Asbestos: Does your home have it?

Hank Bailey
Hank Bailey
Published on August 13, 2019

The word “asbestos” can strike terror into the ears of homebuyers. It sounds like a big problem, and it often is.

But, how do you know if it’s an issue in your home or the home you have your eye on when house hunting? What should you do about it? And can it affect the sale of your property?

What Is Asbestos?

Although you may think asbestos was cooked up in a laboratory, it wasn’t. It’s a naturally occurring mineral that’s still quarried in some countries.

When it was found to have insulator and fire-retardant properties around the 1940s, asbestos was put into large-scale use. It’s often found as insulation in ceilings, floors, walls and around pipes.

Sadly, it was only later that researchers discovered it also posed a serious health risk, including severe types of respiratory cancer. In the 1980s, there was a movement to remove asbestos from public buildings such as schools and hospitals to make it safer for communities.

Private property owners were mostly left to handle the situation on their own.

How Do You Know If You Have Asbestos in Your Home?

If your house was built between the 1940s and the 1970s, it’s entirely possible that you have some form of asbestos insulation lurking somewhere.

But, don’t panic yet.

Asbestos only creates a problem for homeowners if it’s disturbed. Left intact, the micro-particles don’t enter the air and, therefore, won’t get into your lungs.

The trouble comes when you plan to build an extension or do heavy renovations.

So how do you know whether you have it and whether you should be concerned?

The only way to safely determine whether asbestos is present in a structure is to have it professionally tested… and then professionally removed while the home is unoccupied.

If you are buying or selling a home that was built before 1980, it’s likely that there is some level of asbestos unless you have a certificate regarding its removal.

But checking for this mineral is usually not part of the home inspection process unless specifically requested. With this said, an experienced home inspector can at times point it out.  Just as an example, I remember one inspection where my home inspector flagged asbestos “tape” on the duct work of a home built in the 1960’s.  All that to say that asbestos can be places you wouldn’t necessarily have thought it without training.

Please understand, the onus is on the seller to disclose any material that is a hazard and could create a health issue.  Yet you are also relying on the seller’s experience level and knowledge base to know whether there is asbestos in an older home or not. I would always therefore encourage my home buyer to check for asbestos over and beyond what the seller’s disclosure might convey, especially if renovations are in the cards after purchase. One thing to note. Please remember that for more evasive testing during due diligence, the buyer will need permission from the seller to perform these tests.

All in all, it can become complicated if you are contemplating structural changes to the home, but it’s not a deal breaker in most cases.

Learn more about asbestos in the home and how to protect yourself and your family at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

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