How to deal with asbestos during a home remodel

If you’ve recently discovered that the home you were hoping to remodel is contaminated with asbestos, don’t give up quite yet. Although remodeling a home with hazardous materials requires extra attention to safety, it’s still possible to transform your home while keeping yourself and your family safe. 

Asbestos can indeed be dangerous. That’s why our team of remodeling experts at Lamont Bros. works with homeowners to find safe and effective construction solutions. To safely remodel your asbestos-contaminated home, you need a good team of construction professionals to help guide you through the process.

This article will cover the risks and regulations surrounding the removal of asbestos during a home remodel. By the time you reach the end of this article, you’ll be confident in your understanding of asbestos remediation and what it means for your remodel. You’ll learn about:

What is asbestos and why is it dangerous?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was used heavily in construction until the 1980s. After it was discovered that asbestos carries several major health risks, its use was banned in new construction.

Why was asbestos so popular?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral

 During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, asbestos was used extensively in construction. It was highly desirable because it possessed several useful qualities, including strong thermal insulation, high tensile strength, and resistance to chemical or heat damage. 

By the 1940s, asbestos was everywhere. It was in wall plaster, clothing, fireproof insulation, and even clothes irons. Most significantly, asbestos became a staple of 20th-century construction. Its high tensile strength and fire resistance made it an appropriate additive to just about any building material manufacturers could think of. Flooring, mortar, caulk, roofing shingles, you name it, chances are somebody tried to add asbestos to it. 

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Many doctors suggested in the early 1900s that asbestos was a health hazard. However, it wasn’t until after nearly 100 years of putting asbestos in our homes, offices, and even vehicles,  that growing health concerns caused a widespread investigation into the effects of asbestos. The results confirmed that asbestos posed a significant risk to the human respiratory system.

Asbestos is a fibrous material. It’s what gives it such great tensile strength and insulator properties. But it’s also what makes it so dangerous. When those fibers are disturbed, they can break down into microscopic strands. If inhaled, these strands can lodge themselves in the lung tissue and cause severe damage. Asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and pulmonary heart disease are all risks of prolonged or concentrated asbestos exposure. 

The first government regulations on asbestos appeared in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1989 that a significant (but partial) ban on asbestos was introduced. Today, asbestos is no longer used in construction materials. In that time, we’ve also made significant process in removing hazardous asbestos from existing buildings. 

What is the process for handling asbestos during a remodel?

If your home was built before 1990, there’s a high chance that something in the home contains asbestos. However, this isn’t necessarily a reason to worry. Remember, asbestos is only dangerous when it becomes airborne. Fortunately, asbestos doesn’t become airborne on its own — something has to disturb it. 

Chances are, you’re not going to disturb asbestos as you go about your daily life. As long as you aren’t constantly scraping your asbestos-contaminated floors or picking pieces off an asbestos plaster wall, you should be good.

Now, if you’re remodeling your home, that’s a different story. Remodeling by definition disturbs many areas of your home, so your chance of releasing asbestos contaminants into the air is significantly higher. But don’t let that scare you — it’s still safe to remodel an asbestos-contaminated home if you have a solid remediation plan. Hiring a contractor who understands asbestos remediation is a good start to that plan. Here’s what the rest might look like:

Step 1: Identify Asbestos Contamination

To address asbestos in your home, you first need to know where it is. If the home was built after 1990,  you may be able to rule out asbestos entirely. If not, there are a handful of materials in the home that could be contaminated. The most common are flooring, insulation, roofing, exterior siding, and interior wall plaster.

With any of these, the best way to identify asbestos in your home is to use a lab test. Most testing labs only work directly with contractors. While there are some that will work directly with the homeowner, testing it yourself comes with more risk. It’s best to let a professional handle the process of gathering samples. Unless removed properly, a material sample can release asbestos into the air. 

Step 2: Containment

After you’ve identified where in the home your asbestos contamination lies, it will be easier for your contractor to put together a remediation plan. One of the earliest steps in this process is containment.

 During a remodel, construction activity kicks up a lot of dust. Since asbestos poses the greatest risk as an airborne contaminant, the containment measures must be airtight to keep any asbestos particles from spreading to the rest of the home. Plastic zip wall barriers, tape, and air seals will go a long way, but they aren’t 100 percent effective.

To make sure no asbestos escapes the containment area, some contractors will use a depressurizing blower that vents to the outside. This creates a negative pressure in the containment zone so that air travels into the space rather than out. A negative pressure zone significantly reduces the risk of further asbestos contamination. 

Step 3: Demolition

Once the asbestos is contained, your team can then begin removing the contaminated materials. The first and most important part of this process is jobsite safety. Anyone working in or near the containment zone should wear protective clothing and a respirator. 

The hazardous materials should be demolished, contained, and removed from the jobsite without disturbing any more asbestos than necessary. Disposal of asbestos-containing materials can be difficult because only a handful of disposal facilities can accept and process asbestos.

Step 4: Cleaning

After demolition, your remediation team should do a thorough cleaning of the containment area. This final sweep is important because it removes any lingering asbestos particles left over during demolition.

Generally, the remediation team will clean the area with a HEPA vacuum followed by a wet mop. After cleaning, the space should be tested one more time to confirm that the asbestos readings are at acceptable levels.

What can you do to have a successful remodel with asbestos?

You need to have a capable contractor to help guide you through the process of remodeling your home. However, it’s also important for you to take initiative and be proactive about how you and your team handle asbestos containment. Here are a few things you can do to take responsibility:

Only disturb asbestos when necessary

We can’t stress this enough: asbestos is only a hazard if you disturb it. Disturb it as little as possible. The more asbestos remediation you have to do, the more the total project will cost.

You might have an interior wall with asbestos plaster that you want to demolish to make your floor plan more open. It’s possible, but the amount of remediation service required to contain and remove an entire wall can be extra spendy. Your efforts may be better spent working with a designer to make the most of the space in its current layout. 

Make sure your Contractor works with a licensed asbestos expert

Any time you find yourself dealing with hazardous materials, including lead paint, asbestos, or mold, you should work with someone qualified to handle those hazards. Although it might seem like a no-brainer, some people don’t bother to check. It’s a mistake that can cost you more than just money down the road.

Asbestos remediation is a very niche skill. Most remodeling contractors will hire an outside asbestos specialist to handle the remediation portion of the job. These licensed professionals are trained on how to safely handle asbestos and protect you from exposure. If your contractor does the asbestos remediation work themselves, make sure they are certified to do so.

Have questions about the remodeling process?

Now that you understand more about why asbestos is dangerous and what you can do to protect your home and your family, take the next step. A home remodel is a big decision, and it helps to have answers to your growing list of questions. As you develop your remodel game plan, find out more about the design-build process right here on our website!

Ready to talk to a remodel designer about your home improvement project? If so, click the button below to schedule a free consultation with a member of our remodel design team.