Asbestos was a primary insulation choice for many homes a long time back. It was a good insulator, however, it is not used anymore due to its toxicity. Even though asbestos insulation is no more used, some old houses still have it. So how to identify if your house has asbestos insulation, what does it look like?
Asbestos as loose-fill insulation looks like shredded cotton. Its colors can range from white to silver, green, brown, gold, and blue. Asbestos in vermiculite insulation looks like rocky gravel.
Older homes (built prior to 1990) have insulation that can contain anywhere from 15 % asbestos to 100% asbestos. However, asbestos was proven to be unhealthy, so its usage of it was reduced significantly over the past years. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to Mesothelioma, Asbestosis, and even lung cancer.
What year was asbestos used in insulation?
Asbestos insulation was widely used in the United States until 1990. That year, EPA banned 5 uses of asbestos which discouraged builders from using asbestos insulation in homes. However, there was no ban on using asbestos insulation until they passed a new law in 2019. Therefore, it is possible that the houses built after 1990 have asbestos mixed with the insulation.
Let’s take a look at the history of asbestos;
Asbestos has an impressively old history. This fiber was discovered and used for the first time over 2,000 years ago, in Ancient Greece. The Greeks soon observed the dangers of Asbestos, noting symptoms as “lung sickness” in slaves that worked with this material. However, the benefits of using Asbestos were more important than slaves’ health, so this became one of the main insulation materials.
During the Middle Ages, Asbestos was used less, as the potential diseases it can generate became even more obvious. Asbestos was used again starting with the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Soon after, this material became common for different insulation projects such as steam pipes insulation, boilers, turbine insulation, and even ovens.
Heat insulation based on Asbestos as a primary product was used for the first time in 1866. in 1870, Asbestos was combined with cement and used to cover boilers. A few years after that, in 1874, the market was full of insulation products that contained high quantities of Asbestos.
In the 20th century, the dangers of this fiber came into the light again. In the 1930s, different medical journals in America linked exposure to Asbestos to lung cancer and mesothelioma. When the diseases caused by this insulation were obvious, Asbestos was banned in the United States. The first bans were established by The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the 1970s.
The latest regulation on this insulation was implemented in 1990 when EPA modified the legislation and banned only spray-on materials that contained more than 1% Asbestos.
Nowadays, Asbestos is still legal in concentrations smaller than 1%. Even in such small quantities, this fiber is still dangerous for human health in conditions of prolonged exposure.
Does my home has asbestos in insulation: how do I know
If your house was built before 1990 it is very possible that it has asbestos insulation. Even though the trend of using asbestos ended that year, the houses built later too can have asbestos insulation as its usage was not banned.
The best way to find out if your house has asbestos is by hiring an Asbestos Professional Inspector. There are many companies providing this service, so you won’t have any trouble finding one in your area. If you don’t know anyone, use a website like Homeadvisor to see the list of professionals in or near your zip code.
Of course, you can have a look at your insulation by yourself. But make sure that you don’t disturb the insulation. Movements to the insulation material can cause asbestos particles to circulate in your home, which you don’t want. The safest bet is to hire a professional as said before.
If you are a DIY kind of homeowner, know that it is almost impossible to tell if the material in your house contains Asbestos. Even if you risk taking samples of it by yourself, you will still have to send them to a professional lab for further testing. If you need an Asbestos professional, you can find one at The U.S. Department of Commerce.
Is asbestos insulation colored?
This type of insulation can vary in color drastically, depending on the concentration of it and where it is applied. In its natural form, the ore can be white, blue, green, brown, and even silver or gold.
Processed Asbestos acquires the form of fluffy fibers, becoming more difficult to identify.
When this ore is used in the walls of the building, as an insulator, it can range in color from white to blue and gray-silver.
Asbestos that is used for pipe insulation, this fiber can have a whitish shade, but in most cases, a layer of paint covers it.
If Asbestos is combined with Vermiculite (another natural ore found in insulations), it will result in a brown-gray shade or a silver-gold shade. This combination is commonly found in the walls of attics.
How to tell between fiberglass and asbestos insulation
Since fiberglass is the most common type of insulation nowadays, it is crucial to be able to tell the difference between this material and Asbestos.
Fiberglass insulation comes commonly in shades of pink, yellow and green when Asbestos insulation can be white, green, blue, brown, pink, silver or gold. Therefore, if you have pink insulation, it is most likely fiberglass while if you have blue, brown, gold, or silver insulation it can be Asbestos or another type of material. The only confusion remains for green insulation that can be found in both fiberglass and Asbestos materials.
In terms of appearance, both types of insulation look very similar to the naked eye. There is however, a test you can do to establish if you have fiberglass insulation or Asbestos. Here it is;
Take a gas torch and a small part of your insulation. Cut a square inch of it and blow the torch to see how the material reacts. The torch generates around 5300 degrees F, and you should see asbestos glowing but not melting or burning when exposed to this temperature. On the other hand, fiberglass will melt in a matter of seconds.
