How to Tell if a House Has Asbestos

Angela Brown
Written by Angela Brown
Updated May 2, 2022
Young Hispanic family sitting on couch in living room
Photo: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Learn how to get to the bottom of asbestos in your home

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Buying a home with asbestos is a bit like buying a haunted house. You likely won’t be able to tell if a house has asbestos at first sight. Like natural gas, asbestos is invisible to the naked eye, and it‘s odorless. The best way to tell if a house has asbestos is to do a quick investigation and then hire a professional to test suspect areas. What should you consider? Keep reading.

What is Asbestos and Why Should I Worry?

Asbestos refers to clusters of six natural minerals (chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite) often used in construction materials like flooring tiles, insulation, and pipework, according to OSHA

In the 1970s, OSHA and the EPA began to regulate the use of asbestos and significantly limited manufacturers’ ability to use it. Today, many consumer products still contain asbestos, but it must make up less than 1% of the total product.

In 2019, the EPA pushed for further regulations on the use of asbestos. The final decision resulted in the ban of more products containing asbestos, including:

  • Pipeline wrap

  • Adhesives, sealants, roof coatings

  • Cement products

  • Millboard

  • Roofing felt

  • Other building products

The EPA proposed a ban in April 2022 on chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the country.

Both the EPA and OSHA regulate the use of asbestos because it’s considered highly toxic. Prolonged exposure to and the inhalation of asbestos can lead to tumors in the lung and stomach. 

There’s a good chance you’ve encountered low levels of asbestos some type of asbestos in your life. However, homeowners typically run into potential health dangers when products containing asbestos are damaged, like during a remodel or construction.

Five common signs of asbestos in homes, including the age of your home and contents of insulation

What Are Some Signs My Home Might Have Asbestos?

Some indicators that your home could have asbestos include:

  • Your home was built before the early 1980s

  • Your home contains vermiculite insulation

  • You have a home with vinyl flooring or millboard installed between 1952 and 1982

  • Your home has corrugated roofing

  • Walls or other areas in the home are constructed from cement sheets

  • Your home contains an older cement water tank (older cement products could contain asbestos)

Should I Have My Home Tested for Asbestos?

Many homeowners may never have to test their homes for asbestos. Asbestos particles are only dangerous if they become airborne. If you plan to do construction or you notice damage to portions of piping, siding, or drywall, you should hire a specialist to test for asbestos. 

If you plan to remodel your home or have any concerns, you should have your home tested for asbestos just to be safe. 

What Happens During an Asbestos Test?

Depending on the size of your home, the inspection process could take a few hours or a few days. While inspecting your home, the asbestos specialist will:

  • Shut off the heating and cooling system to minimize the spread of any particles

  • Cover the floor directly beneath the testing area

  • Wet the material that could contain asbestos with a mixture of water and detergent (this helps reduce the release of fibers)

  • Take small sections of the potentially contaminated material, aiming to disturb the area as little as possible

  • Put the material into a sealed container for transportation

  • Clean up the inspection area and discard any leftover materials

  • Use a wet cloth to collect any fibers or loose materials outside the covered area

  • Send the sample to an accredited laboratory or the local health department for testing

The cost of asbestos testing varies depending on your location, the size of the home, and the complexity of the testing area. Plan to spend between $230 and $800 for testing. The average test costs around $500.

During the testing process and while handling potential asbestos, the specialist may wear protective gear, including gloves, overalls, appropriate footwear, and respiratory equipment.

Can I Perform an Asbestos Test Myself?

It depends. While the EPA highly recommends that you hire a professional to test for asbestos, some states do allow homeowners to test their properties themselves. You can purchase kits from online retailers. Check with your local health department to determine if your community requires you to hire an asbestos specialist.

What Do I Do If My Home Has Asbestos?

Your next steps after determining that your home has asbestos vary, depending on the type of asbestos, where it’s at, and whether or not it’s friable. Friable asbestos means that the material could easily break apart, allowing the material to become airborne (and dangerous). Some materials contain asbestos, but they are non-friable. These materials, in good condition, may still be safe. 

Depending on the condition of the asbestos, the specialist may choose to repair the areas containing asbestos with an encapsulant or remove it. You should hire a professional to handle the asbestos clean-up. If the professional determines that the asbestos needs to be removed, you’ll need to stay out of the home until they perform an air test to ensure all residue is gone.

The cost of asbestos removal can feel expensive, but it’s well worth the price. Asbestos removal costs between $1,100 and $2,800 on average. 

Never attempt to remove asbestos from your home yourself.

Can You Sell a House With Asbestos?

Despite strict regulations on the product, federal laws don’t require a seller to tell a buyer if the home contains asbestos, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. However, some states do require that sellers disclose the information. You should check your state regulations or talk to a realtor if you plan to sell or purchase a home.

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