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  • Writer's pictureAstra Inspections

A Guide to Asbestos

Before 1986, asbestos was widely used in the construction of residential homes. Common products made with asbestos included asphalt or cement roofing shingles, vinyl floor tiles, wall, and ceiling insulation, and drywall. If a product is disturbed commercially (drilling or sanding) or naturally (earthquake or severe storm), it can release dangerous asbestos fibers.

Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of an aggressive and deadly cancer known as mesothelioma.

Often referred to as a miracle mineral, these virtually indestructible fibers have been widely used in home construction for insulation, fireproofing, soundproofing, and much more. Asbestos is abundant and inexpensive. By the 1930s, it had become an important component of residential construction.

After the public became aware of its hazards, asbestos use in residential buildings was phased out by 1986 as manufacturers were allowed to use the existing supply.

Asbestos was used in more than 3,000 building products throughout most of the 20th century. The most common occurrences of residential asbestos in older homes built prior to 1986 are described below. All of these products can release dangerous asbestos fibers if they are sawed, sanded, drilled, cut, worn, or otherwise damaged.

  • Roofing shingles or siding made of asphalt or cement

  • Asbestos blankets and tapes used to insulate steam pipes, hot water pipes, boilers, and furnace ducts

  • Floor tiles made of vinyl, asphalt, and rubber, plus the adhesive used to install these products and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring

  • Products used in conjunction with woodburning stoves, furnaces, or coal stoves, including door gaskets, surrounding wall insulation, and decorative elements such as fake embers in gas fireplaces

  • Soundproofing and decorative material sprayed onto walls and ceilings, including popcorn ceilings, popular from the 1960s to the 1980s

  • Acoustic ceiling tiles

  • Construction compounds:

  • Plaster

  • Joint compounds

  • Textured paint

  • Adhesives

  • Caulking

  • Household products such as fireproof gloves, stove-top pads, ironing board covers, curtains, and certain hairdryers. Many homeowners paid premium pricing for asbestos curtains, which were marketed for their fire retardancy and sound-dampening qualities.

  • Wallpaper manufactured before the 1980s, especially with a vinyl finish, and its corresponding adhesive

  • Wall and ceiling insulation

  • Transite asbestos furnace flues, which are lined with asbestos. These tend to deteriorate over time, flake apart, and collapse. Throughout this process, asbestos can be back drafted into the home.

  • Drywall, drywall mud, and tapes

  • Electrical panel housing

Vermiculite insulation was a popular form of insulation until 1990. Vermiculite itself is a harmless product, but from 1919 until 1985, more than 70 percent of the nation’s vermiculite was mined in Libby, Montana. This vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos. The mine was shut down in 1990 after the contamination was discovered, but it is possible some products were still sold.

What Not to Do With Asbestos

  • DO NOT panic. Undisturbed asbestos in good repair is usually safe.

  • DO NOT allow children or pets to access any area where asbestos could easily be disturbed

  • DO NOT sweep or vacuum debris that contains asbestos. Asbestos-containing debris should be wet-mopped or vacuumed by a professional using special equipment.

  • DO NOT saw, sand, scrape or drill holes into asbestos-containing materials.

  • DO NOT strip, sand, or use abrasive equipment on flooring materials that contain asbestos.

  • DO NOT walk through asbestos debris.

  • DO NOT attempt to remove asbestos yourself.

Asbestos Removal

Asbestos removal is considered an extreme course of action. It is usually recommended only when asbestos is causing a hazard or at risk of causing a hazard that cannot otherwise be safely contained. It requires an evacuation of the area and, possibly, of the home for the duration of the process.

Asbestos Testing

Asbestos testing is used to rule out or confirm the presence of asbestos and, if present, whether the asbestos is hazardous. It becomes hazardous when it is disturbed or damaged. Crumbly or easily torn asbestos, also known as friable asbestos, is always hazardous if it is not enclosed. However, well-maintained, intact asbestos does not release fibers into the air and is therefore not considered a threat to human health. Asbestos testing is the only way to confirm the presence of asbestos. Asbestos removal companies require testing prior to removal.


While it may be tempting to remove the asbestos yourself to avoid the cost of abatement, incorrect removal of asbestos is much more costly when you consider the deadly toll of asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma. The investment in proper asbestos remediation will protect your health and buy you peace of mind for a lifetime.

For more information about Asbestos click here. or contact your state asbestos agency with any questions you have about required training, accreditation, or licensing.

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