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Here’s How to Remove the Asbestos You Found in Your Fixer-Upper

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Here’s How to Remove the Asbestos You Found in Your Fixer-Upper
4 min. read

Image: LianeM / Shutterstock.com

When you buy a fixer-upper, you embark on an exciting journey towards the house of your dreams. Of course, it won’t all be plain sailing, and many things can come up and alter or delay your plans. Asbestos is one word you don’t want to hear when renovating, and it fills both the humble DIYer and professional contractor with dread.

While it can cause delays, and put an unexpected dent in your budget, it can be dealt with, and safely removed. This is no easy task, and it’s well worth knowing exactly what asbestos is, where you might find it, and how to remove it. This knowledge can keep you safe from danger, and enable you to identify and deal with asbestos quickly.

What is Asbestos?

Knowing your enemy is vital, and it can allow you to identify the danger before it’s too late. Asbestos is a natural mineral that is made up of densely packed thin fibres, which can be mined around the world. Between the 1920s and late 1980s, it was an extremely popular building material, due to its insulating properties, paired with its ability to resist fire, electricity and heat.

Most residential properties built between 1920 and 1989 are likely to have used asbestos in some form or other, so if your fixer-upper was built during this period, take care. For the most part, it’s relatively safe, and once installed is unlikely to cause any problems. It’s only when it’s disturbed and the small fibres become airborne that it becomes a real danger. But if you’re not sure whether to renovate or move, a professional’s opinion might help.

Once inhaled or consumed, these fibres can lead to serious health problems, from persistent wheezing and coughing to difficulty breathing and lung cancer. This largely depends on the period and severity of exposure to the fibres, the size, shape and chemical makeup of them, and your own personal medical record.

Where Are You Most Likely to Find Asbestos?

It can be difficult to locate asbestos, as it’s frequently incorporated into other products. Vermiculite attic insulation is a renowned hot spot and is readily identified by its coarse, pebble-like texture and grey colour. Not all such insulation is contaminated, and the only way to be sure is to have it professionally lab tested.

Popcorn ceilings are another regular offender, though asbestos can also be found in cement, within walls, vinyl tiles, caulking and even window glaze. Take extra care when renovating old basements and attics, which often feature exposed insulation. Even if you’re just moving old appliances out, it’s worth having a test done.

Asbestos was also used on the exterior of homes, in anything from roof shingles to sidings. This wouldn’t typically cause a problem, but if you plan to carry out a big renovation project, proceed with extreme caution.

When in Doubt, Check it Out

Where asbestos is concerned, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and even the smallest risk of potentially disturbing it should be avoided. If you’re in any doubt whatsoever, it’s well worth having a professional test carried out. Seek out a company that is qualified to test for asbestos, and who will take all the necessary precautions.

Bear in mind that when intact, asbestos is seldom a danger, but when disturbed by renovation work, it can soon become a threat to yours and your family’s health. If the test results come back positive, it’s worth removing the offending substances entirely.

How Can I Remove Asbestos?

To answer the question quickly, unless you’re a professional asbestos removal expert, you can’t remove it — at least not safely. Where asbestos is concerned, you should definitely not do it yourself! Always work with certified professionals, who are fully equipped to contain the danger and safely remove it without contaminating other areas.

When removing asbestos, a professional team will be prepared with industrial grade protection equipment (microfiber respirators and full body suits to minimize exposure), plus industrial grade tools and a means of safely removing the offending substance. Finally, they will thoroughly clean the entire area with HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuums to ensure the danger is removed completely.

A DIYer would not be able to remove the threat so completely and safely, without investing in expensive equipment, and having the required knowledge and experience to do so. It’s simply not worth the risk — you can’t put a price on the safety of your family.

Asbestos should never be taken lightly. This seriously dangerous substance should be treated with the utmost respect and dealt with only by certified professionals. It can appear throughout any home built between the 1920s and 1980s, so if in doubt, be sure to have professional tests carried out before you begin your renovations.

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