Asbestos Lurking in Old Heating Systems

Asbestos Lurking in Old Heating Systems

Asbestos has been banned in the USA since 1978, but it has been widely used in construction and home furnishings before that, and to this day, it is present in many homes. The "miracle" material was in high demand for its numerous convenient properties, such as resistance to fire, durability, resistance to electricity, and extraordinary strength. Furthermore, it was also very inexpensive to purchase and broadly available.

However, asbestos is a carcinogen, which means that longtime exposure to its fibers poses a high risk of inhalation or ingestion and can result in severe diseases within 20 to 50 years. The prime of asbestos usage was between 1920 and 1980, and besides millions of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout the United States, appliances would also contain the mineral.

Asbestos in Kindler Wicking for Oil-Burning Stoves

Asbestos wick consisted of several strands of asbestos yarn. It was used in old oil-burning stoves, ranges, and combination circulating heaters, as it withstood the high temperatures from the flames, burned slowly, and lasted longer. Many wicking brands contained a high percentage of asbestos: the soft-woven textiles could quickly release asbestos fibers when disturbed.

The old "wickless" oil stoves from the 1920s through the 1950s used edge-burning asbestos "kindler" wick. Different heights and lengths of asbestos wicking were utilized in various stoves depending on the size of the burner. It could be bought in hardware stores anywhere, packed in boxes. Asbestos wicking was sold at the right length or in feet-long rolls, and one should cut the size of wick they needed off the roll. Asbestos wasn't considered dangerous, so people handled asbestos-containing products daily without knowing the hazard of releasing asbestos fibers into the air and developing severe asbestos-related illnesses many years later.

Asbestos in Wood-Burning Stoves and Gas Fireplaces

Another asbestos source in the heating systems of homes built before the 1980s is the wood-burning stove. Asbestos may be found in the stove's components, ducts, and the flue used to vent gases. The toxic mineral is likely in the insulating and fireproofing material around the old wood stoves:

  • millboard
  • cement sheet
  • asbestos paper
  • asbestos tape

Older wood-burning stoves with cooktop surfaces may contain asbestos in their pads, trivets, and door gaskets. Fireplaces in older homes are another source of asbestos-containing materials, such as insulating paper, asbestos cement, and mortar. But they have had other potential asbestos-containing parts like:

  • artificial gas logs
  • artificial embers
  • artificial ash
  • firebricks
  • fireplace inserts

The invention of gas fireplaces was part of the vast new technology that blew up in the 1970s and was set to replace natural wood fireplaces thanks to saving costs and requiring little to no maintenance. There wouldn't even be the need to build an actual chimney anymore. When gas fireplaces started appearing in homes in the 1970s, consumers wanted them to resemble a real fire, so fake embers were in demand. They were initially made of asbestos, so older gas fireplaces could burn asbestos daily, and people would never even know about it.

Even if the stove or fireplace heat can disturb the insulation, finding asbestos in old heating systems does not mean your family is in danger. Asbestos poses risks only when it becomes friable. There's no danger if your fireplace is in good condition - the mineral would be enclosed in the hardened compounds and secured. If you see exposed and brittle asbestos insulation material, it can be handled through either repair or removal. Call a professional if you believe restoration is needed after you inspect it for visible signs of deterioration. If you want to remove it yourself, read our DIY asbestos removal page to learn how to deal with asbestos yourself.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.