Nowadays, most homeowners are aware of the dangers of asbestos. Unfortunately, before the 1980s, the risks were largely unknown to contractors and the general public. Back then, the material was frequently used, especially for insulation purposes. In fact, asbestos was once considered the gold standard for home insulation, and many homeowners are now paying the price.
If your home was built in the 20th century, you may be at risk for asbestos exposure. If you have asbestos anywhere in your home, it’s important to identify it. Keep reading to learn more about asbestos insulation, its effects on your health, and how to find and remove it.
What Is Asbestos Insulation?
A relatively common term, “asbestos insulation” simply refers to home insulation material that contains asbestos. If you own an older home, the chances that you have some form of asbestos insulation are pretty high.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. The consistency and texture of asbestos make it appear very similar to cotton, and the structure of the fibers is extremely effective at slowing the transfer of heat. That’s why it was considered such a great home insulator. In fact, you’ll find insulation products containing between 15% and 100% of asbestos in many older homes.
Why Asbestos Insulation Is Dangerous
There’s no doubt that inhaling fibers produced by asbestos can have a serious impact on your health and safety. The extent of asbestos use in the insulation of many homes in the 1900s has caused a plethora of these health issues in workers and homeowners.
Asbestos fibers, depending on the amount and frequency of inhalation, can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms, such as coughing, breathing problems, loss of appetite, and chest pain. These symptoms usually don’t occur immediately; rather, they often show up years after exposure. If the problem goes unidentified, long-term health conditions can occur, including the following:
- Lung Cancer
Types of Asbestos Insulation
There are various types of home insulation that sometimes contain asbestos. The four most common types of insulation are blanket, block, loose-fill, and spray-on:
- Blanket Insulation — Usually either in the form of batts (pre-cut sections) or large rolls, blanket insulation generally looks like a big, cotton-like blanket. It is very flexible and is often used in attics and walls or wrapped around pipes.
- Block Insulation — These are rigid panels (generally made of foam) that can be found in any insulated area in the home.
- Loose-Fill Insulation — Blown into place using special equipment, loose-fill insulation comes in a variety of forms, but can almost always be identified by it’s fluffy texture.
- Spray-On Insulation — Spray-on insulation is often used in hard-to-reach areas; it’s sprayed on in liquid form and then the material expands and hardens to fill gaps.
- Vermiculite Insulation — Comprised of mica flakes that have been heat-treated to puff them up. The conditions in which mica forms are very similar to that of certain types of asbestos, and can therefore often be found within this type of insulation.
These types of insulation can be composed of a variety of different materials. They don’t always contain asbestos, and some types are much more likely than others to pose a risk.
Some insulation materials — including fiberglass, cellulose, and mineral wool — rarely contain hazardous mineral. Others, especially vermiculite insulation, almost always contain asbestos. Fortunately, vermiculite insulation is easily identifiable. It looks a lot like potting soil additives and it usually glitters brown or silvery gold due to its mica content.
Common Places To Find Asbestos Insulation in Your Home
Asbestos insulation is common in older homes. But where are you most likely to find it? In general, any insulated part of your home could potentially be hosting asbestos-containing material. Therefore, when looking for and trying to identify asbestos insulation, check the areas that are the most vulnerable to heat transfer. That’s where you’ll find insulation material, which may contain asbestos.
Asbestos insulation is usually found in the less-visible parts of the home, including the following:
Although some of the more common types of asbestos materials, such as vermiculite insulation, can sometimes be identified by sight, other types can be extremely difficult to recognize visually. That’s why, in order to know for sure if you’re being exposed to asbestos, you need to test for it.
How To Identify Asbestos Insulation Safely
According to researchers, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Therefore, if you discover insulation in your home that you believe may contain toxic material, you should not try to remove it or inspect it closely by yourself. Instead, if you suspect an area may be contaminated with asbestos, especially if the material is damaged in any way, you should call a professional.
This is a good rule of thumb for asbestos insulation. But insulation is not the only place in your home where asbestos could be present. If you find asbestos in your ceiling, in your floor tiles, or anywhere else in your home, it’s important to get a sample tested by a professional lab. For a list of Oregon-approved labs visit Oregon.gov.
What To Do if Your Insulation Contains Asbestos
If you suspect that the insulation in your walls, attic, or pipes could contain asbestos, or that the hazardous material may be present in other areas of your home, and would like more information about safe maintenance and removal, you can find it on the Oregon accredited asbestos laboratories list.
JSE Labs has a team of highly trained professionals to test materials in your home for asbestos so that you can ensure the health and safety of your family. You can drop off or mail your sample (make sure you wear gloves and take safety precautions) or contact us to schedule an in-home visit to have our experts collect and inspect your sample for you.
Lisa started in the industrial hygiene and environmental industry in 1992 as an asbestos microscopist and began performing building inspections for asbestos, lead paint, and other hazards in 1994.
“This career has been an amazing experience, traveling for work to perform inspections both locally and abroad to locations such as Hawaii and Germany. My real love however is being in the laboratory and assisting our wonderful clients.”