The general rule of thumb is that if your home was built prior to 1980 there is a high possibility that Asbestos was used somewhere in its construction. This could have been in tape joints in drywall, plaster, textured ceilings, suspended ceiling tiles, floor tile, pipe insulation, fire stops, or attic insulation among other places.
Generally, you can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it unless it is labelled and nor can a Home Inspector. Some home Inspectors will call out components that look like Asbestos and are wrong to do so. The word Asbestos cause untold anxiety and most of the time, unnecessarily.
Some Inspectors might be right in identifying the component has asbestos in it. Even if a component has asbestos in it, it may not qualify as Asbestos Containing Material (ACM).
Even if it’s ACM it may not be friable.
Obviously, if in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos and leave it alone or encapsulate it, without disturbing it.
However what if:
- You are planning to remodel your home? or
- Your home has damaged building materials?
It’s not Asbestos until it’s tested!
In any situation, you are better off calling a trained professional to identify if you have a problem with Asbestos Containing Materials, or more importantly, not.
Avoid a conflict of interest.
An asbestos professional hired to assess the need for asbestos repair or removal should not be connected with an asbestos firm that does the actual repair or removal of materials. It is better to use two different firms so there is no conflict of interest.
What decides if Asbestos is present?
As part of the sampling process, our Inspectors take three samples of the area of concern. This is required to ensure that the likelihood of asbestos in the building materials has been tested as thoroughly as possible with the minimal amount of damage. It’s also the minimum amount required by legislators in Ontario to allow a tester to confidently make the decision if a material is unlikely to contain Asbestos.
We then send the samples to a laboratory that has specialist teams to identify Asbestos. Our process with the lab is such that each sample is tested in turn, and if Asbestos is found, the sampling process stops. This reduces the cost to you if the tests are positive.
If there are no Asbestos fibres found in a sample, or the % of fibres found are lower than the limit to identify the material as ACM (Asbestos Containing Material), the lab goes onto the next sample, until all three are tested negative. Negative results cost the most from a testing perspective, but they give you the greatest confidence in the probability of an Asbestos free material.
If the number of Asbestos fibres found in any sample exceeds those need to classify the material as ACM, then testing stops.
Remediation or corrective action, as desired, would now be required on your part. We say “as desired” because if the Asbestos is not friable, then there is no mandatory requirement to remediate.
At this point, for ACM that is not damaged and not friable, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to limit access to the area and not to touch or disturb it.
Encapsulation is another way of dealing with ACM that is not friable but might cause concern to those uneducated people who are driven by the press frenzy over Asbestos.
If asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a trained and accredited asbestos professional is needed.
Checking any work has been done right
After any removal or repair work has been completed, our inspectors can return and do air sampling to ensure the remediators have done their job right.
Because we are independent of any remediators, you can be assured that we will not “fudge” any figures to say work is complete and the air is safe if it is not.
Again, watch for any conflict of interest. Remediators should not provide you with the air sampling either before or after any work. Keep the sampling independent.
When to worry and when not to worry?
We hear from members of the public about the fact that an inspector has found asbestos in their homes only to go out and find that the Inspector has misidentified the concerns. Either they’ve called something out as Asbestos without testing it, and it’s not, or they’ve taken a sample for testing and in the process damaged what would be perfectly OK ACM that was not friable.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety, “Asbestos is a hazard to health when the fibers are disturbed and become airborne. This means that asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are present in the air and then people breathe them into the lungs. Fibres can be released into the air when asbestos-containing products break down. This release can happen through deterioration or when the material is cut or disturbed.”
Current scientific and medical evidence supports the fact that simply living or working in a building containing asbestos is not dangerous as long as the asbestos is in good condition (i.e. undamaged). It is when asbestos is worked with or disturbed and asbestos fibres are released that the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is increased.
The people at greatest risk of developing an asbestos-related disease are those that frequently undertake repairs, renovations and other work which can generate the release of asbestos fibres into the air.
The likelihood of any particular person developing an asbestos-related illness depends on a number of factors, including:
- length of time a person is exposed to airborne asbestos fibres
- concentration or levels of asbestos in the air breathed
- individual susceptibility
- size and type of asbestos fibres
- influence of other factors, especially cigarette smoke. (Research has shown that smoking significantly increases the risk of lung cancer in people who have been exposed to asbestos or any number of other pollutants.)
So let’s look at a few examples.
Without detracting from the number of class action lawsuits that have made a lot of lawyers very rich in the U.S. and other places, and the fact that prolonged exposure to any carcinogen increase the risk of some form of Cancer, we, as humans, have been living and working with Asbestos and Asbestos materials since the building of the pyramids. If it was that bad for us, wouldn’t the earth’s population be shrinking rather than expanding at ever exponential rates?
As with all things, understand the concern, identify the risk, take appropriate action to minimise that risk, but sensibly balance the action and the cost of the action to the risk.
Remember, your home inspection is not a toxic material inspection. Whether that’s mould, asbestos, lead paint, radon or anything else. Sure an inspector will call-out for a specialist inspection of something that is of concern, but some inspectors are better aware or better educated and know when a concern is a concern and when it is just hyperbole. Ensure you get an inspector that not only knows the difference but can explain things to you in a common-sense way.
If we see something that looks like it may be ACM AND it’s friable, we’ll call it out. Generally, we work on the principle that knowledge has been out there for decades on the internet and in newspapers to scare people enough about living in old houses and Asbestos.
I personally have lived and worked on homes that had Asbestos in the walls, plaster, vinyl tiles, siding, transite pipes, firewalls, firebreaks, pipe insulation, knob & tube sheathing and vermiculite. If I had to renovate or remedy, I took the proper precautions to minimise the friable asbestos and dust. There’s no way I’m ripping a house apart to remove something that does not need removing, and that includes the 1907 home I live in as of writing.
We certainly don’t alarm people when there’s no need for alarm.