From the 1930s to the 1980s, the carcinogenic mineral asbestos could be found in a variety of materials commonly used in the construction of homes, schools, and office buildings. Now known to cause deadly diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer, recognizing where asbestos is commonly located inside homes, having the ability to quickly identify asbestos, and understanding how to safely remove it from a job site are critically important in any construction project.

What are the dangers of asbestos? 

Asbestos is a deadly fibrous mineral that is invisible to the naked eye. While it is relatively harmless when left undisturbed, construction demolition – like installing hardwood floors or replacing windows – can disturb asbestos fibers that then circulate through the air. When these circulating asbestos fibers are inhaled, a build-up of scar tissue in the lungs begins to develop and can result in the loss of lung function.

What materials are most likely to contain asbestos? 

One of the most common places to find asbestos in your home is in asbestos floor tiles. Originally appearing in either vinyl tiles or asphalt tiles, asbestos was used in the flooring materials due to its strength, durability, and capacity to withstand extreme heat. Asbestos could make up to 70% of the weight of some of these kinds of vinyl or asphalt tiles.

As in most cases, asbestos used in these tiles is typically released only when it is disturbed. These disturbances can include anything from typical wear and tear that exposes the asbestos adhesives or renovation projects that require ripping up the old flooring. When replacing dated vinyl flooring during construction, it is critical to understand the risks associated with disturbing these kinds of asbestos-laden materials.

Popcorn ceilings, popular in the United States between 1945 and 1990, are also at high risk of containing asbestos. Though the Environmental Protection Agency banned hazardous pollutants like asbestos from ceiling coverings in 1973, suppliers continued selling overstocked inventory that contained asbestos. For this reason, it is general practice to assume any popcorn ceiling or similar dimpling ceiling decoration installed before the 1990s contains asbestos and should be professionally removed.

How can I identify asbestos-containing materials?  

Since these fibers are microscopic, the best way to identify asbestos in floor tiles is to hire an asbestos abatement professional. That said, there are a few red flags that may indicate a floor tile might contain asbestos.

The following are signs floor tiles may include asbestos:

  • Tiles were made between 1930 and 1980
  • Square tiles are more likely to contain asbestos
  • In vinyl tiles, look for paler shades of pink, green, cream, and blue
  • In asphalt tiles, look for darker shades with an asphalt border

When it comes to identifying asbestos in other household materials such as ceilings and roofing, age is really the best indicator of risk. If your house was built before 1980, it’s best practice to inspect for asbestos before beginning any major remodeling project.

Other indicators of asbestos in your home’s materials are dimpling. When small dimples appear in products like shingles, roofing materials, or pipe insulation it is advised to seek out a professional before potentially disturbing the asbestos. The professional abatement specialist will be able to distinguish between asbestos or general wear-and-tear on a material.

What can I do if I find asbestos? 

It is mandatory to halt all demolition or construction work when you suspect there may be asbestos on site. Asbestos fibers float undetectably in the air, making any minor disturbance to their original form incredibly dangerous.

Once an abatement specialist is called and the asbestos has been successfully removed from a job site, demolition and construction can typically move forward without any increased risk to you and your team. In many cases, the site will be more secure and safer than when you first arrived at it.

During any construction project, there is a risk of encountering asbestos. Though it may seem like little more than a formality given how commonly the material appears during construction projects, it’s a real warning. The risks associated with asbestos exposure make it clear that proper identification, treatment, and removal are critically important to the health and safety of everyone involved in your home renovation project.