How to Test for Asbestos

If your home was built before 1980, there’s a good chance you have at least one asbestos-containing material in it.  Before it was regulated, manufacturers used asbestos in over 3,000 products, including insulation, siding, drywall, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and more. 

While asbestos is benign until disturbed, inhaling the fibers can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and ovarian cancer. 

Test for Asbestos

Before undertaking any renovations on houses built before 1990 (asbestos was phased out over 10 years, starting in 1980), do an asbestos test. You can test via professional asbestos removal companies or with a home kit.

When to Test For Asbestos

If your home was built before 1990, test for asbestos any time the house has been–or will be–disturbed.

  • After a 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 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.

How to Test For Asbestos

There are two options for asbestos testing–hiring a professional certified contractor or through do it yourself kits. A contractor is more expensive but more reliable. DIY tests cost less, but there is a 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.

The most common places to test for asbestos include:

  • 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.

The Cost of 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. There are also multiple types of tests, as listed below. Testing costs are also dependent on:

  • House size.
  • The number of tests required.
  • Types of tests required.

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

ItemUnit 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: Regulations and Kit Types

There are no federal regulations for asbestos testing for single-family detached homes. But there are asbestos testing and removal regulations at state and local levels. 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 start at around $10.00 but require additional lab and mailing fees.
  • Single sample kits are priced between $25.00 and $50.00 and include lab fees and mailing.
  • All-in single sample kits are priced between $50.00 and $75.00 and include lab fees, shipping, return mail, detailed analysis, and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for sample collection.
  • Multiple sample kits are priced over $75.00 and include 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 finding 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.

How to Use an At-Home Asbestos Test Kit: Step by Step

All of the at-home asbestos testing kits come with similar instructions. You may have to make small changes to accommodate special situations. The idea is to get the sample and stay safe doing it.

(Note: You can use these steps to test a popcorn ceiling for asbestos.)

Step 1: Put on Your 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.

Step 2: Seal the Area

Tape plastic over doors and windows to prevent the escape of fibers.

Step 3: Collect Your Solid Sample

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. Then, 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.

Step 4: Collect Your Dust Sample (Optional – Only If a Solid Sample is Not Available)

When solid samples are not available, laboratories can test dust with an electron microscope. They require about a teaspoon full or as much as you can gather. Dust testing costs about 3 times as much as solids testing.

Step 5: Seal the Collection Site with Paint

If possible, paint the sample area to seal the remaining asbestos in place.

Step 6: Dispose of Affected Material

Remove and dispose of all PPE and the plastic door covering.

Step 7: Mail the Samples

Most results are back in 2 weeks. Some labs email results–providing a quicker answer.

What to Do if Your Asbestos Test Kit Yields a Positive Result

If the test result is positive, you have three options.

  • Remove it. A licensed asbestos abatement company is the best choice for safe and efficient removal. 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 asbestos 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 you can breathe them in. The NIH National Cancer Institute provides the best “Don’t panic” information.