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Should You Bother Testing For Asbestos During A Remodeling Project?

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While you may associate asbestos tiles or insulation with buildings built before the mid-1970s or so, you may be surprised to learn that this potentially carcinogenic building material continued to be used until around 1990. If you own a home built before this time and are planning to remodel it soon, you may be wondering whether you need to test for asbestos before breaking ground. Is it worthwhile to invest in this testing or should you simply proceed as though your home does not have asbestos tiles or insulation and dispose of construction waste accordingly? Read on to learn more about the asbestos testing and abatement process to determine how to proceed during your home's remodel. 

How is a home tested for asbestos?

Asbestos is a type of silica known as vermiculite -- prized for decades for its insulating and fire-retardant properties. Unlike other types of insulating building materials, which can be difficult (if not impossible) to render fireproof, asbestos tiles and insulation won't catch fire and can even stop fires from spreading to other parts of the building. When left undisturbed, asbestos poses no real health issues to those in the vicinity. 

However, when disturbed (including removal or disposal during a remodel), asbestos tiles and other materials can release tiny particles of vermiculite into the air. If you inhale these particles, they can settle into your lungs; and over time and with repeated exposure, the vermiculite dust in your lungs could lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), emphysema, or even a specific type of lung cancer known as mesothelioma. Because there is no "safe" exposure to airborne asbestos, having your home tested for asbestos prior to a remodel is the safest option, even if it pushes back your construction or demolition schedule by a few weeks.

To test for asbestos, you'll need to take a few samples of the materials you're planning to remove. These samples should be about the size of a postage stamp, and you'll want to ensure you include any accompanying dust or fibers that could help the testing facility make a more complete determination. Once you've gotten the all-clear (or the "proceed with caution," as the case may be) you'll be able to go forth safely and more informed.

How will asbestos-containing materials be removed from your home?

The safe removal of asbestos largely depends on preventing any asbestos dust from going airborne. For some projects, this is a relatively simple prospect -- for example, if you're ripping up asbestos-containing floor tiles that won't generate much extra dust or debris, you may be able to get by with a surgical mask or industrial gas mask and thoroughly moisten any tiles you dispose of to prevent them from leaching dust into the air.

The removal of asbestos insulation or fibers is a more dangerous and labor-intensive process, and you may prefer to have this performed by an abatement professional like one from IRS Environmental of WA Inc. Attempting to perform this removal yourself could result in adverse health consequences.