Asbestos: The Hidden Danger in Historic Homes
Part 8 of 8 in The Old House Web Home Hazards Series
Beneath the charm of that beautiful old home, dangers can be lurking. You might already know about the lead in older paint, and maybe you've already checked for unsafe radon levels. But have you considered the asbestos that could be hiding in your walls?
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral that is used in certain products to protect against heat and corrosion. During renovation of a structure, the asbestos can be exposed, and the tiny fibers from the material can be drawn into your lungs when you breathe. The damage done by asbestos exposure might not be evident until years later,
Where Asbestos Hides
Asbestos can be found in insulation of all kinds. Here are some of the most common places you might find asbestos in an older home:
- Duct Work and Pipe Coverings. To prevent freezing, insulation tape and sleeves were often used, and each of these can contain asbestos. Some old bonding agents and adhesives also contain the material.
- Hot Water Tank Covers. Because hot water heaters often last for a long time, the insulating sleeve around it might be an older model that is filled with asbestos insulation. The insulation around the connecting pipes might be asbestos-based as well.
- General Home Insulation. The popular "pink" insulation was often made with asbestos. The "spray" foam is also a culprit. However, the most hazardous of all might be the "popcorn" insulation, because it often has loose fibers that can easily be inhaled.
- Electrical Panel Partitions. If your electricity has not been upgraded since the early 1980s, you might have asbestos in the panel partitions and other parts of your electrical system.
- Caulking. Until the late 1970s, an estimated 25% of caulking materials contained asbestos. When you scrape the old caulking from windows and fixtures to replace it with new material, the old caulking can flake and tiny particles can go airborne, where the asbestos can be easily inhaled.
How to Handle Asbestos Removal
If asbestos is left alone, it cannot become airborne, and that means it is non-toxic. If you must remove it, speak with state regulators about the permits required to handle asbestos removal yourself, and always follow the proper guidelines.
If you are dealing with attic insulation or other large areas of asbestos, it might be much safer to hire professionals to handle the removal job for you. Hiring an asbestos removal contractor can be more expensive than doing it yourself, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing your home is safe is priceless.
Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.