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by Vanessa Graham

There are few things as special as an antique home. Older homes have their own personality and are often places that generations have created and shared memories for years. However, older homes require more attention and maintenance than the modern homes built after 2000.

If you plan on renovating your home and it was built before the 1980s, it is important to be mindful of possible exposure to asbestos and other pollutants in the air. You can reduce your exposure by knowing where you can find asbestos in your home and avoiding these sources. Throughout the mid-20th century, asbestos was a common mineral used in home and industrial building materials due to its strong properties of withstanding heat and chemical deterioration.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos dates back to Ancient Greek times, having been used as a tool in many cultures and societies for its binding properties. A set of 6 naturally-occurring fibrous minerals that have the ability to resist copious amounts of heat and electricity, asbestos was once an attractive material to build with.

Asbestos is still legal in the United States; up to one percent can be used in building materials. The most common type of asbestos, chrysotile, accounts for 90 percent of commercially-used asbestos throughout the world. Chrysotile asbestos is from other types of asbestos because it is white, long and curly.

When was asbestos used in homes

Production of asbestos-containing material in the United States essentially came to a halt in the late 1970s when it was discovered to be a cancer-causing agent. Though its use is now highly regulated, asbestos may be found in almost 80 percent of homes built before 1980.

How can you be exposed to asbestos?

Jobs that had frequent contact with asbestos were usually dominated by males, where they unknowingly brought asbestos back into their homes. Microscopic fibers have the ability to cling to clothing, skin, and hair which has been linked to second-hand exposure, especially for family members.

If your home contains sources of asbestos, fibers and particles could be released into the air if the materials are disturbed or damaged. This may happen during home maintenance, repair or renovation.

Asbestos and health

Not knowing the facts about asbestos may lead to serious consequences, sometimes fatal. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure breathing in or ingesting these fibers may provoke several chronic conditions. The tiny fibers may cling to organs such as the lungs, stomach and heart. Asbestos can linger in the air between 48 and 72 hours. During this time, anyone in close proximity to the location to the damaged asbestos is put at serious risk.

Regardless of length of exposure, asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen. A factory worker on the job for 30 years could be in contact with asbestos on a weekly basis, while someone doing a home renovation project might only be put in danger for a week. Either way, both pose serious health risks. After asbestos is breathed in, it can settle and manifest for 20-50 years creating an incurable disease like the lesser known cancer mesothelioma. Disturbed asbestos in the home, has the potential to affect the body’s lungs, which is known as pleural mesothelioma. Knowing any risks before beginning a home project is imperative to your safety. While stirring up some air pollutants may be hard to avoid, being aware of asbestos is very important.

Why was asbestos used in homes?

During the 1970s and 80s, asbestos was a cheap, durable and versatile substance, which made it a very appealing material for construction. Asbestos was added to concrete mixtures to increase their lifespan and make them less porous. Adding asbestos to building materials allowed them to burn slower and withstand chemical reactions

Where can asbestos be found in the home?

If your home was built during or before the 1980s, it may contain sources of asbestos in building materials and other places. Undamaged asbestos does not pose nearly the same threat as disturbed asbestos. DIY projects are very appealing due to benefits like saving money, learning a new skill and having full anatomy on creating that dream home you’ve always wanted. If you are a homeowner of a house 30 years or older, your best option is to call in a trained professional and have each room tested for asbestos’ presence. If it is in your home, it is important to understand the facts and risks that come along with this cancerous toxin. It is well known that asbestos was often mixed with cement materials, however, it was actually used in almost every area of the home. Starting from the top of the home and working our way down and outside, here is where you could be potentially at risk of encountering this substance:


Most attics are not used for living but for storage. Nevertheless, this is a popular room to find asbestos. Vermiculite insulation made with asbestos tends to have a brown to grey color and resembles something of small rocks similar to popcorn ceilings. The concrete walls and flooring, fiberboard, and roofing tiles can all be tested to find trace amounts of asbestos in them.

Main house:

Most DIY home renovation projects tend to start in popular areas of the home like the kitchen or bedroom. When dealing with an older home, it’s imperative to be extra careful because asbestos can be found in materials you’d never think to be cautious of. Popcorn ceilings have been very well associated with having asbestos in them for years. Other products that homeowners are less aware of include window glaze to keep the draft out, lighting fixtures, linoleum and other flooring tiles, plaster, paint and caulking to seal gaps and cracks throughout the home. If a house fire occurred 30 years ago, the average family had on average 17 minutes to escape their home safety. Now days in newer homes, families have on average three to four minutes to get out of their house. Much of this accounts for the fact that asbestos was such a slow burning material.


While it’s extremely rare for a furnace in a home to last longer than 15-30 years, if you own an original furnace, it is likely to contain asbestos and should be replaced immediately. Other large appliances that are usually housed in the basement and linked to asbestos are water heaters, piping insulation and wood, coal or pellet burning stoves.


Watch out for asbestos when doing upkeep on the external side of the home. Old shingles, siding, and roofing materials have all been proven to utilize asbestos. If these materials on the house stay intact it doesn’t present a huge threat. However, natural disasters can become a concern. When your house gets damaged from storms asbestos can be released into the air.

asbestos in home roof shingles

Safety tips for asbestos in your home

Finding asbestos in a home can take a major toll on your project timeline and your bank account. It is better to safely find it before putting your entire family at risk. Since asbestos can be delicate, it is easily broken when disturbed. If the microscopic fibers become airborne they can be breathed in and cause sickness down the line. Wear proper face masks and clothing when working on your house. Below are the three main steps to deal with asbestos properly and keep your family safe.

  1. Do not disturb asbestos – Never try to remove asbestos of any kind, shape or form on your own. If it is not crushed or damaged it is safer to leave it undisturbed.
  2. Have it tested – If you do believe asbestos is in your home, contact a local inspector who is specifically qualified to deal with asbestos. They can safely control the broken sample and send it out for testing.
  3. Have it removed – If the results come back positive to having asbestos in the home, it is important to act fast and have it removed completely by a professional abatement company.

Make sure to monitor air quality during this process. After the work of repair or removal is completed, ask an inspector or independent air testing contractor to check levels of asbestos fibers in the air.

It is no secret that asbestos is a scary toxin, but becoming educated about its location, how it is disturbed, and resulting health effects can have lasting impacts on you and your family. Healthy Lung Month is a reminder that our lungs are irreplaceable and taking care of them should be our top priority. Ask questions about your home and take action to remove any toxin that could be hidden inside.

There may be other pollutants in your home, in addition to asbestos, that you can protect you and your family from. Even in new homes, common indoor air pollutants come from building materials and products like paint, flooring and engineered wood. Learning about these pollutants can help protect you and your family and improve your indoor air quality.

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