Guide to Asbestos in the Home

Homes built before the 1980s could contain Asbestos, a dangerous material once widely used in construction. Our Guide to Asbestos in the Home explains how to protect yourself and others from exposure.

Homeowners who renovate their older homes can unknowingly expose themselves to toxic Asbestos by tearing down ceilings and walls and knocking out floor tiles and old pipes.

Our Guide to Asbestos in the Home provides information about Asbestos, its dangers, and how to protect yourself from exposure.

Do you know whether your home contains Asbestos?

Asbestos, a mineral composed of thin fibers and used in some building materials for its fireproofing properties, becomes airborne when products made with it are damaged. Inhaling the fibers can result in serious health problems.

Where Can Asbestos Be Discovered in Your House?

Asbestos can be found in building materials used before the 1980s, such as paint and insulation. Many U.S. homes and public structures—such as schools, government housing, and office buildings—contain Asbestos in these products:

  • Cement asbestos board siding/under sheeting and roofing felt were used in some shingle applications.
  • Asbestos insulation was also wrapped around steam pipes, while vinyl floor tiles contained trace amounts of the mineral.
  • Painters may be exposed to textured paint that contains vermiculite. A fireproof mineral made up mostly of Asbestos.

Although many residential uses for Asbestos have been phased out, it remains legal in the United States for more than a dozen applications.

Common Exposure Scenarios

Homeowners can be exposed to Asbestos in different ways, including when they renovate their living space or repair damaged plumbing.

Attic Renovation

While remodeling his attic, John found piles of brown pebble-like insulation. Deciding to replace the existing insulation with new fiberglass material—to save money in the winter months—John scooped up all he could and installed it in new bags.

Although John didn’t realize that the attic floorboards contained Asbestos, he spread airborne asbestos fibers throughout his home by disturbing the boards. If John had left them undisturbed and tested for Asbestos before removing them, he would have been much safer.

Brake Dust in Home Garage

Ralph loves working on his 1965 Corvette Stingray. When the brakes began to squeal, he wanted to replace them in his garage. After removing the rear tires—which left dust covering the brake drums—he banged against them with a hammer until he could blow off most of it with an air compressor.

Because it contains Asbestos, spraying a brake component with compressed air can release toxic fibers. Ralph should have taken his car to the shop for service or gently wiped down the brake drums with a wet cloth.

Drilling into Asbestos in Drywall

Erica recently won a painting at a silent auction, and she couldn’t wait to bring it home. Erica measured carefully and used a drill to install the painting in her living room—she even installed drywall anchors from Home Depot! The painting hung unevenly, so she had to drill a few more holes for it to hang perfectly.

When Erica drilled holes in the wall to hang her paintings, she risked asbestos exposure. She should have known about the presence of Asbestos and left it alone.

Removing Vinyl Floor Tiles

Herman recently bought a fixer-upper in his hometown, and his first project was upgrading the main bathroom. He started by removing vinyl floor tile—scrapping it up with one tool while installing new tiles with another. In the 1950s, Asbestos was a common ingredient in vinyl floor tiles. Scraping to remove old flooring can release dangerous asbestos fibers. Herman should have installed new tiles over his original floors instead of removing them all at once.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Janine was tired of the popcorn texture on her ceilings, so she decided to scrape it off and paint a smooth finish. She put on eye protection and a dust mask and grabbed her ladder. After lots of scraping, sanding, and careful painting— she was finally done!

When Janine scraped off the popcorn ceiling finish in her home, she released microscopic asbestos fibers. But Janine did not have a professionally trained worker remove the Asbestos—she was unaware that removing an old textured ceiling could release harmful toxins into her atmosphere.

Although expensive, they were hiring a professional to remove asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings as the safest option. However, homeowners can scrape off a sample and perform testing before making that decision. Even a tiny sample can be hazardous to your health, so eye protection and an N95 respirator must be used when dealing with Asbestos.

Cutting Insulation on Pipes

When Brent renovated his late-1800s Victorian home, he discovered that the insulation around some of its hot water pipes was deteriorating. Brent replaced the old insulation with new fiberglass insulation to prevent heat from escaping.

