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Asbestos in the Home

Should I leave the asbestos alone, repair it, or remove it?

There are several options the asbestos professional may recommend for dealing with asbestos in your home. Which method is the most appropriate, depends upon the condition and location of the asbestos material.

If the asbestos-containing material is damaged or deteriorated, the professional may recommend that it be removed or repaired. Planned or unplanned renovation activities may also require removal if asbestos-containing material will be disturbed as a result of the renovation. If materials are intact, but have a high potential for being damaged or disturbed, it may be desirable to remove these materials to avoid inadvertent exposures.

If the asbestos-containing material is in good condition and not likely to be disturbed or misused, the professional may suggest a management program to minimize or prevent exposure to asbestos fibers.

What are the alternative methods for dealing with asbestos in the home?


Asbestos removal should only be performed by a professional asbestos abatement contractor. The contractor should follow the following steps:

  • The contractor should enclose the work area in a plastic glove-bag (for small jobs) or in plastic sheets attached to the floor and ceiling with duct tape. The work area should be enclosed completely, including the floor, ceiling, and any air vents. Everything inside the area should be washed, then vacuumed with a special asbestos vacuum called a high-efficiency particulate air or HEPA vacuum. Furniture should not be left in the work area. If it can not be removed, it must be sealed in plastic.
  • Any ventilation ducts or vents in the work area must be sealed off. Special air systems designed for asbestos work should be used for most situations. These systems reduce the air pressure inside the work area so that no asbestos fibers can escape.
  • No one should go into the work area without proper equipment (including approved respirators), protective clothing, and training. No one should leave the work area unless they have taken the proper steps to make sure that the asbestos fibers will not be taken out with them. This means that any equipment or clothing in the work area must be cleaned or taken off before leaving the area. The work-site should be kept secure so that children and pets can not get into it at anytime.
  • The asbestos material must be kept wet during removal to reduce the amount of asbestos fibers entering the air.
  • As the asbestos is removed, it should be placed in two-6 mil (heavy duty)--plastic bags, that are sealed and labeled as required by disposal regulations. For larger jobs, asbestos waste may be placed in specially designed drums or boxes which must also be labeled.
  • As soon as the professional abatement contractor says that the removal work is finished, the area should pass a visual inspection and air testing. These tests should be performed by an independent firm not connected with the abatement contractor.

The visual test always comes first. All surfaces are examined to see if the area is completely free of all asbestos dust and debris. If dust and debris is found, the area must be recleaned by the contractor and the visual inspection repeated.

If the area passes this visual inspection, aggressive air sampling should be performed to test for asbestos fibers. In taking an aggressive air sample, the air should be stirred up or circulated by using a fan or other device before the air sample is taken. This method produces a much more accurate measure of whether or not any asbestos fibers remain in the work area than a sample taken after the air has been stagnant for a few hours or even days.

An often acceptable standard for final air sampling after abatement is .01 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air (0.01 f/cc). If the work area fails the air sampling test, the abatement contractor should reclean the entire work area and then follow with another visual inspection and air test.

Asbestos Management Program

Removal of asbestos-containing materials is the only permanent solution to an asbestos problem. However, if the asbestos is in good condition and not likely to be disturbed, there are several methods of managing it in place:

  • Encapsulation: spraying the asbestos with a sealant (like paint) can temporarily keep the asbestos fibers in their original material. As long as the original bond remains in the material, encapsulation may be used.

    If the material is crumbling and deteriorating, encapsulation can do more harm than good. This is because the sealant pulls down the loosened asbestos material and can allow additional fibers to be released into the air. Encapsulating with a penetrating sealant can also make future removal of the asbestos-containing material more difficult. Since the encapsulant may begin to deteriorate, it must be regularly inspected.

