Understanding Asbestos Risks During Winter Renovations

The holiday and winter seasons are a great time to get together with family and friends, however, it is also a great time to get some home renovations done while off from work. These renovations are often small, but they can still come with risks if working on an older home that could contain asbestos.

Asbestos was a very common building material in the mid-20th century and was found in almost every home due to its versatility, strength, and fire-retardant properties. Although it was eventually banned in the 1980s, it can still be found in homes today, specifically those that haven’t been fully renovated since before the 80s, or where asbestos materials have been left undisturbed.

Home renovators need to be vigilant when they work on an older part of their home and need to understand the asbestos risks that could be hidden in their homes.

How is Asbestos in Homes Dangerous
Asbestos is a natural fibrous material, and when it is undisturbed and undamaged poses no immediate risk, but the moment it is damaged it becomes a major health hazard. Damaged asbestos can release microfibers into the air, and these fibers, when inhaled, cause major damage to the throat and lungs, with a high risk of forming cancers. Lung cancer such as mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity, while asbestosis is when the lungs themselves become scarred with fibrous materials.

While cancers have been more successfully treated these days, they are still major health events in a person’s life; a small amount of asbestos can greatly increase the risk of cancer. Another issue is that once inhaled, the fibers don’t just go away; so even if cancer or other health problems don’t appear right away, they can develop 20 or 30 years after exposure.

This means, it’s very important when working on home renovations that you remain aware of the asbestos risks, be vigilant, and rely on professionals to detect and remove asbestos.

Where Homeowners Can Find Asbestos While Renovating
There are numerous areas in the home where asbestos can be found, as it was a widespread material, being used in almost every aspect of homebuilding.

Lab testing is one of the best ways to be able to identify what materials contain asbestos. Asbestos in its natural form can be white, green, blue, or brown, but as soon as it’s processed and embedded into a building material, its identifying markers become harder to note, especially when mixed with plastics or cement that look similar. The following are some common exposure points for asbestos during renovations.

Attic Renovation
Attics were commonly insulated with asbestos-containing materials due to the fire retardation properties, often in the form of either fiber-bearing materials or vermiculite. If asbestos insulation is disturbed, even when just shoveling into a bag, the asbestos can get into the air, easily spreading through adjoining rooms, or into the HVAC system.

Asbestos in Drywall
Asbestos fire retardation, and sturdy material properties, meant that drywall used in homes before the 1980s often included asbestos. Any removal of drywall will release asbestos into the air unless kept completely wet or if negative air pressure is used in the rooms. Anyone working around asbestos, even when these precautions are taken, must be in full-body PPE suits. Even holes drilled into asbestos drywall can release dangerous particles.

Vinyl Floor Tiling
Older vinyl floor tiling commonly installed in homes in the 1950s almost always contained at least some amount of asbestos, and scraping up tiles can result in damaged tiles, and asbestos releasing into the air.

Popcorn Ceilings
A popular style of ceiling that has fallen out of style years ago can also contain small amounts of asbestos that become airborne particles when scraped off. Even when you are using goggles and a respirator, this asbestos can be dangerous as it spreads onto parts of the room or into an HVAC system.

Pipe Insulation
Asbestos was an excellent insulator, so older pipes in older homes may be wrapped in asbestos insulation. This insulation by now likely is deteriorating anyway, so should be removed as soon as possible by a professional asbestos abatement company.

Roofing, Shingles, Siding
While removing roofing, shingles, and siding, they are likely not going to break during the removal process, but it’s still a risk that shouldn’t be taken by a homeowner. Call a professional.

Other Miscellaneous Exposure Risks
Other areas of concern when renovating from the holidays include cement sheets, millboard, or paper around old furnaces and stoves, soundproofing, door gaskets, patching, and joint compounds, and textured paints.

What Homeowners Should Do About Asbestos?
If a homeowner believes a material they are going to be cutting into could contain asbestos, they should immediately consider it contaminated and have a professional abatement company come in to do a full inspection and produce lab-test certified results. Professionals will know how to safely take samples, and if they find confirmed locations of asbestos, the homeowner can hire them to also safely remove and dispose of the asbestos according to federal, state, and local legislation.

Managing Undamaged Asbestos
There are cases where asbestos can be found in the home undisturbed and undamaged. If the homeowner can avoid damaging asbestos during their renovations, their safest and cheapest option maybe just to leave it alone. However, if there are any signs of wear or damage to any asbestos-containing material it should be removed immediately. While repairing is an option, this would only mean making it harder and more costly to remove later.

Asbestos Abatement – Using Professional Services
Ultimately any homeowner that is considering doing renovations during the holiday seasons, or at any time of the year, should be aware of the risks of asbestos and where it can be found. If they are renovating a part of their home they suspect hasn’t been touched since before the 1980s, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Call in a professional asbestos abatement company to do a certified inspection, and if needed, abatement of the asbestos.

Asbestos is a major health hazard, not just during a renovation, but long afterward if it has contaminated the home’s HVAC system, kids’ toys, kitchen dishes, or anything in the home. Avoid the potential health risks.

Call a professional.

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