Renovating? What to do if you find asbestos

Home improvement projects often come with unexpected setbacks and hidden expenses. One that can be especially worrying is finding asbestos.

Health Canada recognizes that breathing in asbestos fibres can cause cancer and other diseases. But the important thing to remember is that asbestos is a hazard to health only when fibers are present in the air and we breathe them into our lungs. Therefore, if the asbestos can be crumbled, pulverized or powdered, resulting in small fibres and clumps of fibres being released into the air, it’s a health risk. Examples include insulation, plaster, floor and ceiling tiles.

However, some building materials contain asbestos that is not easily broken or crumbled into small pieces, such as roofing shingles, house siding and cement. Asbestos in this form generally doesn’t pose a risk because it doesn’t easily release airborne fibres unless they are damaged or disturbed.

If you live in a home built before 1990, there is a chance it contains asbestos. The only way to know is to have it tested by a qualified professional.

Fortunately, there is no need to take immediate action or be concerned. Health Canada indicates there are no significant health risks if materials containing asbestos in your home are tightly bound in products and are in good condition, sealed behind walls and floorboards, isolated in an attic or left undisturbed.

Be sure to avoid disturbing or removing asbestos materials yourself. If you are planning renovations and your home has building materials that you think may contain asbestos – like insulation, exterior siding, or floor or ceiling tiles – hire a qualified asbestos removal specialist to get rid of it before beginning.

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