How to Identify Asbestos in Fireplace Chimneys and Wood Stoves

By Stan G. in Construction

Families owning houses all across the United States might have asbestos and asbestos-embedded materials lurking around their safe havens.

Such probability is considerably higher when the buildings in question are older properties since asbestos was the miraculous mineral accommodating the needs of most industries and businesses until not too long ago. Prior to the 1980s, most public structures and private homes in the U.S. have been constructed with asbestos-based mixtures, due to its abundant availability on one hand, and fireproofing and strengthening characteristics on the other hand.

The toxic substance was officially banned in 1977 from most of its uses, however, regulations only refer to how asbestos is to be treated from that point on, without directly addressing the obvious incongruity: what about the various systems and constructions that have been built with asbestos? Confronted with such an unfortunate miscalculation, U.S. homeowners should proceed with caution in any home improvement endeavor.

Could There Be Asbestos-Containing Materials in or Around My Fireplace?

As you begin prepping your home's heating system for the chilly months ahead, consider your home's age. Older fireplace chimneys may contain asbestos boards or pads below the mantel or asbestos insulation linings sandwiched in the chimney to protect the home from radiant heat. Artificial embers and ashes in gas fireplaces may also contain asbestos to support the heating flame.

Asbestos could be ingrained in components of the fireplace such as:

  • Asbestos cement: commonly used to patch chimneys
  • Chimney flues: the lining of the pipes preventing heat from escaping
  • Decorations: artificial ash, embers, and logs
  • Gas fires: might still retain original fuel texture containing asbestos
  • Stove gaskets: used to seal air leaks
  • Wood-burning stove: pads and trivets placed on top

All chimneys, furnaces, and wood stoves are required to have a rating plate for compliance. If you can find the metal plate attached to your fire fireplace, it will provide information about the manufacturer. For wood-burning stoves, for example, the rating plate can be found inside the firebox or on the back of the stove.

Companies that manufactured chimneys, furnaces, and wood stoves with asbestos include:

  • Babcock and Wilcox Company
  • General Electric Company
  • Grant-Wilson, Inc.
  • Johns Manville Corporation
  • Rutland
  • Hercules

If you suspect there may be materials in and around your fireplace that contain asbestos purchase an asbestos sampling kit on the market and follow the instructions carefully. Asbestos testing kits enable untrained people to take samples of suspect materials themselves.

Fireplaces and Chimneys Constructed With Asbestos-Based Mixtures - Removal or Repair?

If your fireplace is in good condition and has remained intact over the years, then even if it contained asbestos, the mineral would just be stuck in the hardened compounds in which it is secured. The risks appear when the asbestos fibers are released into the air if they had been disturbed in some way, causing them to crumble and settle into dust particles that can easily be inhaled or ingested.

If asbestos insulation material becomes exposed, the problem can be remedied through either repair or removal. It is possible for insulation to be broken, deteriorated, or damaged in such a way that repair is not possible, requiring removal; however, it is recommended that repair take place whenever possible.

In the times in which DIY projects tempt the average person to give pretty much everything a try themselves, it is especially important to be vigilant about turning your home into a hazardous site. If you would like to renovate your fireplace or you believe it is in need of repair, you should be inspecting it for visible signs of deterioration and call a professional if it is indeed in a poor condition. If you want to remove it yourself, you must be extremely cautious when doing so as asbestos is extremely toxic. Read our Asbestos Removal page to find out 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.