Asbestos insulation was used extensively in American homes up until the 1970s. That’s because asbestos is a highly-effective and inexpensive fire-retardant material and thermal and acoustic insulator. It was popular because it could keep flames lit, heat in, cold out, sound clear, damp areas dry and cement strong. Unfortunately, it is also lethal and although no longer used, lingers in many older homes.
Where was asbestos insulation used in older homes?
The main areas of the house where asbestos insulation was used were basements, attics or roofs. In homes built prior to 1975, according to This Old House, asbestos is most commonly found as thermal insulation on basement boilers and pipes and as blown-in attic insulation.
As an acoustical or heat insulator, asbestos was often placed in, around or between steel beams, water and sewer pipes, ducts, high temperature gaskets, stovepipe rings, electrical wiring, vinyl and linoleum sheet flooring, floor backing, shingles, panels, partitions and acoustic tiles. It was also used in heaters, boilers, furnaces, incinerators, artificial fireplaces and barbecues.
When is asbestos insulation dangerous?
Asbestos insulation becomes dangerous when fragments break away and float in household air currents. This is because even a tiny amount is comprised of tens of thousands of microscopic fibers. Being so light, they adhere to clothing, household items or hair; in fact, almost every surface can harbor asbestos fibers. Once breathed in, however, asbestos cannot leave the lungs. The fibers remained trapped and can exist for up to 50 years. As the body attempts to attack and expel them, disease-producing conditions are created. Some are a response to foreign particles–such as asbestosis–while others are actually carcinogenic causing lung cancer and mesothelioma.
What should I do if I have asbestos insulation?
DO NOT DISTURB IT! Any disturbance could potentially release asbestos fibers into the air. If you need to go in your attic and it contains asbestos insulation, you should limit the number of trips you make and shorten the length of those trips in order to help limit your potential exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you:
- Leave asbestos insulation undisturbed in your attic or in your walls.
- Do not store boxes or other items in your attic if it contains abestos insulation.
- Do not allow children to play in an attic with asbestos insulation.
- Do not attempt to remove the insulation yourself.
- Hire a professional asbestos contractor if you plan to remodel or conduct renovations that would disturb the asbestos insulation in your attic or walls to make sure the material is safely handled and/or removed.