Home inspectors are always on the lookout for anything potentially hazardous to homeowners, and asbestos is one of those things on the top of the list. I always like to alert homeowners when something may contain asbestos because cutting, removing, or just touching it may release asbestos fibers.
You may also want to read my guide on home inspections for mold (and how we use lab tests for mold) which is another environmental hazard.
Asbestos was used so heavily homes and buildings because it provided great insulation, acted as a fire retardant, and it was highly durable. But now, asbestos is universally recognized as a health hazard, and it is known to cause a form of lung cancer called mesothelioma — you may have seen the ubiquitous T.V. commercials from attorneys.
During home inspections, we are on the lookout for asbestos in a variety of materials such as…
- Ceiling tiles
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Pipe insulation
- Ducting, drain piping, venting
- Textured walls and ceilings
- And more.
Let’s just say asbestos was literally in thousands of commercial products according to the CDC.
Whether the asbestos is inspected by a home inspector, a contractor, or some other trained individual — we can never immediately claim it contains asbestos. You can only verify the presence of asbestos by looking at the material under a microscope. The exception to this rule is if the building material is actually labeled that it contains asbestos.
What Are The Costs of A Home Asbestos Inspection?
The average cost for a home asbestos inspection can range anywhere from $150 up to $750 depending on the size of the home, and the number of samples.
If you want some suspicious materials tested for asbestos, and you are getting a regular home inspection, the inspector will likely charge anywhere from $100 to $300 extra for the laboratory testing.
Asbestos is just one of many things that can cause a buyer to walk away from the purchase — for more common issues you may want to see my guide on the 7 things that fail a home inspection.
Just make sure that the home inspector is trained and accredited in your state. You only want to use trained asbestos inspectors who will carefully get the asbestos samples. If an unskilled contractor or inspector recklessly removes asbestos for testing, it can cause more harm than just leaving it alone.
Contacting your state government for a list of trained asbestos individuals is recommended, you can get the contact details here of your state official.
Every U.S. state will have its own training and accreditation requirements. There is no federal regulations on the accreditation or training of asbestos inspectors.
Homeowners also can take and send their own samples to the lab since there are home test kits similar to lead. If you want to get your own sample, I highly recommend that you turn off your HVAC system, cover the floor with plastic sheeting, wear gloves, and spray the material with water. If you spray the suspected material with a bit of water (mixed with a few drops of detergent) it will help prevent any of the fibers from becoming airborne.
Asbestos Tape And Insulation
Asbestos was once heavily used in insulation around HVAC ducting and water piping. The usual give away is the age of the home and the white appearance of the tape or insulation.
Just don’t confuse fiberglass insulation with asbestos insulation. Fiberglass insulation will have a much fluffier density than asbestos ‘blanket insulation’.
In the picture above, the white tape almost certainly contains asbestos fibers. However, this air duct was no longer in use, so if kept undisturbed, the tape is unlikely to release any fibers into the air.
Asbestos Cement Siding And Wallboard
Probably one of the most common asbestos-containing materials I find during old house inspections is fiber cement siding. Old fiber cement siding contains asbestos, and it made the siding highly durable with a life expectancy of 50-75 years. This asbestos siding tiles was also highly fire resistant.
One common solution is to install new siding over the existing asbestos siding which is a form of containment. As long as asbestos materials isn’t disturbed where the fibers are released into the air, it can be a good solution.
Well, as an inspector, I still have to disclose the possibility of asbestos-containing material to my clients. If in the future, they plan on installing new siding, or doing some other type of renovation, it may prove costly to remove the asbestos.
Specially trained contractors are supposed to remove asbestos materials, and it is much more expensive than the demolition of average building materials. There are a number of steps that need to be taken for the safe removal of cement asbestos-board siding such as spraying it down with water.
Asbestos Furnace Flues And Water Pipes
During inspections, I am also keeping an eye out for asbestos piping which can be furnace or boiler flues, HVAC ducting, and even water drain pipes.
Asbestos containing piping is usually known as Transite, and it can have between 10-50% of its material as asbestos fibers.
In the picture above, this is almost certainly asbestos piping from an old furnace. If the piping is left undisturbed, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if the piping is carelessly removed during a renovation or if it is otherwise touched, it can release harmful fibers into the air.
Transite is also sometimes used as underground piping, and may even go through the foundation. You can read my full guide on foundation home inspections right here.
Inspecting Asbestos Ceiling And Floors
Ceiling tiles, textured walls, floor tiles, vinyl sheeting (and the adhesive backing) all may contain asbestos as it had widespread use.
The most common floor tile was 9″x9″ but larger tiles also contained asbestos.
As with most of the asbestos products, they were discontinued in the 1980’s. I never try to panic my clients about these products, but I do want to let them know of the possibility. I don’t want my clients to unwittingly doing a renovation and spewing asbestos fibers into the air.
They also should be aware the asbestos removal can be costly.