Unless it’s labeled, generally by just looking at it, you cannot tell whether a material contains asbestos or not. It is always advised to have your home inspected for asbestos-containing materials by an accredited and trained asbestos professional if you are planning to remodel or if your home has damaged building materials.
Since a professional knows what to look for, and because there is always an increased health risk if fibers are released, they should take samples for analysis. Sampling materials can be more hazardous, when done incorrectly than just leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is never recommended.
You do not need to have your home tested for asbestos if building materials in your home are undamaged and will not be disturbed. If you are remodeling and materials in your home are in good condition and will not be touched or disturbed, you should leave them alone.
Here are some tips provided by the EPA on what to do if you have asbestos in your home:
If you think there may be asbestos in your home, don’t panic.
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.
Generally, asbestos-containing material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) will not release asbestos fibers.
Asbestos-containing materials may release fibers when they are disturbed, damaged, removed improperly, repaired, cut, torn, sanded, sawed, drilled or scraped. Keep an eye on asbestos-containing materials and visually check them over time for signs of wear or damage.
If you suspect material contains asbestos, don’t touch it. Look for signs of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing or handling, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow.
For slightly damaged asbestos-containing material, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to limit access to the area and not to touch or disturb it. If asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a trained and accredited asbestos professional is needed.
Do’s and Don’ts for the Homeowner:
- Do leave undamaged asbestos-containing materials alone.
- Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos, including limiting children’s access to any materials that may contain asbestos.
- Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos-containing material.
- Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by a trained and accredited asbestos professional.
- Don’t dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
- Don’t saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos-containing materials.
- Don’t use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on flooring that may contain asbestos.
- Don’t sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing install new floor covering over it, if possible.
- Don’t track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.
If you find that you have an asbestos problem:
If the asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or could be disturbed, there are two types of actions that can be taken by trained and accredited asbestos professionals: repair and removal.
Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place.
- Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely.
- Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.
Removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home will disturb asbestos-containing material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos-containing material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a trained and accredited asbestos professional. Improper removal may actually increase your and your family’s exposure to asbestos fibers.