Asbestos in Residential Structures

Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers increases the risk of developing lung cancer. There are only a few products that contain asbestos on today's market, but up until the 1970s it was a component of many products found in homes.

Some items, such as vintage asbestos siding with its textured surface, are immediately recognizable, but you can't tell if most materials contain asbestos just by looking at them. A professional testing laboratory can analyze samples for the presence of asbestos if you are in doubt.

Here are some items that may be made with asbestos fibers:

  • Insulating blankets that cover steam pipes, boilers, and furnace ductwork

  • Vinyl flooring and the adhesives used to install them

  • Cement sheet, millboard, and paper insulation around furnaces and stoves

  • Soundproofing and decorative materials sprayed on walls and ceilings

  • Textured paints and patching compounds

  • Shingles and siding

Asbestos is not dangerous if it is intact — it's the loose asbestos fibers that cause problems. If you are selling a property with asbestos-containing products that are in good condition, you don't really have to worry about it. But if you're purchasing a rental property and you know there's a possibility your tenants might disturb the asbestos-containing materials, causing some fibers to permeate the air, it might be best to seal or remove them.

A common form of control is to do a repair, which is accomplished by sealing or covering the asbestos. Sealing binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material in such a way that the fibers cannot be easily released. Repair by covering is accomplished by placing another material over the asbestos.

Removing asbestos is more expensive, and it is not usually the best option unless state or local regulations require it. The EPA is your best source for any questions you might have about asbestos repair and removal.

Fear of asbestos is enough to make many home-buyers go straight to the next property without even looking inside the house. Keep that in mind when you buy a resale property that has asbestos siding or shingles.

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