In the course of a pre-listing inspection, a professional home inspector keeps an eye out for many common issues in and around the property. One that's of particular importance is asbestos. While you may have heard of this once-common building material, it's helpful to know the risks and options regarding its use in your home. 

A type of silicate, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that had been used by humans for thousands of years, and in North America as early as the late 19th century according to the National Cancer Institute. With its unique bristles and ability to be easily shaped and molded, asbestos became a common building material around the 1940s. It was often used for insulation, roof sealing, fireproofing and sound absorption. Even today, asbestos is used in automotive brake shoes as well as some other specialty applications.

The negative health effects of asbestos have been known for some time, although it took until the mid-20th century for scientists to understand and legislation to reflect this risk. The microscopic fibers of asbestos can easily lodge in the lungs and cause health problems over a long period of time, including cancer. Beginning in the late 1970s, asbestos was phased out of use in construction and most other common applications, drastically limiting the risk of exposure for a majority of Americans.

Unfortunately, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, asbestos can still be found in some older buildings. In many American homes built between 1930 and 1950, the insulation behind walls may contain asbestos. It can also appear in some textured paint products made before 1977.

Treatment of asbestos in the home

According to InterNACHI, the best course of action for containing materials containing asbestos is to leave them alone, as long as they are in good condition. Asbestos fibers can only be released into the air when the material is disturbed or broken. However, this may not always be possible, depending on the location of the asbestos. InterNACHI also cautioned that performing renovations on or around asbestos-containing material can cause the particles to release.

It's not always possible to identify asbestos materials, but a professional inspection is the safest bet for homeowners who are unaware of the situation. According to InterNACHI, if asbestos treatment is requested or required, the process usually involves covering or sealing the material.

The sealing of asbestos is performed by trained professionals. This method uses a chemical to bind the fibers together, ensuring they cannot be released into the air. This is the best course of action for treating asbestos on pipes or furnace areas. In some cases, with asbestos-insulated pipes, the material can simply be covered with a protective wrap to prevent contamination.

In some rare cases, the asbestos will need to be removed entirely. This should never be attempted by anyone other than a professional. For more questions or concerns about asbestos, consider scheduling a home inspection.