known cause of the deadly cancer, mesothelioma. Here’s how you can find out if you’re at risk of asbestos exposure in your home:
- Check the date that your house was built. If it was built before or renovated before 1980, there’s a chance that products containing asbestos may have been used in building your home.
- Familiarize yourself with what asbestos products look like. In some cases, like asbestos lagging around an old furnace, it’s pretty obvious. Your state or local environmental protection agency or your health and code department may have photos on their web site, or you can check the resources below for links to a page that shows many photos of actual asbestos containing products in homes and buildings.
- Check your floors. Asbestos floor tiles were not as common in residences as they were in public buildings, but they were sometimes used in basements directly over cement sub-floors. Asbestos vinyl floor tiles were most often either 9×9 inches or 12 x 12 inches. Vinyl sheet flooring from the fifties and sixties may also contain asbestos. In addition, the mastic adhesive that was used to lay the floors often contained asbestos. If the floors are in good repair, it really doesn’t matter. If you’re planning to replace the floors, however, you should have the tiles checked by a professional – or just lay a new floor directly over them.
- Look up at the ceiling. Acoustic ceiling tiles that were popular from the 1950s through the 1970s often contained asbestos. Also, textured ceilings and popcorn ceilings were usually made of plaster or joint compound mixed with asbestos.
- Check the attic and basement for leftover materials that may have been used in your house. You may find boxes of extra floor or ceiling tiles, or unused asbestos insulation. Often, the packaging or labels on these items will tell you if the product contains asbestos.
- Examine your heating and plumbing pipes. There were many types of asbestos insulation used around plumbing and heating pipes. Pipe sleeves made of corrugated asbestos paper should be removed or covered by a professional asbestos remover. You may also find asbestos paper wrap, or asbestos cement around pipe joints.
- Walk around the outside of your house to check for asbestos siding tiles. Asbestos siding is made of lightweight asbestos cement. It usually is colored all the way through because the color was mixed directly into the powder. The tiles often have vertical ridges that look like someone ran a rake down them while the cement was still wet.
- Check the roof for asbestos shingles and asbestos flashing or felting under the shingles. As long as the roof is in good repair, it should be left alone.
- Some other common places that you may find asbestos in your house include asbestos board in the wall behind your stove or in the floor in front of your fireplace or heart. You may also find asbestos in furnace door gaskets, old oven gaskets and wood stove gaskets.
- Finally, check old household products like hair dryers, oven mats and ironing board covers. There were literally hundreds of household products sold from the 1940s through the 1970s that contained asbestos. Anything that heats up, is electrical or is meant to be used around hot things should be suspect.