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Looking around your house that predates the 1980s, you wonder what materials — if any — could contain the harmful material asbestos. The square vinyl floor tiles, popcorn ceilings, loose insulation, and textured paint appear suspicious, and other hidden culprits may be lurking that you aren’t remotely aware of. You’re worried about you and your family getting sick from potential exposure. Should you get an asbestos home inspection to find out more?
Whether to test for asbestos is a thorny issue. On one hand, you may want to be sure your home is free of any health risks. However, asbestos is usually only dangerous if it’s disturbed and fibers are released into the air, so testing could create a problem where none existed before. Here’s what to know about testing for asbestos in your home if it’s something you’re considering.
What is asbestos and why is it worrisome?
Asbestos is naturally occurring mineral fiber found in rock and soil, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The material is heat resistant and flame resistant, which led to its use in a wide array of consumer and building products from the 1940s to 1970s. However, asbestos was discovered to be highly carcinogenic when inhaled, leading the EPA to start regulating it in 1970.
What are the risks?
Exposure to damaged, deteriorating, or disturbed asbestos can cause symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, and persistent dry cough, according to the American Lung Association. Exposure can also lead to mesothelioma, or cancer of the thin layer of tissue that covers your lungs, heart, stomach, and other internal organs. Developing asbestosis, a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos, is another risk of serious concern.
Is asbestos banned?
More than 50 nations have banned asbestos, but the U.S. has yet to eliminate its use completely. The EPA banned spray-on asbestos through the Clean Air Act of 1970, and current legislation does not allow asbestos in products classified as flooring felt, rollboard, commercial paper, specialty paper, and corrugated paper.
There have also been standards established for inspecting and removing asbestos in schools. But the bottom line is that in many older homes and buildings — those built before 1980 when asbestos use began to taper off — asbestos may be lurking in walls, floors, and ceilings.
Where is asbestos usually found?
- Attic and wall insulation with vermiculite, a mineral composed of shiny flakes
- Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos or insulated with an asbestos blanket
- Vinyl flooring tiles, the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used to install floor tile
- Roofing and siding shingles made of asbestos cement
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected by asbestos paper or cement sheets
- Door gaskets on oil and coal furnaces
- Textured ceilings and wall paints
In our market, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes. We recommend the tests because then if there’s no asbestos, we want to be able to say that to take that fear out of the buyer’s mind.
When should you get an asbestos inspection?
In the words of the CSPC, bolded and in all-caps on its website: “The best thing to do with asbestos material in good condition is to leave it alone.”
That leaves a few scenarios where you may want to get an asbestos inspection, according to Andy Ward, an asbestos inspector with Criterion Labs with over 29 years of experience:
- A feature of your home that you suspect may contain asbestos is damaged or deteriorating. This could include popcorn ceilings, vinyl tile, or asbestos pipe insulation that appears to be in bad shape.
- You’re planning to renovate your home and need to know whether materials contain asbestos before they’re modified or removed.
“Under these conditions, asbestos could pose serious health risks,” says Ward.
If you’re selling your home, talk to your real estate agent about whether an asbestos home inspection is warranted for your property. David Brownell, a top real estate agent in Las Vegas, often errs on the side of recommending that sellers have a test done if they suspect there is asbestos in their home.
“In our market, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes,” he says. “We recommend the tests because then if there’s no asbestos, we want to be able to say that to take that fear out of the buyer’s mind.”
How an asbestos inspection differs a traditional home inspection
During a general home inspection, an inspector is looking for any issues related to the home’s structure and major systems, including electrical, HVAC, roof, and plumbing. While they evaluate the home, they may also make note of what they suspect to be disturbed asbestos, such as a cracked tile or crumbling textured paint.
But the inspector won’t actually test for the substance, which must be identified using a microscope. Only a certified asbestos inspector will definitely determine if a material tests positive for asbestos.
During an asbestos inspection, a trained inspector will come to your house and collect a sample from any materials they suspect to contain asbestos. The sample will then be sent to a lab for analysis. Here’s what to expect from the process:
- Before the inspection, an inspector will turn off the HVAC system so that asbestos fibers disturbed during the collection process don’t migrate around the house.
- The inspector will also cover the surrounding areas with plastic sheeting to capture and immediately remove fibers that may scatter during the testing process.
- The inspector will then repair any damage caused by the sample collection process to ensure the house is safe for you and your family to occupy.
Occupants will likely be asked to leave the house during an asbestos inspection. That way, if any materials containing asbestos are distrubed during the sample collection, you won’t be put at risk.
Where to find an asbestos inspector
After that, you should read reviews and ask to see an inspector’s license to ensure they’re meeting any local and federal requirements. Inspectors should also be EPA-certified. Ask to see references and any similar projects an inspector has completed to make sure they’re a good fit for your needs.
If you want to test a material for asbestos yourself, you can send samples to a lab. But removing even a small portion of popcorn ceiling, for example, can be risky and would require wearing eye protection and an N95 mask for protection, according to Asbestos.com, a website provided by The Mesothelioma Center.
Usually it’s safest to leave the testing and any further action to the pros.
“If somebody is going to want to do an asbestos inspection for their house, they should have a professional do it,” Ward says. “There’s more of a hazard of contaminating yourself and your family if you’re going to attempt to do it yourself.”
Asbestos testing costs
The costs for asbestos testing will vary by location, but typically they range from $120 to $180 for mail-in or offsite testing, according to Asbestos123, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeowners understand the risks of asbestos and how to address them.
