Older homes possess beauty and charm that can reflect an era and are often sought after by homebuyers looking for quality and craftsmanship. They are usually constructed with beautiful detail and materials produced to last. But older homes are also more likely to contain the risk of asbestos-laden materials.
Consider the potential for asbestos exposure during your home renovation, especially if your home was built before the mid-1970s. Homes built as recently as 1989 possess an increased risk of asbestos exposure during renovation. What should be considered before beginning any renovation project of an older home?
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos occurs naturally and is a fiber found in soil and rock. Its extraction and use became widespread because of its availability, cost-effectiveness, and fire-retardant properties. The first indicators of the dangers of asbestos appeared in the 1930s, but it took many years and extensive investigations to reveal industry coverups of its harmful effects. It wasn’t until 1989 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began its attempt to phase asbestos out of production in the United States.
The Dangers of Asbestos
Unlike many toxic exposures, the dangers of asbestos exposure can take years or even decades to surface. More concerning is that encounters with asbestos and the likelihood of developing disease do not decrease over time. And the diseases attributed to exposure to asbestos fibers are debilitating and often deadly.
The Department of Human Health Services (HHS) has classified asbestos as a carcinogen. It has been linked to the following symptoms and diseases:
- Shortness of breath
- Scarring and inflammation of the lungs
- Pleural disorders
- Cancers of the lungs, larynx, and ovaries
Reducing asbestos exposure should be a priority in renovations of older homes.
The Use of Asbestos in Household Materials
Because of its extensive use in production, the threat of asbestos exposure is a danger in any older home renovation. The list is vast of products that contain asbestos. But some of the materials likely encountered during a renovation include:
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Roofing shingles
- Cement wall boards
- Heat-resistant fabric
- Vinyl flooring and adhesives
- Textured paints
- Patching and joint compounds
Locating Asbestos in Older Homes
There is no way to determine a material’s asbestos content by looking at it. Asbestos fibers are not distinguishable by sight. Testing is the only way to determine if asbestos is present in your home.
Check with local and state authorities to determine requirements for asbestos removal. It is recommended to use separate companies for testing and removal. This measure protects you from any unnecessary work and cost.
The safest way to address asbestos in your home is to hire an asbestos abatement professional. Ask for references, check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and research if accreditation is required in your area.
Existing materials should be intact and free of damage if you plan to leave them in your home. If possible, repair materials to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure. These repairs can be performed in two ways:
- Covering: Repairs that involve placing a protective enclosure, such as a wrap, around the material containing asbestos fibers to prevent their release
- Sealing: This type of repair encapsulates the fibers with a sealant, binding them together to prevent their release
Removal is pursued when repairing will not contain the asbestos fiber. Removal is the last option because the process is expensive and increases the risk of exposure through improper removal methods. Removal, provided by a trained professional, can:
- Protect your family from asbestos exposure
- Prevent the spread of asbestos in your home
- Allow for the proper disposal of asbestos
- Give you peace of mind
Preparing for Renovations
You may feel confident in your ability to follow the safety protocols that protect you from asbestos exposure. These steps can help you proceed once you have identified asbestos contamination.
Contain the Area
Renovations produce a significant amount of dirt and dust. Contain the area by installing zip wall barriers. Apply tape to prevent asbestos particles from escaping into your home.
Remember that clothing worn during construction can contain a significant amount of asbestos fibers. Wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) can help prevent the spread of asbestos fibers.
Demolish the Materials
Demolition should produce as little disturbance as possible to asbestos-containing materials. Place the materials in the appropriate disposal containers for safe removal. Ensure that your materials will be accepted at local waste or disposal sites before demolition begins for proper instruction on discarding.
Clean to Remove Particulate
Clean the remodeled area using damp cloths and wet mops, preventing the spread of fibers through the air. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Test the room one final time for the presence of asbestos.
Safety is Worth the Effort
Implementing safety measures when remodeling an older home is worth the extra research, work, and cost. Your family’s health depends on it. Undoing the damage is not an option, but asbestos-exposure prevention is always a choice.