One of the most overlooked and misunderstood hazards in a home is asbestos. There are six types of asbestos with chrysotile being by far the most common in homes, making up about 95% of all asbestos in residential properties. However, all types of asbestos are known health and safety hazards.
Canada banned the use of Asbestos except for extremely rare uses in 2018. The good news is that in home construction it is rare to find asbestos in residential properties built after 1986. The bad news is that asbestos can be literally anywhere in a home (especially homes built between approximately 1940-1960) and there is no way for an inspector or homeowner to confirm the presence of asbestos visually. There are, however, certain clues that strongly indicate to the home inspector the possibility of asbestos in older homes, including:
9” X 9” Resilient (Vinyl) Floor Tile
Pipe Insulation, particularly with white tape.
Vermiculite (Zonolite) Insulation, as pictured.
While this sounds very scary, the truth is that asbestos-containing products by themselves pose little to no danger: the issue comes when it is in a friable state, or in other words can be crumbled into small pieces. This can release microscopic fibres into the air that can potentially lead to an aggressive and deadly form of cancer known as Mesothelioma.
In many cases, especially when discussing flooring tiles or insulation, the best way to reduce the risk is to leave it alone while in others (such as in drywall) the best solution is to hire an abatement contractor to evaluate and remove asbestos, especially before renovation activities. If there is one takeaway, the dramatic shots on TV of workers taking a sledgehammer to a wall is an extremely dangerous practice for many reasons (and those are topics for future posts) and can easily spread asbestos fibres in the air. Remember, there is no way to visually confirm asbestos without a professional laboratory and it is always best to assume a house built before 1990 has asbestos in its building materials until proven otherwise.