Asbestos - What is it and what do you need to know when renovating?
Asbestos is a term that refers to a group of naturally formed minerals found in the earth. Once called the miracle mineral, it was first discovered in Ancient Greece and has been used for thousands of years. It has great insulating properties, is very strong, water resistant, naturally flame retardant, and abundant; all of these characteristics made it immensely popular. It was used in almost every building product imaginable, then it disappeared. It peaked in popularity in the 1960s/1970s and in today's renovation industry it’s a bad word; however; few people seem to know what it is, and even fewer know that at one time Canada was actually the world’s largest exporter of Asbestos. There is even a town in Quebec named after it.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that science undeniably linked the miracle mineral to lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. When asbestos fibers become air born they can become splintered within the lining of the lungs. This is particularly problematic for those of whom have prolonged exposure to large quantities of the mineral as it increases their risk of developing one of the diseases. This new found evidence quickly spread and the use of asbestos was phased out in many products.
Although use of it is now restricted, many people don’t realize that Canada only recently announced its plans to ban all asbestos products and importing/exporting by 2018. There are still products available for purchase today that contain asbestos and we are still one of the world’s largest exporters. In fact, it’s so abundant in our geographical location that asbestos fibers are in the very air and dust we breathe, this comes simply from natural erosion of the rock around us. There is good news though; Scientists think that health effects are minimal with reduced exposure. Even though it’s all around you, environmental concentration levels are negligible and undisturbed in the products that surround us, the fibers remain dormant and have no way of releasing and becoming air born.
It can, however, become problematic when renovations begin. How do you know you have it? That question is a little harder so the only dependable answer is to consult a professional. This is because while the use of asbestos was abundant it wasn’t always used in common ways. Just like today, builders use different products to achieve different results. In some forms it’s obvious if there is asbestos present, but in others it can be much more subtle. If you have a home built before 1987; the chances of it being used in something is pretty high. Even after that it is still possible. We most commonly run into asbestos in textured ceilings, wall coverings, plasters, floor tiles, and insulation around duct work. Once a questionable substance is found, a small sample can be retrieved and it can be taken to a local lab to be tested. Only then can one be 100% certain if the product contains asbestos.
What do you do about it? If the renovation in question does not affect the asbestos product, you don’t have to do anything, as undisturbed it poses no concern. In the case of asbestos flooring, often times you can simply install your new floor directly on top of the existing floor. However, if the product does need to be removed it must be done so by properly equipped and trained asbestos remediation specialists. Costs can range from a couple of hundred to multiple thousands dependent on the amount and difficulty to remove.
In the end, if you’re not sure; just ask a pro. Many renovators and specialists do not charge for the initial consult. Most laboratory testing only takes a couple of days and run in cost between $60-$200. A phone call and a minimal investment up front can prevent unforeseen costs in the future. Although sometimes you can’t always know until you get into the renovation and open things up, whenever possible it’s good to know in advance so you can plan your renovation around it. It may mean reducing the scope of your reno or possibly downgrading materials but at least you’ll be able to maintain your target budget.
Happy Renovating, thanks for reading. -Pat Belding, Owner.