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What Does Asbestos Insulation Look Like in a House?

Radiant Barrier Asbestos Insulation Roof

Asbestos is a dangerous substance that you can find in many older homes across the United States. It can pose a significant risk to your health, and since it hasn’t been used in construction for many years, any that you find will likely be deteriorating, making it even more dangerous. If you think that there might be asbestos in your home, keep reading as we explain what it looks like so you can easily identify it. We also go over what you need to do to get rid of it.

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What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of many fibers with a cotton consistency. The space between the fibers slows down heat transfer, making it an excellent insulation material. Since you can easily pull the threads apart, it was common to mix them with other materials to improve their resistance to heat. However, asbestos is bad for your health and can lead to lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma after inhaling just a few particles.

close up of asbestos
Image Credit: KPG-Payless, Shutterstock

Types of Insulation That May Contain Asbestos

Loose-Fill Insulation

Loose-fill insulation is usually a soft, loose, gray material that gets poured into walls. Homes constructed before 1990 may have loose-fill insulation that contains asbestos, while newer homes are likely safe.

Spray-On Insulation

Spray-on insulation is an easy-to-apply variety that can save time on installation. However, before 1990, spray-on insulation was 85% asbestos, making it quite dangerous. It was more common in commercial buildings, but you might see it on a ceiling, where it looks like a thick coating of cement. It’s easy to damage, so you’ll need to be careful not to go near it if you notice it. Since 1990, spray-on insulation can contain no more than 1% asbestos, so it’s much safer.

man applying spray foam insulation on the walls
Image Credit: Igor Meshkov, Shutterstock


Block Insulation

Black insulation is a type of insulation that looks like a brick, board, or rock glued to the wall. These insulation blocks are pure asbestos, so any damage can cause a safety hazard.

Insulation Wrapping

You can find insulation wrapping around your pipes and HVAC components. It’s a cardboard-like covering that almost resembles plaster. It can crumble easily, releasing asbestos into the air, and it’s especially common in houses built before 1980.

Consult an insulation expert

Find an insulation specialist in your area, and get free, no-commitment estimates for your project.

Vermiculite Insulation

Vermiculite is a type of insulation that is not inherently dangerous. However, for more than 70 years, the primary source came from a mine containing an asbestos deposit that contaminated the mineral. Therefore, if your home was built before 1990 and it contains pebble-like pour-in insulation that’s brown, silver, gray, or gold, we recommend calling an inspector to test it for asbestos.


Do We Still Use asbestos?

Asbestos insulation is much less common now than before 1990. The United States stopped mining it in 2002. However, we still import asbestos from Brazil. There is no worldwide ban on it, despite the World Health Organization seeking one since 2005, so it’s still possible to encounter products that contain it, especially if you travel outside the country.

Energy efficient Insulator
Image Credit: RachelW1, Pixabay

Can I Tell If Asbestos Is in the Air?

Unfortunately, asbestos fibers are too small to see with the naked eye, so you will not be able to see them moving through the air. The fibers also do not have a scent, so detection is unlikely.

What If I Think That There Is Asbestos in My Home?

Do not disturb your home’s insulation if you suspect that it contains asbestos. Instead, call an asbestos abatement professional to learn the proper course of action. There are no federal laws regarding removal, but different states may have guidelines to follow, and you should never try to remove it yourself. Professionals will have special training and equipment to keep them safe, and sometimes they may choose to enclose the asbestos instead of removing it.

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Asbestos is a fibrous material that manufacturers often mix with other ingredients to make insulation and other products, making identification difficult. However, many homes built before 1990 have a high chance of containing asbestos in one of these listed forms because it was so popular. If you think that you have asbestos in your home, the best course of action is to call a professional to learn how to remove or enclose it safely.

Featured Image Credit: attakorn sanguanwong, Shutterstock


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