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How important is indoor air quality to your search for a new home?  Like you, even the most outdoorsy Americans will spend a significant amount of time indoors, making the air quality inside a residence critical for good health.  One of the most problematic air quality concerns in homes is found in the form of asbestos.  

According to the EPA, asbestos is a mineral that naturally occurs in rocks all around the United States.  Because of its adhesive strength, the use of asbestos was extensive until researchers discovered that its fibers posed a health risk, causing Mesothelioma and even lung cancer.

Here are the signs, information, and action steps that you as a homeowner should be aware of to make sure your home is free of asbestos.

Is Asbestos Likely?

When determining if there is a risk of a home containing asbestos, you must first figure out when the home was built. Asbestos was used extensively in home construction between 1920 and 1989 and was used in many one-off components of households until EPA regulations in 1989 banned the use of a majority of asbestos-related products. Before the ban, everything from paint, walls, insulation, pipes, wiring, and even fireproofing might have included asbestos. Because of this, the odds of asbestos are much higher for building built between 1920 and 1989.

How to Identify Asbestos?

Are there signs of degrading materials? Asbestos doesn’t pose a major health hazard until it begins to break down and becomes airborne. If the material is in good condition and doesn’t show signs of degrading, then you aren’t at a significant risk of getting sick from Asbestos. If your home meets the date range criteria listed above, look for older materials that seem to be breaking down.

Note: Items such as tile, insulation, pipes, and walls are all potential items of concern, depending on their age.  Look for cracks or areas in material that seem to be breaking down or falling apart.

How to Test for Asbestos

Deciding whether or not you should test an area for asbestos is an important first step. The two primary scenarios for testing are as follows:

  • If the area that you are looking at has started to degrade and the material seems to be of the correct era (i.e., before 1989)
  • If you are planning to do construction on your home built before 1989, check for asbestos before you start.  Even if materials are in top condition, asbestos-containing materials may become disturbed during construction, and pose a health hazard.

If an area of concern warrants testing, hiring a trained and certified asbestos removal company to perform these tests is critical.  Disturbing the material can pose a serious health risk to yourself and everyone in residence when mishandled.

Asbestos Removal Company Qualifications

As mentioned above, it is essential to make sure that the contractor doing the testing on your residence is adequately certified to handle asbestos. Here are some things to look for:

  • The contractor should be EPA-Approved, licensed, and trained to deal with asbestos-containing materials.
  • He/she must understand and be able to file paperwork required by the EPA.
  • Send tested materials to an EPA-certified laboratory for analysis.
  • If you decided to take the sample yourself (you really should have a contractor do it), submit the protective gear used during testing for proper disposal.

For a list of certified contractors by state, check out the EPA’s State Asbestos Contacts webpage.

Note: Depending on the state you live in, a professional may be required to perform the testing.

Asbestos Removal Cost

Asbestos removal is not an inexpensive task and will vary depending on the scope of work. Because asbestos removal is a multi-step process, fees for inspection, labor, and materials will add up. For an average house, expect to pay a contractor $200 and $700 per hour. For small jobs on the low end of the spectrum, a minimum fee of $1,500 to $3,000 is typical, whereas a 1,500-square-foot home with asbestos everywhere, such as on the walls, floors, ceilings, and pipes, can be upwards of $20,000.

How to Remove or Repair Materials Containing Asbestos

If the area you had tested contains asbestos, you can either repair it or remove it.

Repairing materials with toxic material might seem strange, but, in many cases, repair is the best option.  Removing materials containing asbestos can sometimes disturb them more, creating a higher health risk.  Repairing them, however, prevents the particles from reaching the air, making them safer to be around.

If repair is the option that you want to proceed with, you should note a few things:

  • Do not sacrifice safety or quality work and make sure to hire an EPA-certified contractor to handle all repairs and removal.  If done poorly, both solutions can pose severe health risks to occupiers of the home.
  • It is not uncommon for the material to be covered with a sealant to keep the matter from breaking down.  This option is typically cheaper than removal.
  • Repair isn’t always the best option.  If the material is extensively damaged, it is better to remove it to avoid costly repair expenses in the long run.

How to Live in a Residence with Asbestos

Last but not least, homeowners should be careful not to disturb asbestos-containing materials after they have been repaired.  Remember, you want to avoid the airborne release and inhalation of the asbestos fibers at all costs.

A few precautions for living in a residence with asbestos are:

  • Don’t cut, drill holes in, or otherwise disturb the materials that contain asbestos.
  • Make sure that you keep activities in the affected area to a minimum.
  • If more damage occurs, make sure that you have it repaired.
  • Don’t use abrasive cleaning substances or sweep/vacuum materials or debris that contain asbestos.

Staying Informed is Key

Remember, asbestos is not harmful so long as it remains contained.  The next time you’re looking to buy or sell your home, mainly those built before 1989, keep in mind the importance of handling asbestos correctly. Check the EPA website for additional information on asbestos.

A real estate agent is a great place to start for any asbestos-related questions. Do you have one?  If you’re looking to sell your home, Clever can connect you to real estate agents who will sell your home for a flat fee of $3,000 or 1% for homes over $350,000.


Jake Cardenas

Jake Cardenas is co-founder and COO of Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you with top agents to save money on commission. Jake is a licensed real estate agent who is passionate about finance and real estate investing. He's a serial entrepreneur, having founded Drizzle SMS before working on Clever. He's a "jack-of-all-trades," skilled in design, operations, sales, HR, and more.

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