Asbestos is a very good fire-stopper. It was used in construction materials for that reason. In the older housing stock common in Eastern Massachusetts, there is frequently asbestos someplace. Over the years, previous homeowners may have already removed it. Your home inspector will look for it before you purchase (if you insist on having that important inspection).

If asbestos is solid, it doesn’t harm you. It is the dust that you breathe in that is harmful to your health. Over time, asbestos coverings on pipes may dry out, making asbestos dust. If you move asbestos exterior shingle, or cut into it, you might liberate dust.

A website from a law firm was brought to my attention, by email. The website had a new slant on why you might want to remove asbestos, even if it is not “friable” (in a condition where it creates dust).

Natural disasters can spread asbestos in your home

Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms can cause asbestos materials to expand or break. If you do not know that there was asbestos in the house, or you did not consider it a problem, it could become a hazard after solid asbestos materials are soaked, blown, or cracked by debris.

The health hazard affects the household members, who might go back in to get their possessions and for the repair crews.

Wildfires, or any fire, can release asbestos into the air. Firefighters can inhale asbestos in the fire’s smoke. Asbestos-containing products inside the home can continue releasing asbestos fibers long after the fire is extinguished.

In cases of direct impact, any asbestos in the home, even professionally enclosed asbestos, can become friable and hazardous.

The law firm recommends these steps for homeowners:

What Not to Do With Asbestos

  • DO NOT panic. Undisturbed asbestos in good repair is usually safe.
  • DO NOT allow children or pets to access any area where asbestos could easily be disturbed
  • DO NOT sweep or vacuum debris that contains asbestos. Asbestos-containing debris should be wet mopped or vacuumed by a professional using special equipment.
  • DO NOT saw, sand, scrape or drill holes into asbestos-containing materials.
  • DO NOT strip, sand or use abrasive equipment on flooring materials that contain asbestos.
  • DO NOT walk through asbestos debris.
  • DO NOT attempt to remove asbestos yourself.

How does asbestos become friable (liberating unhealthy dust) under normal circumstances?

Normal aging: 

Asbestos pipe insulation dries out, over time, and will release dust. Basement steam pipes are sometimes low enough that you can get dust in your hair by rubbing them.

Common repairs and house improvement: 

Exterior walls: Asbestos shingles should not be cut into or removed without proper abatement procedures. (Why would you want to cut into your exterior siding? Lots of reasons:

    • Installing window shutters or awnings to the exterior. Repairing existing window sills.
    • Installing cable or satellite equipment.
    • Installing air conditioning systems with an exterior compressor.
    • Creating or changing the size of existing windows.
    • Creating new doorways.)

Roof shingles: When you replace a roof, there may be two layers of roofing on it. The older one might have asbestos. Roofers need to check before they tear it off and fling it into the dumpster that is in your driveway.

Floor tile: Old floors or the adhesive under the linoleum or tile may contain asbestos. If you remove the old floor or nail something into it, you can liberate asbestos dust. How do you identify asbestos tile? The definitive way is to get it tested. What tile should you suspect might have asbestos?

Here is advice from Asbestos123:

  • Age Of Floor Tiles – If the building you live in or the one in which you work was constructed before the 1980’s, and particularly in the period between 1950 and the 1980’s, there’s a high probability that your flooring contains asbestos, as the interval matches the times of intense use of the mineral in building materials.
  • Tile Size – Asphalt asbestos, plastic asbestos, and vinyl asbestos floor tiles during this period were sold in 9″x9″, 12″ x 12″ and in some years 18″ x 18″ sizes and were quite a bit thicker than most of the modern tiles.
  • Discoloration – An oily discoloration of the tiles in your home might indicate that they contain asbestos. Asphalt is one of the main materials used for the manufacturing of asbestos floor tiles and leakages of the oil incorporated in it can occur, causing the color of the tiles to fade.
  • Some of the flooring tiles have come off and you see thick black adhesive underneath. Black mastic, also known as cutback adhesive, was commonly used to glue the flooring tiles down. This type of adhesive was asphalt-based and most likely contains asbestos, whether or not the tiles themselves contain asbestos.

Wall plaster: Before you cut into a wall to make a bigger opening, test the plaster for both asbestos and lead paint. Asbestos was added to wall plaster material until the late 1980’s, so any house built before the early 1990’s could have asbestos in the plaster. Pay particular attention to places where they would be fire-rated (partially fireproof) plaster in a house. Here is more about asbestos in plaster from another attorney.

Other contractor surprises. Old asbestos behind the wall:

Sometimes, when doing renovation, you might open up a wall to find a line of steam pipe that has asbestos on it.

Some electrical wiring has asbestos insulation on the outside.