Canada has enacted a ban on the use and sale of asbestos in the country. Set to take effect in 2018, the ban is now in place, and asbestos is effectively illegal.
For owners of new buildings, this is good news—their properties are guaranteed to be asbestos free. However, as residents know, Toronto and surrounding cities are aging cities, with many buildings built in the post-WWII era or earlier.
What can homeowners and homebuyers do about older homes that potentially contain asbestos? As your local, Toronto-based home inspectors, my team and I have helped coach many property owners through the asbestos struggle.
If you’re a worried homeowner (or buyer) you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll discuss what asbestos is, when it’s harmful, where you might find it in your home, and what to do about it.
What is asbestos, and when is it dangerous?
What is asbestos? We hear scary stories about this substance a lot, but it’s not often defined. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring, fibrous mineral. It has been mined around the world for centuries due to its heat resistance and insulating ability.
(See this fact sheet from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, or CCOHS, for more information.)
When used in homes and products, there are two types of asbestos: friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos can be easily pulverized or turned to powder. Non-friable asbestos is encased in solid form and cannot become friable on its own.
Asbestos is dangerous in friable form. Long-term exposure to airborne asbestos particles causes serious health concerns, including lung disease, reduced respiration, and lung cancer.
However, asbestos does not present a danger in the following conditions, according to CCOHS:
- When it is bound in the original product and in good condition.
- When it is sealed (for example, behind walls and floorboards).
- When it is isolated in attic spaces or otherwise undisturbed.
If you own an older home and are worried about potential asbestos exposure, note that you may have asbestos in your home without necessarily being in harm’s way.
Because asbestos is a natural insulator, you are likely to find it in vermiculite insulation, boiler-pipe insulation, and floor and ceiling tiles. It may also be present in drywall compounds and popcorn walls and ceilings.
On the exterior of the home, asbestos may be found in siding and shingles, although this is less common as these products are typically removed and replaced regularly due to regular aging.
Suspect asbestos? What to do.
Think you may have asbestos in your home or potential property? Before you jump to any conclusions, I recommend you get a professional opinion to verify.
First, schedule a home inspection. A HouseMaster home inspection team can inspect hotspots and have the material tested for asbestos. At HouseMaster of Toronto, we are asbestos certified and always send your asbestos samples off to a certified lab for independent analysis.
If you do have asbestos, don’t worry! As long as the asbestos is properly enclosed and untouched, you are in no danger and don’t need to do any remediation. A home inspector can help you determine whether asbestos-containing materials are properly contained.
Have renovation or construction projects planned? This is when you need a plan to remove and contain asbestos.
If you have an older property, be careful you don’t undertake new renovation projects without testing for asbestos. Removing asbestos-containing material without taking the proper precautions can pose a serious health risk.
If your home contains asbestos and you do need to do construction or renovation, you have two options: encasement or removal.
Encasing insulation or other materials can seal off asbestos and is sometimes less costly than removal. If you choose to go the removal route, make sure you hire a professional who can remove the asbestos safely and completely.
Be worry-free with HouseMaster Home Inspections
If you own a home built before widespread asbestos use ceased in the 1990s, you may have asbestos. But while this substance can cause serious health risks, you likely have nothing to worry about. A home inspection can help verify that your home is safe—and provide next steps if it isn’t or if you need to renovate.
And if you’re looking to buy an older home, approach with caution—but not fear. A home inspection can help verify whether your purchase is safe. If remediation is necessary, you may even have a bargaining chip on your side.
Ready to get started on your personalized asbestos-abatement plan? We serve the greater Toronto area. Schedule a home inspection with us today! We would love to exceed your home inspection expectations.