How to Test for Asbestos

Asbestos was used in the construction of almost every house built before 1980 in the US. It is found in insulation, siding, drywall, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and much more. Asbestos was used in over 3000 products. Inhaling the fibers can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, ovarian cancer, and more. They are microscopic and cannot be expelled by the lungs.

Asbestos is a benign product until it is disturbed. Cutting, sanding, drilling, demolition, or renovations of any kind will distribute microscopic asbestos fibers into the air where they can be breathed in.

Test for Asbestos

Before undertaking any renovations on houses built before 1990 (Asbestos was phased out over 10 years.) do an asbestos test. Testing can be done by professional asbestos removal companies or with a home test kit.

When to Test For Asbestos

Testing for asbestos should be done any time the house has been–or will be–disturbed.

  • After fire, flood, or wind damage. Many local building codes require asbestos removal before reconstruction commences.
  • Renovations. Test before demolishing walls, removing floor tiles, or ceiling tiles, or disturbing asbestos insulation.
  • Before buying a house. Hiring a house inspector before purchasing is always a good idea. Make sure an asbestos test is included. Knowing the extent of asbestos use in the house can save many dollars and headaches in the future.
  • Before selling a house. Being able to prove your house is asbestos-free will increase the sale price.

Make sure the home inspector is certified to test for asbestos before hiring him/her.

How to Test For Asbestos

There are two options available for asbestos testing–hiring a professional certified contractor, or Do It Yourself kits. A contractor will be more expensive. DIY costs less but there is the chance of exposure to fibrils while collecting samples.

Asbestos testing may involve collecting different types of samples from many locations. In the case of renovations, the number of tests is governed by the size and type of work being done.

  • All types of insulation. Sprayed insulation, loose-fill insulation, batt insulation.
  • Thermal insulation. HVAC systems, ducting, boilers, pipes.
  • Cable insulation.
  • Electrical panel.
  • Siding.
  • Drywall.
  • Ceiling and floor tiles.

Professional Asbestos Testing

Asbestos testing contractors are Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified. The EPA provides a current list of state contacts–State Asbestos Contacts | US EPA–you can use to find contractors. All samples must be sent to an EPA-approved laboratory for testing.

The costs of asbestos testing vary from state to state and location to location. There are also multiple types of tests as listed below. Testing costs are also dependent on:

  • House size.
  • Number of tests required.
  • Types of tests required.

Asbestos testing: 1,500 sq. ft. house.

Item Unit Cost
Initial test and sampling $250-$750
Air quality testing $300-$1200
AHERA inspection $250-$1,000
Full inspection: after asbestos is detected. $400-$800
Total Cost $800-$3,750

DIY Asbestos Testing

Asbestos testing done in single-family detached homes is not federally regulated. Some states require testing only be done by certified professionals. Check local regulations before choosing the DIY option.

Asbestos testing kits are available from home improvement stores and online. There are numerous options available.

  • Inexpensive kits. The price starts around $10.00. Have to add lab fees and mailing.
  • Single sample kits. Priced between $25.00 and $50.00. Include lab fees and mailing.
  • All-in single sample kits. Priced between $50.00 and $75.00. Include lab fees, shipping, return mail, detailed analysis, and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for sample collection.
  • Multiple sample kits. Priced over $75.00. Includes everything the all-in kits have but for multiple samples–up to 10.

Unless there is an EPA-approved lab close to you, choose a kit that has lab fees and a mailer included in the price. This eliminates the hassle of having to find a laboratory, navigating their requirements, and satisfying USPS requirements.

Follow all of the directions included in the kits. The EPA has declared asbestos a hazardous substance. If approached properly, there is no need to fear asbestos. But take precautions.

DIY Testing Procedure

All of the various testing kits should have the same general instructions. You may have to make small changes to accommodate special situations. The idea is to get the sample and stay safe doing it.

  • PPE. Many kits come with a hazmat-type coverall c/w hood and boot covers, gloves, mask, and goggles. Use a tight-fitting respirator with fresh HEPA filters.
  • Seal. Tape plastic over doors and windows to prevent any escape of fibers.
  • Spray. Mix a teaspoon of dish detergent with water in a spray bottle. Wet the area where the sample is coming from to prevent loose fibers from floating free.
  • Solid. Collect and bag the sample. Solid or friable (crumbly) material returns more accurate test results. Popcorn ceiling material, loose fill attic insulations, asbestos siding, drywall, etc.
  • Dust. If solid samples are not available, laboratories can test dust with an electron microscope. They require about a teaspoon full or as much as can be gathered. Dust testing costs about 3 times as much as solids testing.
  • Paint. If possible paint the sample area to seal the remaining asbestos in place.
  • Dispose. Remove and dispose of all PPE and plastic door covering.
  • Send. Mail the samples. Most results are back in 2 weeks. Same labs email results–providing a quicker answer.

A Positive Test Result

If the test result is positive, there are three options.

  • Remove it. A licensed asbestos abatement company is the best choice to do the job quickly and safely. Asbestos removal is NOT a good DIY project. It is discouraged by the EPA and illegal in some states.
  • Encapsulate it. The same companies can seal the asbestos in place. This is usually the quickest and least expensive choice.
  • Leave it alone. If the fiberglass is not going to be disturbed–such as attic or wall insulation–the most effective strategy is to leave it alone. Asbestos is only dangerous when the small fibers are floating around the house where they can be breathed in. The NIH National Cancer Institute probably provides the best “Don’t panic” information.

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Written by Murat

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