How To Spot And Treat Asbestos Tiles In Old Homes

The term asbestos is thrown around so much on HGTV that it can be hard for the everyday person to know what it really is. We all know that it can be dangerous, but not many of us know why or how to know if we have it.

Although asbestos is most commonly found in walls and ceilings, especially in insulation, it can be found in floor tiles too. These asbestos tiles aren’t as harmful as insulation but they still pose a threat to our health.

What Are Asbestos Tiles? 

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Asbestos tiles are tiles that have asbestos in them. Unlike asbestos in walls or ceilings, asbestos tiles will not pose a health threat unless disturbed. Most people think that asbestos is a harmful substance that has always been known.

But asbestos was actually once thought to be safe and useful. Asbestos is a heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that was used for decades before it was fully banned in the 1980s. So it’s not the new floor tiles that pose a threat. 

What Does Asbestos Tile Look Like?

Asbestos can be very dangerous, causing lung problems in many people who have been exposed to it. So getting rid of it when you find it is usually the best thing to do. But how do you know when you’ve found it?

The best way to find out if tiles contain asbestos is to have them tested. The easiest way to do this is to hire a professional to come and test your tiles. But the other option is the buy a test kit. However, you’ll still have to mail the sample to a lab.

The kit though is much cheaper than hiring a professional. Buying the kit will set you back somewhere between $10 and $50, which is over half the price of getting a professional to come to gather a sample.

In fact, even if you have an additional $50 lab fee to test the tile, it is much cheaper than a professional. A professional will cost you a few hundred dollars, maybe more. Check local codes to ensure you don’t have to hire one. 

What Increases The Risks Of Asbestos Tiles

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What causes asbestos? Intentional use of asbestos in construction. But what are the risk factors in your home for asbestos tiles? Let’s take a look at some signs that your floors have asbestos in them that needs to be addressed.

  • Home Built Pre-1980 – although the ban on asbestos began in the 1970s, there were still contractors lingering that used asbestos in the late 1970s. However, most of it wasn’t being used by the time the ’70s rolled around. 
  • Specific Sizedsmaller tiles were less likely to have asbestos than large ones. So the 9, 12, and 18 inches ones were proven to have the most asbestos in them. So this is another small sign, though not a consistent one.
  • Oily Tiles – if your tile looks oily or has colored stains that don’t look like people stains, then you may need to check for asbestos. This oily look is caused by the asphalt in asbestos breaking down over the decades.
  • Black Adhesive – if you have a visual on the tile underside, you will see a black adhesive that is most likely asbestos. Healthy adhesives will be lighter grey in color or tan. So check the color if you can see it.

Asbestos Floor Tiles Removal

If you ever start removing the asbestos tiles or if your tile is cracked, it’s important to finish removing it so that the asbestos doesn’t escape and cause health problems for your family. Take care and follow these steps to do so.

Step 1: Prepare The Area And Yourself

Sweeping the floor that you are simply going to make a mess of seems silly. However, there are a couple of reasons to do so. For one, it is nicer to kneel on, and for another, it is easier to see what you are doing. 

Now, it’s time to get ready. Put on a mask, goggles, long sleeves, and gloves. This is for your own safety, so it is up to you what you wear but this will offer you the best protection. The most important part is the mask as asbestos causes problems if inhaled. 

Step 2: Loosen The Tiles

Using a masonry hammer and chisel, tap the pieces free. Always wear safety glasses when removing ceramic tile. If you rented a jackhammer or another power tool you can use it, but it can all be done with simple tools. 

A grout saw can also do a lot of good as it will get rid of the ground and make the tiles easy to peel up. At this point, we’re not removing the tiles but loosening them by removing the grout which will give us a hold. 

Step 3: Remove The Tile

After you remove the grout, vacuum it up, trying to get all of it you can to make this next step easier. There are a few ways to peel the tile up. A chisel may work for small tiles, but a pry bar may be needed too.

This all depends on how old and how strong the mortar that’s under the tiles is. If the tiles are too large, you can score them with a scoring tool. This will help you break them up. If all else fails, hammer the tiles, hard, to break them and then pick up the pieces.

This isn’t recommended because it is more dangerous and leaves a bigger mess, but at times it is necessary to get the job done. 

Step 4: Remove The Mortar

This is the most annoying and most difficult step. You will use a hammer and chisel, unless you have power tools, to scrape away the mortar. This process is painstakingly slow in stubborn mortar jobs. 

If the floor is too stubborn, you can leave small pieces of mortar that are too stuck. But only if you are laying new tile down. Sand it down as well as you can and then sweep the floor up well, mopping when you are finished.

Optional: If your tile was stuck to an additional subfloor or underlayment, then you can simply remove this layer and you won’t have to remove the mortar. Count yourself lucky if this is the case.

Other Types Of Asbestos Flooring

The good thing about other flooring options is that they rarely have asbestos. Floor tiles are one of the only floors that consistently used asbestos. The only other flooring that needs to be checked for asbestos is linoleum. 

That is, linoleum or another similar sheet flooring. Sometimes, these adhered to the subfloor with asbestos. So it’s a good idea to check under this type of floor if it is was put in before 1980. Who wants old linoleum anyway? 

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Asbestos Health Concerns

I think it’s important that we go more in-depth on the dangers of asbestos. Because it’s crucial that asbestos not be ignored, even if you don’t remove it right away. Addressing the problem should always be done. 

Asbestos-Related Diseases

According to the CDC, “Breathing asbestos can cause tiny asbestos fibers to get stuck in the lungs and irritate lung tissues.” Just visualize that for a second and you will want to get rid of it as soon as possible!

But if that isn’t enough, then learning about these asbestos-related diseases just might.

  • Asbestosis – asbestosis is a disease caused only by inhaling asbestos. It involves scarring in the lungs and is unique to this substance. The result is the inability of oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass in and out of the lungs. But don’t worry, this is only caused by long exposure to asbestos at high levels. So the earlier you catch the asbestos, the better.
  • Pleural Disease – Pleural disease is another non-cancerous lung condition. In this disease, the membrane surrounding the lungs and chest cavity changes becoming thicker and making it harder to breathe.
  • Lung Cancer – I’m sure you expected this one, but it’s true. This malignant tumor is not a good prognosis to get. While it is most often caused by smoking, it can be caused by the inhalation of asbestos in houses.
  • Mesothelioma – this cancer is a rare cancer of the membrane that covers the lungs and chest cavity. The prognosis for this can be even worse than lung cancer and the details on this is quite morbid. 

Leaving Asbestos Tiles Alone

If you don’t disturb the floor tiles and instead add new flooring over them, the chances of the asbestos disturbing you are little to none. However, a lot of people can’t deal with the thought of asbestos being there. 

It’s a good idea to talk to a professional if you have concerns. Because they will know whether you should cover the tile or remove it. Sometimes it can be more dangerous to remove it because you are disturbing the asbestos.

So unless you are sure about your decision, at least hire a consultant to take a look at your asbestos tiles. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the health of your home and your family.