Older homes share many common concerns. One is that they tend to break down and need maintenance. Another is that they often hold materials made with asbestos. Together, these issues can mean serious trouble for the nation’s homeowners.
The U.S. government knew for decades that asbestos exposure could lead to serious health problems, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it began to regulate the material’s use. In 1989, the government passed a partial ban on asbestos use. This blocked manufacturers from using a range of materials made with asbestos, such as the flooring felt and various papers commonly used in construction. But what about the houses made before the ban?
Asbestos is a known carcinogen
Asbestos is a term that covers several types of fibrous minerals. These minerals are highly resistant to both heat and fire, so people built them into a wide range of construction materials, such as:
- Pipe insulation
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Ceiling tiles
- Textured paint
- Siding panels
Unless these materials have labels that say they have asbestos, it’s nearly impossible to tell just by looking at them. When these materials break down and the fibers get into the air—or catch onto someone’s clothes before releasing back into the air—they can become dangerous. People who inhale or absorb these fibers through their skin stand a much greater risk of aggressive cancers like lung cancer or mesothelioma.
The EPA claims that people shouldn’t worry about products made with asbestos in the schools, houses and other buildings that already have them—unless those products start to wear and break down. When those old ceiling tiles start to crack or crumble, or the floor tile starts to pull up, you may want to remove them. But can you do it yourself?
DIY asbestos removal is usually a bad idea
There are federal laws covering asbestos removal for commercial and government agencies, but not for individual homeowners. If you want to know if it’s legal to remove your home’s asbestos by yourself, you want to check your state’s laws. But even if it’s legal for you to clear out your home’s asbestos, it’s not necessarily a good idea.
The EPA hosts a large list of homeowner Do’s and Don’ts that all touch on the different ways your actions could accidentally release asbestos into the air and put your family at risk. These include:
- Avoid damaging materials made with asbestos
- Don’t dust or sweep materials with asbestos
- Don’t saw, sand or drill holes into materials with asbestos
- Leave undamaged materials alone
There is no known “safe amount” of asbestos exposure, and it’s possible to develop a cancer like mesothelioma as much as 20 to 50 years after your exposure.
Leave it to the professionals
It’s generally not worth the risk to tackle your own asbestos removal. If your house is in good shape, you should be able to leave things alone and be fine. But if your house starts breaking down, and you suspect some materials may contain asbestos, it’s likely in your best interest to call an accredited asbestos professional.