  • Enclosure: isolating asbestos material from potential damage by using a sturdy, airtight barrier--a suitable, but temporary remedy for some asbestos problems.
  • Repair: for minor damaged areas--small holes or tears in pipe insulation.
  • Maintenance: if asbestos materials are left in place, they should be labeled and monitored with the ultimate goal of preventing fibers from entering the air. You must take precautions around the house to avoid exposure to asbestos and inspect the material regularly to see if conditions change (either the use of the area or the condition of the material due to air movement, vibration, punctures, water damage, etc.) which warrant further action.

Enclosure, encapsulation, and even spot repairs should be performed by someone who is trained in handling asbestos, and may require enclosure of the work area and use of protective clothing and approved respirators.

What are the disposal requirements for asbestos?

All asbestos waste and the disposable clothing, filters, equipment, and building materials used by a commercial asbestos abatement company which are not to be cleaned and reused, must be disposed of as asbestos waste. The material must be placed in double 6-mil plastic bags, labeled as asbestos, hauled to an approved asbestos landfill in a covered vehicle, and disposed of according to EPA, state, and local regulations.

You or the contractor should contact the health department or environmental affairs agency in your area to determine local notification, removal, and disposal requirements and sites.

How much will it cost?

Costs will vary depending upon your particular circumstances and geographical location. Some ballpark estimates are provided below:

  • Initial inspection and report of recommendations: $400 to $800 for an average 1,500 square foot house, including lab costs and a report of the inspection findings.
  • Reinspection at the completion of the project: about 1/2 of the initial inspection.
  • Lab analysis of bulk samples: $25 to $50 per sample, depending on how many you have.
  • Abatement:
    • Removal--$15 to $20 per linear foot of pipe covering and $15 to $25 per square foot of spray on material are typical industrial removal costs. Home costs may be more.
    • Encapsulation--About $2 to $6 per foot.
    • Repair--About the same as encapsulation.
    • Enclosure--Depends on the size and nature of the area to be enclosed but runs about 40 to 60 percent of removal costs.

NOTE: Some contractors have minimum cost levels before they will even come out to do an abatement job. Most household abatement jobs are so small and the contractor's set-up and clean-up costs are so high that the fee they will charge you is much higher than the per foot removal or encapsulation cost would indicate. For a household abatement job you should expect to pay $1,500 to $3,000 regardless of how small the task is.

How should I choose a professional?

The federal government has training courses for asbestos professionals around the country. Some state and local governments also have or require training or certification courses.

In choosing a professional to do work with asbestos, keep in mind that most home repair or remodeling contractors are not certified or equipped to work with asbestos safely. Ask for written proof that the inspector or contractor and their workers have completed a federal or state-approved asbestos training course.

State and local labor and health departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed professionals in your area. Abatement companies are also listed in the yellow pages under "asbestos."

You should request references from former customers. In addition, find out from the Better Business Bureau or a local environmental or worker safety agency if they have received complaints or found violations of regulations by the contractor.

You should also check the contractor's insurance policy to make sure that asbestos-related claims are not excluded from the policy and that the insurance covers problems discovered after the job is over, not just claims made during the course of the job.

Discuss with the contractor the procedures that he or she plans to use to minimize or prevent your exposure to asbestos during the abatement work.

The EPA recommends that the asbestos professional that inspects your house for asbestos hazards and develops the management plan be independent from the contractor who performs the abatement work. This will ensure that only the necessary work is done and that proper removal and cleanup is performed.

When you choose a contractor to perform the abatement work, make sure to spell out in writing all the parts of the job. You should include all the items on this check list:

  • A firm cost figure for the job and description of exactly where, when, and what will be done.
  • A description of the abatement methods to be used and containment methods for the work area. It is important that the containment area should not be taken down before the air sample report comes back in writing.
  • A guarantee that the work area will be left clean and in condition for reoccupancy.
  • A guarantee that you will be given copies of all the lab reports and a landfill receipt.
  • A guarantee that the contractor will also assume all responsibility for the disposal of the materials at an approved landfill.

For more information about the White Lung Association and its programs, please contact Jim Fite, jfite@whitelung.org
Page maintained by Cyndi Norman, webmaster@whitelung.org of Clarity Consulting / Last Modified: 6/30/99