How to Spot Asbestos Insulation

By Stan G. in Construction

The dangers of asbestos should be known to every homeowner by now, as it can be found in a wide range of products, from walls to roof tiles. Exposure to asbestos can be extremely harmful, causing a lot of health problems, including shortness of breath and lung cancer.

However, asbestos-containing products are only dangerous if damaged. If they are found in good condition, asbestos-containing materials should be left undisturbed, as they pose little to no health risk. Asbestos can be found in various types of insulation. In comparison to batt insulation, loose-fill insulation can threaten people's health if poorly installed. Inside walls or around pipes, a lot of particles can be released and this way, insulation becomes an issue that most homeowners encounter at some point.

Identifying asbestos insulation

Homes built in the last 30 or 40 years have hot water pipes, steam pipes, and furnace ducts insulated with material containing asbestos. That's because asbestos is a highly-effective and inexpensive fire-retardant, thermal and acoustic insulator.

Properly identifying asbestos and limiting its potential to become airborne can help you avoid some serious health problems in the future. Therefore, asbestos insulation should be properly identified and safely removed from your home. But how can you spot asbestos insulation in your house?

The most common type of insulation contains asbestos mixed with paper, textiles, or cement materials. Most-often, this asbestos insulating product appears as a blanket-type covering around the elbows and valves of your pipes.

Things to know for when identifying asbestos:

  • Find out when your house was built. If it was built or renovated before the 1980s, it is very likely that it contains asbestos insulation.
  • Wear protective equipment. If you plan on checking the insulation in your house all by yourself, you should wear proper safety equipment which includes goggles, mask, gloves, and a protective suit.
  • Look for insulation present in the home. Both batt type and loose asbestos-containing insulation are gray-colored materials with a fluffy aspect, so it should not be too difficult to recognize them. Moreover, Zonolite insulation has an accordion texture easy to identify.
  • Check the pipe coverings. Blanket-type and cardboard coverings were usually used as insulation for pipes and might contain asbestos as well.

Asbestos Can Also Be Found in Loose-Fill Attic Insulation

Although vermiculite insulation is no longer used in new construction, many homes in the U.S. still have it. The expanded vermiculite is an odorless material that has been used in numerous products, including insulation for attics and walls. It looks like popcorn or small pebbles and is usually silver-gold to gray-brown with some metallic colors mixed in.

Testing of vermiculite insulation for the presence of asbestos fibers can end up with a false negative result. This goes for any kind of insulation packed in between rafters. Find out more about how to identify asbestos-containing products in your home.

Safe Practices Around Asbestos

Depending on when your home was built, it may already contain asbestos. Asbestos should always be treated with care but is not usually a problem unless it's damaged or disturbed. The only way to prevent the fibers from releasing into the air is to keep the materials in good condition or to remove and replace them.

If you are renovating your house or are moving into a new place that needs rebuilding, you may have to remove asbestos with health concerns coming at the top of the list. There are a few asbestos removal options available - depending on its location, condition, and whether or not it's friable.

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.