Onsite testing costs range from $250 and $750. If an initial test detects asbestos, more extensive testing may need to be done. Those costs can run between $400-$800. If the inspector suspects there is asbestos present in the air inside your home, they may recommend an additional air monitoring test, which costs between $300-$1,200.
How to identify your home’s asbestos risk
To identify the risk of asbestos in your home, do a walkthrough to look for materials that may contain asbestos. Examine ceilings, wall paints, exposed insulation and tile and make note of anything you think could have an asbestos risk.
“When we go into an older house we talk about these potential risks with our seller clients,” Brownell says.
Since asbestos is only dangerous when it’s disturbed or damaged, homeowners should take note of any areas where their home might be in need of repair. Look for tears, abrasions, or water damage in areas suspected to contain asbestos. You won’t be able to confirm whether asbestos is present, however, until the material is tested.
How asbestos affects your home’s resale value
Generally, asbestos can have a negative effect on your home’s resale value. Since it’s a carcinogen, buyers may request that the seller remediate the issue during the negotiation process. But it depends on the home, the buyer, and the market where the property is located.
One option is to get in front of the issue by testing for asbestos before a buyer requests an evaluation. That way, you understand the scope of the problem and how much it may cost to fix the issue ahead of listing.
If any home features you suspect contain asbestos are damaged, having a professional inspection done is especially critical, since a home inspector will likely flag it and a buyer may find it cause to back out of the sale.
It’s legal to sell a home if you know or suspect it has asbestos, but you’ll need to disclose any known information to buyers. If you conceal the issue, you could potentially assume legal risk.
But keep in mind that plenty of people are open to purchasing an older home, and asbestos is only dangerous if it is damaged.
“We want to make sure that the seller is taking steps to shield themselves from any potential liability,” Brownell says.
What to do if you confirm asbestos in the home
If your inspection turns up asbestos, but the part of the home that contains it is in good condition, most inspectors will recommend leaving it in place, Ward says.
Removing undamaged asbestos can disturb the fibers, which releases the harmful particles into the air and poses a health risk.
If the asbestos is currently damaged or if you’re planning to undertake any renovations that could disrupt the fibers, asbestos containment or removal is in order.
This is what you can expect from each process.
In many cases, you don’t have to fully remove or remediate asbestos to create a safe home. Containment or encapsulation can do the job, often at a lower cost than full removal. If the materials are undisturbed or if the problematic material isn’t widespread, containment may be the best option since it is the least intrusive.
During the containment process, the surface containing asbestos is sealed with a material described as an “adhesive matrix” to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne. Another example would be adding a sleeve over asbestos pipe insulation.
Asbestos containment typically costs 15%-25% less than removal because sellers don’t have to pay for disposal fees.
Asbestos removal involves having a certified asbestos abatement professional come and expunge your home from materials identified as hazardous. During the process, the home must be completely empty and sealed to prevent fibers from spreading. This is a job for the licensed and certified professionals; there is typically no safe way to remove asbestos on your own.
Though costs for asbestos remediation vary based on your home’s location and the scope of the project, on average prices run between $200-$700 per hour. In total, projects tend to cost between $1,500 to $30,000. The costs often aren’t covered under homeowners insurance policies. Asbestos is considered a contaminant or pollutant, issues that are often excluded on insurance policies.
When to consider removal
Despite the costs, removal may be necessary to complete or the best long-term choice. A professional can help you determine whether the risk of asbestos fibers releasing into the air now or in the future are too serious for other solutions to address.
“If there is asbestos, it can be worth considering remediation in my experience,” Brownwell says. “Most sellers are not unwilling to eliminate the asbestos because we express that the cost of the remediation may be covered by the value added to the home.”
If a test finds asbestos, but it is undamaged and undisturbed, some homeowners sellers may elect to have it removed anyway, since it can help ensure a house passes inspection when it comes time to sell.
Since asbestos remediation requires an empty house, it may work out to perform the removal services between house owners. For example, a seller may work out an agreement with their buyer to pay for the remediation to take place after the seller moves out and before the buyer moves in.
Alternative: sell your home for cash
In the event that your home needs extensive work due to its construction materials and other issues, you may be overwhelmed or unsure of how to pay for such a giant project.
Rather than undertake asbestos remediation, one alternative option is to request a cash offer for your home. Real estate investors generally don’t mind homes that need some work and often have the capital to renovate older homes to a safe and livable condition.
You can get started with HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform today. We provide all-cash offers for homes in almost any condition across the U.S. It’s easy to do — just provide a bit of information about your home in a short questionnaire and we’ll send you a no-obligation cash offer within 48 hours.
Key takeaways on asbestos inspections
Here’s a quick rundown of what to do if you suspect your home has asbestos and when to consider an inspection or remediation.
- Before getting an asbestos inspection, consider whether materials are damaged, disturbed, or deteriorating.
- Experts strongly recommend leaving house materials in good condition alone to avoid releasing asbestos into the air.
- If the materials suspected to contain asbestos are in bad shape or you’re planning a renovation to an area of the home that may have asbestos, research EPA-certified asbestos inspectors and hire them to conduct a test.
- If an inspection turns up asbestos, containment or removal can help make your home safe to live in.
- Don’t try to hide asbestos if you’re selling your home as it could open you up to potential legal risk for failure to disclose.
Though your home may contain asbestos, there is no need to panic. As long as you understand the conditions that can cause asbestos to be dangerous, you can take the right actions to protect yourself, your family, and your home’s value.
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