How To Identify Asbestos

how to identify asbestos

This blog will explain how to identify asbestos if you think you may have found some. Most homeowners come across what they think is asbestos whilst carrying out home improvements.

However, they may not be sure exactly what they have found. This is because asbestos comes in many different forms.

It could be within the insulation around pipework or as part of the material in flooring.

A large number of properties in the UK still contain some form of asbestos. The material was only completely banned in the UK in 2000. Therefore, if your home was built before then there’s a good chance it contains some asbestos materials.

What Is Asbestos?

In its pure form asbestos is made up of minute fibres measuring less than 3x1microns. This is 20 times smaller than a human hair, which means it cannot be seen by the naked eye. This is the reason that it is so deadly as it can be inhaled without the person realising. The fibres then become embedded in the lungs causing life-threatening health problems. Due to its small size, asbestos was mostly used to create ‘Asbestos Containing Materials’ (ACB’s). This could be by weaving it into the fabric to make it fire-resistant. Or, mixed with other materials to make insulating boards.

Asbestos is a very dangerous material which can cause serious health problems if disturbed and inhaled.

Where Will I Find It?

Asbestos is a very heat-resistant mineral which is why it was used so widely in building materials. Examples of where ACM’s can be found in the home are:

  • Loose fibre insulation in ceilings or floor cavities
  • Insulating boards
  • Carpet Underlay
  • Spray coatings on ceilings and walls
  • Floor, wall and ceiling tiles
  • Textured coatings on outer walls
  • Cement roofs
  • Pipe lagging

how to identify asbestos

How To Identify Asbestos!

To find out if your insulation or carpet underlay contains asbestos there are a couple of things you can check.

  1. If there is a label with the manufacturer and product you can do a web search to see if it contains asbestos. An internet search will also allow you to date the product.
  2. Check for surface pattern or texture. Asbestos-containing materials often have a dimpled surface that can look like shallow craters.

Want To Know How To Identify Asbestos Inside Your Home?

There are a few places you should look.

Check Your Walls, Ceilings And Floors

  • Decorative/patterned wall plasters commonly contain asbestos. The same applies to Artex ceilings. Whilst they are in good condition and un-touched they pose no risk. However, if you want to re-plaster or drill holes then you will need training.
  • Sprayed or Blow-in asbestos was also commonly used in ceilings above drywall. This is often called ‘popcorn asbestos’ due to it’s textured appearance. Ceiling tiles were also commonly made with ACM’s. These tiles often look grey or off-white with fibres running through it.
  • Look out for an oily appearance to floor tiles. This is an indicator that they have been made from asphalt containing asbestos. Vinyl tiles were also commonly made using asbestos. Due to its sound-proofing qualities.

Asbestos-Containing Materials On The Exterior

how to identify asbestos

How To Identify Asbestos In Textured Coatings.

Asbestos was often mixed into the cement used to cover exterior walls. This could be textured or smooth and was applied to aid with insulation. If this coating was applied in the 1980’s or beforehand it is very likely to contain asbestos.

For Buildings Covered In Sheets, There Are A Couple Of Tell-tale Signs To Look Out For

  1. Sheets containing asbestos were commonly joined together using aluminium runners. These runners were held on using blunt-ended small nails. If the sheets are on the inside they were usually held together with plastic or wooden runners.
  2. If you find that the building was constructed using this type of sheet there is a good chance that any adhesives used also contain asbestos.

Cement Roofs

Roofing and siding shingles are some of the most common materials to contain asbestos.

Asbestos cement was very commonly used as corrugated roofing for sheds, garages and farms.

This type of cement usually appears as a thin piece of concrete with visible fibres running through it. Most older cement board contains asbestos and was frequently used as siding and soffit material.

Roofs made from asbestos cement can become very brittle and fragile. It is important that you contact a specialist in asbestos removal in order to have it safely disposed of.

Appliances, Pipes And Finishing Materials

Aside from the construction materials used both inside and outside your home asbestos is also common in other manufactured items.

Examples of this are:

  • Pipes
  • Flues
  • Fireproof Materials (doors, cabinets, etc.)
  • Eaves
  • Window putty

Pipes

If you want to know how to identify asbestos within your pipes. Things to look out for are what appears to be several layers of paper wrapped around a pipe. This could be asbestos-containing pipe insulation. Pipes can also be covered in a sprayed-on asbestos material (lagging) which may be painted to protect it.

Lagging material can be very difficult to identify. The only safe way to do this is to instruct an asbestos specialist to take a sample.

Flues

Many older flues will have been manufactured using asbestos cement. Whilst they are intact and un-touched they pose no immediate risk. However, if you are looking to replace your flue or have it moved you will need to take the appropriate precautions.

Fireproof Doors And Other Materials

Asbestos is highly fire-resistant which is why it was used so prolifically before it’s ban.

It is reported that…

“In 1970 alone, reports show that over 40,000 tons of asbestos insulation was used in multi-story buildings as a method of fireproofing.”

This means that if you live in a flat or apartment which pre-dates 2000 and you have a fireproof door, fire brick in your chimney or any other item it may well contain asbestos.

Eaves

Eaves are the edges of the roof which overhang the walls of a building. They form an overhang to throw water clear of the walls. The majority of eaves in buildings built before 1990 will have asbestos. Asbestos cement used for eaves is one of the most commonly tested materials. It can be recognised by the visible fibres which run through the cement.

Window Putty

Before replacing old windows it is important to check that the putty doesn’t contain asbestos. Some types of putty which contain asbestos swell and increase in the heat. This means it decreases in density. As the putty ages, it starts to crack or crumble, becoming unstable. Therefore, if work is being done to the windows the asbestos fibres can be released and breathed in. If your windows were installed before 2000 there is a chance that the putty contains asbestos.

Stay Safe Whilst Renovating

If you’re looking to improve and update your home, there are many different ways you can do so. You might be a wallpapering genius or an ace at tiling but asbestos is not something you can DIY.

Due to its chemical resistance and durability, the body’s natural defences cannot deal with asbestos fibres. Furthermore, asbestos-related diseases account for around 4,500 deaths each year in the UK.

Read more about the dangers of asbestos here.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for these diseases which is why it is so important to deal with asbestos properly. If you are worried about how to identify asbestos in your home contact us for help. We will advise and work with you to keep you and your family safe.

Asbestos removal, disposal and encapsulation are subject to tight regulation. Therefore, it should only be carried out by a trained professional. With our support you can be confident that any harmful materials in your home are identified, tested and removed.