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How to Approach Asbestos When Renovating Your Home

September 26, 2018

Asbestos-containing materials, often called ACM, were used for a long time in the construction industry before the Environmental Protection Agency debuted restrictions against their continued use. However, many well-built older homes still have ACM and buyers may want to renovate them after purchase. If such materials are left alone, they are relatively harmless, but if they are disturbed, the tiny fibers can be released into the air where they can easily be inhaled.

Illnesses from Asbestos Exposure

Tiny fibers released from ACM can enter the lungs and become lodged in bodily tissues where they can cause inflammation and eventually cancer. Mesothelioma is a type of aggressive cancer caused by fibers from ACM. It tends to spread quickly and is often not discovered until it has reached an advanced state. Symptoms of mesothelioma may easily be mistaken for other health conditions, including asthma and pneumonia among others. Such symptoms include rib cage pain and shortness of breath. Being exposed to ACM is the top risk factor for developing mesothelioma.

Building Restrictions on Using ACM

Asbestos-containing materials were used in construction for centuries due to the mineral’s ability to resist fire, chemicals and electricity. When it was discovered that fibers from ACM could enter the air and lungs, the use of ACM was heavily restricted. It was nearly totally banned in 1989, but the ban was eventually overturned in 1991. Asbestos-containing materials are not yet completely banned in the United States, which is unusual among developed nations.

These materials are commonly found in flooring, insulation, walls and ceilings. The popular popcorn ceilings from houses built between the 1930s and 1970s were often created with ACM. Buyers who purchase a home from this era may find that this type of ceiling contains asbestos.

Avoiding ACM When Renovating

As previously mentioned, many asbestos-containing materials are well-contained, which keeps the fibers undisturbed. However, during renovations, it’s easy to release the fibers through removing walls, changing plumbing and other work. The following areas of older houses are likely to contain ACM:

– Old floor tiles made from vinyl and linoleum
– Roofing
– HVAC and plumbing insulation
– Window caulking
– Interior plaster
– Exterior siding
– Drywall

When renovating, a homeowner may encounter something white and fibrous, which could be asbestos, but it may not be. Only an expert in identifying this material can absolutely tell with certainty what it is. Professionals in identifying and removing ACM are the only sure way to avoid the health risks possible in renovating an older home.

Homeowners planning to remodel an older home are advised to contact a professional before beginning any work. Only a professional can ascertain whether the home contains ACM and if it is damaged or has a risk of being damaged during remodeling.

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