Asbestos 101

Although interior and exterior home design trends have changed dramatically over the years, the materials used to build the fundamental elements of a home have not changed much. For example, timber has been used to frame homes for hundreds of years, and plaster and lathe was the primary material for making walls until the introduction of drywall in the early 1950s.

In the world of insulation, asbestos was a standard building material until the 1970s, when it was discovered that this material, lining the walls and subflooring of millions of American homes, caused a variety of health issues for occupants. If you live in a home or apartment built before 1975, there is a good chance that the residence contains asbestos material. While asbestos in an idle, undisturbed state does not pose an immediate threat in your home, it is nevertheless important to understand this material and how to avoid triggering it.

At Towne & Country, we help Milwaukee home buyers and sellers make informed decisions through expert home inspection services, including historic home inspections. If you live in a historic or vintage home or are thinking of purchasing one, read on for everything you need to know about asbestos.

Common asbestos locations in the home

Up until 1975, asbestos was the most popular thermal insulation material used on water boilers and plumbing pipes. Asbestos also made its way into a myriad of common household applications including blown-in insulation, vinyl or linoleum flooring, roofing material, HVAC duct insulation, plaster, and some forms of paint.

If you read this list and see a number of items that apply to your home, there is no need to fret.  Asbestos is only harmful if it is disturbed, which causes particles to enter the air. When asbestos particles are inhaled, they can cause significant long-term damage to a human’s lungs and respiratory system.

How to check for asbestos

Checking for asbestos exposure sites can be a good way to help mitigate the risk of the material becoming airborne in your home. Make a habit of routinely checking areas of possible asbestos for tears, abrasions, or signs of water damage. Minor evidence of these issues is usually acceptable, but if there are significant issues in high-traffic areas of your home or you are planning renovation projects that may disturb these areas, call a professional asbestos expert for a consultation. The time and possible expense of working with a licensed asbestos expert can help save you an immense amount of trouble down the line, especially if people in your home are immunocompromised.

Repair or remove?

Depending on the nature and severity of the asbestos in your home, you may have an option to either repair or remove the asbestos. While asbestos removal gets rid of the material permanently, it inherently involves disrupting the material, causing particles to go airborne.  Therefore, it will be important that homeowners are able to leave the premises for the entirety of the removal process. The length of time will vary based on the quantity of material and complexity of placement throughout the home.

If tears or abrasions are minimal, it may be a quicker and more cost-effective choice to repair rather than remove asbestos. The two main methods of repair are sealing and covering. Sealing (encapsulation) involves applying a compound to asbestos that binds the fibers together, preventing them from going airborne. Covering (enclosure) involves using a special wrap to contain any threat of particle disbursement to a particular, safe area.

In either case, a licensed expert will be needed to ensure safety is maintained. While asbestos does not pose a threat unless it is disturbed, it is important for homeowners to be aware of this material if it is present and when abatement measures should be taken to ensure the health and safety of the home’s occupants.

If you’re planning on purchasing a home built before 1975, hire a home inspector that knows what to look for when it comes to asbestos. Towne & Country is Milwaukee’s favorite historic home inspector; give us a call to get started today.