How to Identify Asbestos

Knowing how to identify asbestos is important if you live in an older home that might use asbestos as a building material. A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos was used as an insulation and building material in the 19th and 20th centauries. In the 1980s, concerns about the health risks of asbestos use led to the substance being banned for construction use and wave after wave of asbestos lawsuits. Many older homes that contain asbestos materials and identifying these materials is a first step in making older homes safer to live in.

Learn How To Identify Asbestos Building Materials
In general, homes built after the mid 1980s are unlikely to contain asbestos-based construction materials. These materials were phased out in the 1980s and are not currently used or produced in the United States and many other countries.

Unfortunately, asbestos bearing materials were frequently used in homes built from 1930 to 1980. Asbestos was used in insulation, siding, floor tiles and even material used to create "pop corn" textured ceilings. The good news is that, other than loose insulation, most asbestos bearing products are best left where they are as long as they are in good repair. The primary danger from asbestos is when fibers are released into the air. Fibers are typically released from damaged or worn materials-materials in good shape don't typically release dangerous fibers.

Although only a trained lab technician can identify asbestos materials with certainty, there are a number of ways to identify probable asbestos related materials. Here are a few tips:

  • Siding - Asbestos fibers were used to manufacture home siding from the 1920s to the 1960s: this siding was often known as "fiber-cement" siding. To identify asbestos fiber siding, look at the thickness of paint on the siding. Newer, replacement siding will have fewer layers of paint than older siding which has been repainted a number of times. Also, newer (non-asbestos) siding may have a manufacturer's logo and identifying code numbers printed on the back.
  • Pipe insulation - Often used to insulate basement pipes, asbestos pipe insulation is easy to identify. In the manufacturing process, asbestos pipe insulation was covered with a corrugated cardboard wrapper. Modern fiberglass pipe insulation, by contrast, is coated with heavy weight craft paper. If you can see an exposed end of the pipe insulation, you should be able to tell the difference between the corrugated wrap and the smooth paper wrap.
  • Floor tiles - Asphalt-asbestos floor tiles were popular from the 1930s until the 1960s. Some of these tiles may have been composed of nearly 70% asbestos fibers. These tiles are typically black, brown or dark gray and tend to be much thicker than more modern, asbestos-free tiles. It is rare to find these tiles in uses today, but they may be encountered under re-tiled or renovated flooring.
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