Note that this torch test is dangerous because it requires you to work with a potential Asbestos material by yourself.
Where is asbestos mostly found?
Nowadays, Asbestos is not produced in the United States, and it is completely imported from other countries. Even so, this material can be found in many combinations that can affect your life at different levels.
Asbestos can still be found as part of the insulation layer in homes built before the 1970s. Even after this year, asbestos was combined with vermiculite, also for insulation.
Besides vermiculite insulation, asbestos can be found in different construction materials dated before 1975. Examples of these materials are siding shingles, fabrics resistant to heat, roof shingles, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and steam pipes insulation.
In its natural form, this ore is present in underground rocks. In most cases, the ore will not be released into the environment as the rock is at a deep level in the ground. There are though, parts of the world where these rocks are closer to the surface, increasing the risk of released asbestos in the air. Such areas are California, New Jersey, Virginia, but also Corsica and Turkey.
Does pink insulation have asbestos?
Pink insulation, mainly fiberglass type, is one of the most common kinds of insulation nowadays, and it is used worldwide. This insulation doesn’t contain asbestos by default, but that doesn’t mean it can’t.
The truth is that there are still homes built with and without Asbestos insulation. But there are a few ways to tell what is the case for your house!
Check the date of construction
The first clue that your insulation might contain asbestos is its production date. If your home was insulated before 1970, you should have valid concerns that it might contain significant quantities of Asbestos. If the construction date is before the 1990s, the insulation might still contain this ore, but in smaller concentrations. It is very important to keep track not only of the construction date but also of the renovations that were done to your home along with its history.
Know what the color of your insulation means
Pink insulation is usually fiberglass and Asbestos-free, especially if it was produced after 1990. There are other insulation colors that you should be concerned about, such as silver-gold or brown-gray. These colors signal vermiculite insulation that can contain asbestos.
However, if your insulation is light gray and feels soft, you most likely have no reasons for concern. This type of insulation is made of a mineral that contains no Asbestos.
Pay attention to the texture
The texture of your insulation can offer you a significant clue regarding the presence or absence of asbestos. Fiberglass insulation that doesn’t contain asbestos has the texture of fluffy snow. If your insulation is firm and stands flat with almost no fluff, you want to test it for asbestos because it might contain such an ingredient.
You want to check these aspects regardless of the color of your insulation. The color test alone is not enough to decide if the material contains asbestos or not.
How to dispose of asbestos insulation at home
If you know you have Asbestos insulation in your home, you will most likely want to remove it. It is not recommended to dispose of Asbestos insulation in your home by yourself, especially if you lack the training and equipment to do so.
Your best and safest solution is to hire a company that is specialized in Asbestos removal. Even so, there are homeowners who want to reduce the cost of this procedure and venture into doing it themselves.
There are no federal laws, under the Environmental Protection Agency, that prevent individuals from removing asbestos from their houses. But the risk of contamination is high, and you might not even get rid of all of it due to a lack of experience. Also, regulations regarding the disposal of Asbestos are different from one state to another, which makes it hard to generalize. This unsteady legislation is another aspect to consider when you venture into such a process.
Until you get a professional to remove the asbestos from your home, there are things you can do to increase your safety. For instance, you can wet the Asbestos areas to stop the potential release of fiber.
Common regulations to consider when disposing of Asbestos
The person removing asbestos has to wear an N-100 or P-100 type of suit to avoid inhaling or getting in contact with the ore. These suits are used by licensed professionals, and they are not available for regular individuals.
Before the project of removing Asbestos starts, the HVAC system needs to be turned off. Also, the ore has to be removed from objects that can’t be detached from the general construction by using a HEPA vacuum and wet wipes. Asbestos should never get in direct contact with the skin.
Asbestos material has to be wetted before being disposed of, and placed in two bags with a thickness of 6 mm. The bags will further be placed in a plastic container with an airtight lid. All containers of asbestos have to be disposed of in specific areas, made for this purpose only. Do not dispose of asbestos in areas that are not regulated for such a practice as it will be a hazard for the community and you will suffer fees. The fees in such a case are established by the local authority.
Besides removing the asbestos itself, all the products that were exposed to this material have to be decontaminated. This is only a task for professionals as they will have to isolate the clothes and objects exposed to asbestos and use chemical treatments to remove any residue of this ore from them.
Asbestos is one of the most dangerous materials used in different types of insulation. Despite its insulating properties, the hazards it presents to humans are significantly superior. It is essential to take all the protection measures if you think you have been exposed to this material and announce to the licensing authorities to remove it.
Keep in mind that asbestos exposure might not show symptoms until years later, when the disease it caused is way too advanced for proper treatment. This is why prevention is a lot more important when dealing with asbestos and constant care becomes mandatory.
Additional reading: How to tell the difference between asbestos and cellulose insulation