How Can You Tell if Your Building Contains Asbestos?

Two individuals in gas masks and white personal protective equipment are removing grey roofing materials from a brick building.

Older buildings are desirable for many reasons. They offer old-world charm, unique spaces, and are a source of pride for the building owner and surrounding community. However, older buildings have potential drawbacks as well. They may require reinforcement and may not always accommodate modern comforts and building codes. They may also contain hazardous materials that were once considered perfectly safe for construction, but now pose health and safety risks for those who live and work in the building.

Asbestos, a fibrous mineral once used as a fire-prevention and insulation material, is a common hazardous substance found in vintage structures, and its presence can cause lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases when tampered with. So how can you tell if your building contains asbestos? Here are a few facts.

Old Building? It Probably Has Asbestos

As stated, older buildings likely contain hazardous materials, including asbestos. Not all old buildings used asbestos, but if construction took place between the 1930s and 1980s, there’s a good chance some measure of asbestos was used during construction. An inspection will likely reveal where that asbestos might be.

Common Locations and Materials

When you commission an inspection, the inspector will check various places for the presence of asbestos. Common areas and materials include insulation in the walls and attics and around pipes and plumbing.

Vinyl floor tiles are another common source of asbestos, whether it’s in the tiles themselves or the adhesive used to stick them to the floor. Many older roof shingles contained asbestos to prevent fires, as well as some forms of siding. Textured paint and “popcorn” ceilings also often contain asbestos.

Recognizing Asbestos

Unfortunately, asbestos rarely comes with a warning label, and doesn’t provide any obvious visual clues, so the average property owner can’t identify it by sight. But here are a few red flags to watch for:

  • Floor tiles that are 9 x 9, 12 x 12, or 18 x 18 inches in size often contain asbestos.
  • Insulation in the attic and surrounding pipes and boilers that appears dated and has a cottony, fluffy, or corrugated look to it.
  • Cement sheets in the roof and siding, which will appear hard and dense.

Truthfully, the only way to be sure that something contains asbestos is to take a sample and send it to a lab for testing. This, of course, is a job for the experts.

Next Steps

We’ve answered the question, how can you tell if your building contains asbestos? It’s wise to educate yourself about asbestos, but if you suspect you have it, don’t try to handle it yourself. Even with protective equipment, dislodging it can spread dust and fibers into the air. Contact a professional asbestos removal and remediation company. They will come and test it, then suggest a plan to help you make your building safer.

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