Asbestos is a scary word among homeowners. While you may not know exactly what it is, you’re probably well aware that it isn’t great to have in your home. Yet, a house built before 1978 also most likely has lead exterior, and potentially interior, paint. This may include floor tiles, door gaskets, shingles, ceilings, walls or other areas within your house.

If you are planning a home renovation and you run into or suspect that you’ve found this fibrous material, it’s important to know how to safely remove it.

Friable vs. Non-Friable

While asbestos is a very dangerous substance, it is only a health hazard if you disturb it. Moreover, some asbestos-containing materials can pose a higher risk to you than others. These materials are considered friable, meaning they can easily crumble and release dust and fibers that may travel through the air and enter your lungs.

While some elements of your home are naturally crumble-prone, many materials can disintegrate and release asbestos dust through sanding, cutting or general deterioration.

Non-friable material, on the other hand, is a bit safer than friable material, as the asbestos fibers are bound into the product. Since this material is solid, it doesn’t release dust, making it safe unless you disturb it. Ceilings and floor tiles are two prime examples of non-friable material. If you don’t try to remove them, you aren’t at risk of inhaling asbestos.

Know the Health Risks

As mentioned, asbestos fibers can quickly become airborne and travel into your airways. Once you are exposed, there’s no reversing the effects, which can be quite serious.

Problems associated with breathing in asbestos include mesothelioma, lung scarring, pleural plaques and other related lung diseases. However, you may not notice symptoms for 10 to 40 years after exposure. So, if you have asbestos in your home, it’s best to find out sooner rather than later. This will help you avoid long-term exposure and its deadly effects.

Hire an Inspector

How can you actually tell whether your home has asbestos?

You can’t make the determination of whether a material has the substance in it by visual examination alone. You have to physically cut it open and test it. This, of course, is a health hazard and something you shouldn’t do unless you are a professional.

It’s usually best to hire an inspector to come and test the material for you in a safe and contained manner. If the professional determines you do have asbestos in your home, you must postpone renovations until you can address it.

Remove Asbestos Yourself

If asbestos-containing materials are in good condition, it’s usually best to leave them alone and simply renovate around them. However, if you decide to tear out a wall, a ceiling or a floor and you can’t avoid the asbestos, you will have no choice but to remove it.

Yes — you can get rid of it yourself. There is no law prohibiting you from doing so, as long as you don’t pay the people who help you and the property you’re working with is a residential, single-family home.

Bring in a Pro

While it is possible to remove asbestos yourself, it’s best to hire a professional who knows how to remove it safely and properly. This way, you won’t have to rent a hazmat suit or put your health at risk.

Before hiring someone, be sure to ask for proof of their accreditation, training and experience. Research the company they work for to see if they have any previous compliance violations or safety citations. Once you find a trustworthy professional, hand over the reins and rest easy knowing they’re doing the job right.

Emily is a sustainability writer who is the creator of Conservation Folks.