Asbestos in Home Renovations: What You Need to Know When Renovating in Northern Virginia

While the thought of upgrading your home can be exciting, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of asbestos in Northern Virginia homes before beginning any projects. Asbestos still exists as part of building materials in older homes and can create serious health issues if disturbed during renovation efforts. In this article, we’ll provide information about understanding what asbestos is and how to handle it safely so that renovations on your beloved Northern Virginia property go without incident.  

What is asbestos and why was it used? 

Asbestos has been used in the building and constructing of homes since the late 1800s, but you’ll find it in many homes built during the WWII era. It’s a combination of six minerals that were once found in many home construction processes, from roofing and shingles to drywall, insulation, and pipes.  Asbestos was used because its fibers are fire-resistant and heat-resistant and do not conduct electricity. Therefore, at the time, it was considered a safe home construction choice. 

Today, we understand the health risks involved with asbestos exposure and the best methods for its removal.  

Health Risks from Asbestos 

Asbestos is relatively safe in an environment where it is not disturbed. Health risks appear during renovations when the fibers become airborne as a result of drilling, sanding, and demolition. Asbestos can cause significant health problems when breathed into the lungs. In fact, the  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) all classify asbestos as a known human carcinogen. That means it has been proven to cause cancer. 

Asbestos has been connected to health problems like mesothelioma and lung, larynx, and ovarian cancers. It’s also believed to cause other types of cancers as well. 


Where is asbestos found? 

When completing a home renovation, looking for evidence of asbestos is essential. For example, it’s important to check door jams for dense areas where layers of asbestos can be found. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Asbestos Building Inspector’s Manual states that chrysotile accounts for approximately 95% of asbestos that’s found in buildings in the U.S. 

Asbestos is extremely common in Northern Virginia homes in places like Arlington, where construction was completed during the World War II era. 

Asbestos can be found in the following places, among many others: 

  • Roofing 
  • Insulation 
  • HVAC duct insulation 
  • Light fixtures 
  • Fireproof padding around the fireplace 
  • Sheeting under decks 
  • Electrical insulation 
  • Pipe Insulation 
  • Flooring tiles, linoleum, and adhesive 
  • Siding 
  • Soundproofing 

Asbestos in Flooring

Asbestos was used in vinyl flooring (both individual squares and sheet-styled) from the early 1940s until the early 1970s. Although the percentage is low, it should be tested and removed by professionals only. In our area, old vinyl flooring is where we see asbestos most frequently.

Asbestos Insulation 

Asbestos can be found in various insulation types, including around your pipes, inside walls, and around your HVAC ducts. Some of the most popular brands of insulation containing asbestos include Zonolite, Kaylo, and Limpet. If your home’s insulation was installed before the 1980s, you should have it tested before removal. 

Asbestos Shingles 

In years past, it was very common for asbestos fibers to be added to roofing materials. Luckily, it has been used far less often since the 1980s, as the health risks became known, but asbestos can still be found in roofing materials today. If your shingles are quite old or if very old shingles are below your current layer of shingles, when preparing to repair or replace the roof (and doing it yourself), you’ll want to test your roofing materials for asbestos first. 

Asbestos Siding

In years past (from the 1930s to approximately the 1970s), it was very common for asbestos siding to be used. This siding was super durable, and much of it that we see today still looks unworn. Professional remodelers easily recognize this product; however, it is sometimes discovered under aluminum or vinyl siding that has been installed on older homes (surprise!). It must be tested and removed by qualified professionals. 

How Can People be Exposed to Asbestos? 

It’s important to remember that asbestos is not unsafe unless the fibers are disturbed, which often happens during the demolition of walls, ceilings, duct work, siding and floors. When this happens, the asbestos-laden particles become airborne, and people can inhale them. If a person is exposed to asbestos and ingests enough of the fibers, they can be at risk of some health problems, including cancer.  

While many homes still have asbestos fibers in their siding, flooring, drywall, and insulation, this alone does not pose a health risk. A person is only at risk of asbestos exposure when the fibers are released into the air. If your home is old or has components built before the 1980s, it’s best to assume that asbestos is present. That way, you can tackle renovations safely. 

How Northwood Construction Handles Asbestos Removal 

If your home has suspected asbestos, we’ll send a sample to be tested, and if it comes back positive for asbestos, we’ll take action. We’ll ensure that it’s removed safely by following standards set by the EPA. Our company will hire an asbestos abatement company to remove the asbestos while our team supervises the project safely. To learn more about asbestos, visit the EPA asbestos website.

Are you ready to begin your next big home project? We’d be happy to help! Contact Northwood Construction today. 

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