Brent should have known that many older plumbing systems are wrapped in asbestos insulation and could pose an exposure risk. When Brent removed the damaged material, he released more fibers into the air, exposing himself and his family members.

Brent should have called an asbestos professional to seal the attic.

How Can I Deal With Asbestos in My Home?

If you suspect something in your home contains Asbestos, do not attempt to remove it or disturb it. When you find material that seems to be Asbestos, do not disturb it. Contact a trained and accredited asbestos professional to confirm the material and whether its disturbance could pose any dangers. One way to avoid asbestos exposure is to be knowledgeable about the material in your home and its condition.

What Are the Signs of Asbestos in My Home?

Because Asbestos endangers your health, you should send samples to a lab for testing. It’s safer for homeowners to hire a trained Asbestos professional when collecting samples. The U.S Department of Commerce offers an accreditation list of asbestos laboratories on its website.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

In its natural form, asbestos ore comes in various hues, including white and green. When processed into fibers, they become fluffy—making them easy to inhale or swallow.

Although Asbestos isn’t identified in household products by sight, it may be possible to see asbestos fibers embedded in damaged materials.

Most of the time, it can be combined with other materials, such as plastic or cement, to create building products. When these products are broken down over time—for example, by the repeated scraping of the surface they’re on—the Asbestos inside can be released and visible in small fragments that look like fuzzy pieces of fraying fabric.

How Much Is Asbestos Exposure Unsafe?

It generally takes a long time for related conditions to develop after asbestos exposure. It is rare for someone to get sick from products in their home but possible.

About 20% of those heavily exposed to asbestos workers eventually develop an asbestos-related disease.

Despite the uncertainty of a safe level, heavy short-term exposures to Asbestos have been to cause disease. 

Asbestos Safety Dos and Don’ts

If you own an older home, ensure that during any renovation or repair projects, you take every precaution to avoid damaging materials that may contain Asbestos. Even if a repair seems minor, you should hire a professional to handle asbestos-containing materials. 


  • Do not come into contact with Asbestos.
  • Avoid damaging asbestos-containing materials.
  • Contact your home inspector or real estate agent if you are aware of any asbestos in your home.
  • Only employ trained professionals to perform asbestos inspections, testing, and removal.
  • If you plan to demolish a structure, contact your local or state government for information on the appropriate agency.


  • Do not cut, grind or sand into materials that may contain Asbestos.
  • Do not sweep up, vacuum, or dust debris containing asbestos fibers.
  • It is unsafe to collect asbestos samples without proper training.
  • If you are not knowledgeable and certified. Never work with or around Asbestos unless you 
  • If you can’t repair or cover up Asbestos, remove it only when the risk of exposure is very high.
  • Avoid disposing of asbestos materials in landfills or with household waste.

When Someone Exposed to Asbestos What Are the Best Ways to Determine?

Contact your primary care physician if you are exposed to and concerned about Asbestos. If you are exposed, No test can determine if someone has, but some tests can detect asbestos-related diseases in those who have overexposed or worked with the material for a long time.

Imaging scans can reveal signs of asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos-related conditions are difficult to detect, and many primary care doctors lack the tools or experience to diagnose them. If you are exposed, it is a good idea to seek annual lung screenings from a qualified occupational pulmonologist. Most asbestos-related diseases are diagnosed 15 or more years after exposure.

How Much Do Asbestos Tests Cost?

Polarized light microscopy (PLM), which costs about $20 to $100 per sample, is the most common form of testing. Some labs use transmission electron microscopy (TEM)—which can cost as much as ten times more than PLM—when they need an especially detailed analysis.

Depending on the number of samples tested and the methods used, the cost of asbestos testing can vary.

DIY test kits require you to mail samples to analyze your water quality, a process that may cost up to $40.

However, if you collect samples, you may expose yourself to hazardous materials, which can be safely and correctly done by Hiring a certified professional is the best course of action — their labor costs between $350 and $600.

What Are the Consequences of Violating Asbestos Laws?

Any activity involving Asbestos must follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations and state laws. Violations may result in warnings from governmental bodies or legal action by citizen groups.There are criminal charges, prison time, and civil penalties as high as $25,000 daily for violations.

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