9 Places Asbestos May (Still!) Be Lurking in Your Home

Older homes have charm, personality, and character that often can’t be matched in newer constructions. Unfortunately, most properties built before 1980 have an unsavory, downright dangerous skeleton in the closet: asbestos. The mineral was widely used in building materials for its strength, fire-retardant properties, and sound-absorbing capabilities. That changed in the mid-1970s, however, when asbestos exposure became linked to severe health issues, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (a progressive debilitating lung disease). Today, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, no level of exposure to asbestos is considered safe, and testing and removal should be completed by licensed professionals. (Before you panic, keep in mind that asbestos that hasn't been disturbed usually doesn’t pose a health risk.) Here are 9 places asbestos may still be lurking in your home—and how to prevent this unwelcome trespasser from endangering your family.

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  1. Roofing and Siding

    Asbestos roofing

    Asbestos is extremely resistant to heat, fire, and electrical conductivity, which made it a common (and often required) component in many types of siding and roofing shingles. If your roof is old enough to contain asbestos, it’s past due for replacement. Beware, however, that removal of asbestos-containing roof shingles or siding should be handled only by a trained and accredited asbestos professional.

    Related: 7 Signs You Need a New Roof


  2. Flooring

    Asbestos flooring

    Another common source of asbestos in the home is flooring, especially vinyl floor tiles, the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and flooring adhesives. According to the EPA, if your floor tiles were installed prior to 1981, there’s a good chance they contain some asbestos. If an asbestos-containing floor has been damaged—if, for instance, it has been scraped or gouged—dusting, sweeping, or vacuuming it could release dangerous asbestos fibers. Even if a floor containing asbestos is in good shape, you may want to consider sealing or encapsulating it. If you choose instead to remove and replace it, have the work done by a qualified professional. 

    Related: The 7 Best Low-Cost Alternatives to Hardwood Flooring


  3. Pipe Insulation

    Asbestos insulation

    Because asbestos is heat resistant, it was typically used to insulate hot water pipes as well as steam pipes in heating systems. In some cases, the pipes were coated directly with asbestos material, and in other instances, the pipes were covered with an asbestos blanket or tape. As with other types of asbestos, leave the covering alone if it’s in good shape, or have it encapsulated. If it’s ripped or torn, have it professionally removed and replaced.

    Related: 10 Ways You're Accidentally Poisoning Your Home


  4. Wallboard and Joint Compound

    Asbestos wallboard

    Many types of wallboard and joint compound—such as those around wood-burning stoves and fireplaces—incorporated asbestos fibers for strength and flame resistance. Even something as simple as patching a hole or sanding a rough patch in a wall could release asbestos fibers and dust into the air. If you’re pondering a remodeling or home improvement project and you live in a home with interior walls that were finished before the mid-1980s, it’s smart to call in an asbestos inspector before beginning.

    Related: 8 Dangerous Secrets Your Home May Be Hiding


  5. Popcorn Ceilings

    Popcorn ceiling

    Whether you love them because they're "retro kitsch" or hate them because they're outdated and ugly, popcorn ceilings are extremely common in homes built from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. But this decorative texture has a darker side: The coating was typically made from sprayed-on asbestos fibers or textured paint infused with asbestos. If you have a popcorn ceiling, consider sealing it. If you're determined to remove it, have a professional test it first, and if asbestos is found, hire a qualified professional for removal. 

    Related: The Biggest Home Trends from the Decade You Were Born

    flickr.com via Roskvape

  6. Wallpaper

    Asbestos wallpaper

    Wallpaper and wallpaper adhesives manufactured prior to 1980 may contain asbestos, especially if the wallpaper has a vinyl finish. Intact wallpaper is best simply left alone or painted over. If the wallpaper is torn, cracked, or curling, however, you may want to have it professionally tested and replaced with a more up-to-date wall covering.

    Related: 12 Photos That Prove Wallpaper Still Wows


  7. Wall and Ceiling Insulation


    Asbestos lurks in the wall and ceiling insulation of many homes built from the 1930s through the 1950s. If there’s no damage to the walls or ceilings and the insulation isn’t loose or visible, it’s better left untouched. Call an inspector if you plan on remodeling or if you notice any cracks or other damage on the walls or ceilings.

    Related: The Pros and Cons of Today's Most Popular Insulation


  8. Furnaces and Boilers

    Insulation furnace

    Because asbestos resists fire and heat, it was commonly used in the gaskets, insulation, and surrounds for furnaces, boilers, stoves, and fireplaces. If you’re in the market for a new furnace or other appliance, you may want to check with an asbestos professional before disturbing your old one.

    Related: 11 Common Problems Home Sellers Try to Hide


  9. Curtains and Fabrics

    Asbestos curtain

    Believe it or not, people once paid top dollar for curtains and draperies that incorporated asbestos. The heat-resistant, flame-retardant fabrics were marketed as the best way to protect families from house fires—and they dampened outside noise to boot. Many consumers also purchased asbestos pads or blankets to cover the heating elements on the stovetop. Needless to say, if you encounter any of these products in your home, they should be removed, properly disposed of, and replaced with modern, non-asbestos-containing alternatives.

    Related: Lose the Drapes: 12 Better Ways to Dress a Window


  10. Hidden Dangers

    9 places asbestos  may still be lurking in your home

    Asbestos isn’t the only hazard that could be hiding in your home. Poor habits in the kitchen and negligent cleaning in the bathroom are just a couple of ways that your home can harm your health.