Asbestos was a major component in many construction materials up until the 1980s because of its durability and heat-resistant properties. Today, materials with high asbestos content are banned in the U.S. due to the very serious associated health risks. However, many homes built before the 1980s still have many asbestos-containing materials, including types of insulation, textured ceilings, drywall, and many types of flooring.
If you suspect your flooring could contain asbestos, it’s important to take steps to identify it and remove it. This is especially important if you’re planning a renovation or other project that could disrupt the flooring in your home, as disturbing asbestos flooring can create asbestos-containing dust, which is hazardous to breathe. Continue reading to learn how to identify asbestos in your flooring and what to do if you find it in your home.
What is Asbestos?
Most homeowners and homebuyers know that finding asbestos in our homes is generally not a good thing. But what is asbestos? How common is it in homes? How do we identify it and what should you do if you discover it in your space? If you’re a homeowner or in the process of buying an older home, these are questions worth getting answers to.
The broad term “asbestos” refers to a group of six naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals:
Asbestos offers heat and chemical resistance, in addition to fireproofing and durability. This explains why it was so frequently included in building materials, and especially flooring materials, prior to regulation in the 1980s.
The Health Risks of Asbestos in Flooring
If it’s left undisturbed, asbestos-containing floor tiles or other materials generally don’t pose a serious health risk. However, disrupting or disturbing asbestos flooring in any way during a remodel or other project can release small particles of hazardous asbestos dust into the air in your home. Although these particles may be undetectable by sight or smell, you can easily breathe them into your lungs and expose yourself to serious long-term health risks, including:
If you suspect there is asbestos in your flooring, it’s worth identifying it through certified lab testing and taking steps toward remediation before you begin replacing your flooring or undergoing other home renovations.
How to Identify Asbestos in Flooring
Asbestos in flooring is extremely common, especially in older homes. Many types of flooring may contain asbestos, including vinyl tiles, vinyl sheet flooring, linoleum flooring, and laminate flooring. It’s also common to find asbestos in flooring adhesives.
Although the only way to know for sure whether your flooring contains asbestos is to have it professionally tested, there are a few factors that may indicate that your flooring has asbestos. These include the following:
- Your home was built before 1980
- The flooring looks oily, greasy, or discolored
- You have 9-inch, 12-inch, or 18-inch floor tiles
- The flooring adhesive is black
Asbestos in Tile Flooring
Many homes have asbestos-containing floor tiles, especially those built or updated in the 1970s and before. Prior to regulation that banned their use, many flooring companies produced tiles that contained high concentrations of asbestos. Since asbestos is known for its heat-resistant properties and durability, asbestos tiles were often installed in high-traffic areas in homes, including kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, and entryways.
Asbestos in Sheet Flooring
In older homes, it’s common to find asbestos in vinyl sheet flooring, as well as linoleum and laminate. Generally, the sheet flooring itself does not contain asbestos. Prior to the 1980s, however, manufacturers would often incorporate a felt-like backing to provide a cushion underneath the flooring surface. This felt-like backing often contains very high concentrations of asbestos.
Asbestos in Flooring Adhesives
Your floor tiles or sheet flooring may or may not include asbestos. In addition to the flooring itself, the adhesives used to install your flooring may also contain the toxic mineral compound. In the 20th century, black mastic was used frequently as an adhesive to install floor tiles and other types of flooring, and many black mastic adhesives contain asbestos. If you pull up your flooring and find black adhesive underneath, it’s a good idea to stop and get a sample of the adhesive tested to identify whether or not it contains asbestos before you proceed.
Get Your Flooring Lab Tested For Asbestos
If you own an older home or are planning to buy a home that was built before 1980, it’s worth taking steps to determine whether or not asbestos is present in the flooring, as well as other areas in the home. It’s especially important to know if your floors contain asbestos before you begin any kind of home renovation or floor replacement.
There are factors that can give you some hints as to whether asbestos is present, but the only way to know for sure is to get a sample professionally tested at a lab. JSE Labs offers safe, accurate, and quick asbestos testing and results that you know you can trust.
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.”