Older Houses and the Presence of Asbestos Containing Materials
Why it’s not necessarily a problem; and how vermiculite insulation remediation costs may be reimbursed by the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust
November 29, 2018
By: Shacks & Shanties Inspection Services
Siskiyou County contains many older houses and buildings. This is part of what makes the area unique and attractive. However, when it comes to real estate transactions, these older homes and buildings sometimes present a few unique challenges. One such challenge can be the presence of asbestos containing materials, or ACM. There are many places in a house that ACM might be found, and a knowledgeable, experienced and thorough home inspector should note any possible ACM in the report. However, the presence of an ACM should not necessarily be scary for home buyers, sellers, or their agents. Education is the key. Read on to learn more and find out why asbestos is not automatically a problem.
What Asbestos is and When It’s Dangerous:
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. Most uses of asbestos are not banned according to the EPA. Some examples of uses that are banned under various legislative acts are:
- Corrugated paper;
- Commercial paper;
- Specialty paper;
- Flooring felt;
- New commercial uses that begin after August 25, 1989;
- Asbestos pipe insulation and asbestos block insulation on facility components, such as boilers and hot water tanks, if the materials are either pre-formed (molded) and friable or wet-applied and friable after drying;
- Spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing materials;
- Spray-on application of materials containing more than 1% asbestos to buildings, structures, pipes, and conduits unless certain conditions specified under 40 CFR 61, Subpart M are met; and
- Asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds.
Asbestos fibers can become airborne and inhaled, and this is when it becomes a health hazard. Asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air. Read the next section to learn more.
Where Asbestos is Found, and When it Might be a Problem:
Most products manufactured today do not contain asbestos. Those few products that are manufactured today and contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in houses and buildings contained asbestos. Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions that may release fibers, include:
- steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed incorrectly;
- resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers, and so may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal;
- cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers, and so may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation;
- door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use;
- soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly or water-damaged material may release fibers, and so will sanding, drilling or scraping the material;
- patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos fibers;
- asbestos cement roofing, shingles and house siding. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, drilled or cut;
- artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces, and other older household products, such as fireproof gloves, stove-top pads, ironing board covers and certain hairdryers;
- automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets.
Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found in a House:
- Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement;
- Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation, particularly vermiculite;
- Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints in older houses. Their use was banned in 1977;
- Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos;
- Older products, such as stove-top pads, may have some asbestos compounds;
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard or cement sheets;
- Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives;
- Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape;
- Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.
Asbestos Products Were Found in Your Home. Now What?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic. Usually, the best thing to do with asbestos material that is in good condition is leave it alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless the asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released and inhaled. Monitor material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don’t touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, abrasions or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow. Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stove-top pads and ironing board covers. Check with local health, environmental or other appropriate agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.
Vermiculite Attic Insulation:
One of the most obvious and most easily disturbed sources of ACM in local homes is vermiculite attic insulation. The best time to determine if an older home has vermiculite insulation is for the seller to have a home inspection prior to putting the house on the market. Otherwise, it’s important for buyers of an older house to have an inspection conducted by an inspector that is knowledgeable about older structures, and vermiculate insulation.
If vermiculite attic insulation is present, there is some good news. There may be funds available to homeowners to help recover remediation costs for vermiculite insulation.
According to the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust, approximately 70-80% of the vermiculite sold in United States before 1990 came from a mine in Libby, Montana that was contaminated with asbestos. The product was primarily sold under the brand name “Zonolite.” The EPA recommends treating all vermiculite insulation as if it’s contaminated with asbestos. Evaluation and testing may be completed, and if asbestos is confirmed, or if the material is believed to be the Zonolite brand, a licensed asbestos abatement contractor can be contacted to help determine your next steps. Prior to abatement, you may wish to contact the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust to determine your eligibility for reimbursement of abatement costs.
The Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust has been set up to provide financial assistance to homeowners with Zonolite attic insulation in the form of reimbursement for abatement costs. More information can be found at
Identification: Vermiculite insulation is a pebble-like or rectangular, chunky product roughly the size of a pencil eraser, and usually gray-brown to silver-gold in color. Empty bags in the attic that bear the name Zonolite®, is a sure give-away it’s vermiculite. Zonolite was the commercial name for asbestos-containing vermiculite mined from Libby, Montana.
Professional home inspectors are the first line of defense for prospective home buyers in identifying, assessing and reporting on a wide range of issues that could be material to a real estate transaction. It is for this, and other important reasons, that a knowledgeable and experienced home inspector can be one of your best assets. The very best home inspector you can hire is a Certified Master Inspector.
EPA page on asbestos: https://www.epa.gov/asbestos
EPA page on vermiculite insulation: https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/protect-your-family-asbestos-contaminated-vermiculite-insulation
Zonolite Attic Information Trust: https://www.zonoliteatticinsulation.com/
Note: Regarding asbestos, California law requires a seller to disclose the presence of asbestos, if known. Our inspections will note any suspected presence of asbestos, and this protects all parties involved from future claims or litigation.