Asbestos is incredibly dangerous, and allowing it to exist in your home unchecked can put you and your family at serious risk. Even being around it for short periods of time can lead to chronic lung diseases, breathing problems, and certain cancers. Even a mask can only protect you for so long.
However, finding a company to perform a test (not to mention remove the asbestos afterward) can put a serious dent in your finances. So, how do you perform asbestos tests in your own home, and how do you ensure they’re accurate?
Where to Find Asbestos
Before you can test asbestos, you need to figure out where it might be hiding. As an insulation and construction material, it has various uses, but it won’t always be in the most obvious places. For example, exterior shingles on a roof might actually be made out of a mixture of cement and asbestos. In some cases, you can also find it in old sheet vinyl flooring, wallboard pieces, inside pipe cement, used as an insulation wrap for heating pipes, or even in popcorn ceilings (pre-2000s ceilings that used spray-on materials).
It can also turn up in a range of other places. It has a higher chance of existing in older houses or houses that haven’t been checked and refurbished in a long time. It can quite commonly appear as an insulator in ceiling cavities or alongside tiles – most notably roof and old floor tiles – as well as roof flashing. Now that asbestos is banned from being used to construct or insulate most structures, it won’t appear in modern houses unless you have specifically introduced something that contains it.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a full list of locations; older homes may have used asbestos inside the walls themselves as insulation. Most of these buildings have already undergone asbestos abatement, but some still contain it.
Before you can start testing for asbestos, you need to find the material without harming yourself. After all, asbestos can be poisonous on skin contact, so proper preparations are necessary. Ensure that you’re wearing disposable, all-covering clothes (ideally coveralls), proper gloves, eye protection, and covers for your boots. Most importantly, you will need a respirator with a HEPA filter to keep the asbestos fibers out of your lungs. To get rid of loose asbestos fibers in the air, mix a teaspoon of detergent into a pint spray bottle of water and spray down the area frequently.
Gathering asbestos can be tricky. Any solid or crumbly material should be easy to either pull apart or cut a slice from, which you can then seal in a bag. Be sure to avoid cutting into your own protective clothing while getting the sample.
You can usually enclose the sample of asbestos on its own – it doesn’t have to be a huge amount. Even crumbling areas of asbestos are easy to collect. It doesn’t matter if they fall apart slightly in the bag since the materials can’t escape once it’s sealed.
If you’re only able to get dust, you’ll have to gather as much as possible. The price (and waiting period) of the asbestos test will often go up. The process of testing dust takes a lot longer and requires an electron microscope, which the average person won’t have access to.
Make sure to get as much as possible inside the bag without spreading it everywhere; a good way to do this is with a wet tissue that the dust can stick to. However, you’ll have to include the tissue in the bag. Include or dispose of anything else that you have used to try and collect the dust.
How Does Asbestos Testing Work?
Before abatement can start, asbestos testing will tell you if your home really has asbestos inside it. After you’ve used your kit to collect the asbestos, send the sample to a laboratory. An asbestos testing service will take a sample of the chemical and identify it. Then, they’ll email you the results. If they find the material is in your home, they’ll recommend abatement – which is the process of removing it.
How Much Does It Cost?
Your half of the task is focused on collecting the material and sending it off to be tested. The fee for this can vary. Some asbestos testing kits will include the laboratory fee in the price – others will not.
Once you’ve taken a sample of the insulation you think might be asbestos, you can send it to the laboratory. This is usually done by following an address or mailing instructions given by their customer service team.
What Do I Do Next?
If the service emails you to confirm that asbestos is in your home, you’ll have to look into asbestos abatement. They may offer you free advice on which ones to choose or even recommend an asbestos abatement company to you. Either way, you’ll need to get asbestos abatement services involved. Living near the material is incredibly dangerous to your health.
If the testing results come back inconclusive, you might need to send a larger sample. Asbestos testing services can only work with what they are given. Uncertain testing results may mean that you’ve not provided the service with enough evidence to confirm or deny whether the material is asbestos. Either way, assume your health is at risk and try to take a larger sample.
If you get an email saying that they haven’t found any asbestos and the amount for asbestos testing was sufficient, it means the test was negative. The testing turned up with no health-harming chemicals, confirming that there isn’t any asbestos in that part of your home. Your health isn’t in immediate danger, but it may be worth using a second testing kit elsewhere if you have one, just to confirm that there isn’t any in other parts of your home.
Are They Reliable?
Most of these tests are meant to identify the material. This is difficult for most testing businesses to do incorrectly. The only risk is the danger of the asbestos – the testing itself should be fully reliable. Just make sure that you don’t accidentally mix other materials in the bag. Otherwise, they could end up falsely identifying the asbestos as something else. A pure sample is always the best.
Should I Try Testing My Home?
If you suspect that your home (or place of work) contains asbestos, testing is extremely encouraged. While some companies may offer a unique solution to the testing process, it’s undeniable that the presence of asbestos is incredibly worrying. If you aren’t entirely sure, look for a testing kit that allows free lab checks. That way, you don’t have to worry about paying extra for something that might be an unrelated compound or material.
Remember that testing for asbestos is only meant to show whether or not asbestos exists. If you’re also worried about other materials, it’s worth looking into similar tests for them; different hazardous materials have to be handled in different ways. If you have the opportunity of a free testing session, take advantage of it. It’s better to know that your home is safe than to assume that it might be safe.