Asbestos is a potentially hazardous material that can cause cancer if the fibers are inhaled. It was used in a variety of building materials until the 1980s. If you have an older home, you might have asbestos in bathroom walls, floor tiles and other areas. You should never remove asbestos tiles yourself. That's a job for pros who know how to safely remove the material since disturbing the tiles can release the fibers into the air. Before you start tearing up old flooring, check for signs of asbestos in the tiles.
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Age of the Flooring
How old is your tile? Asbestos tile was especially popular from the 1920s to the 1960s, but production continued into the 1980s. If you have a newer home, you likely don't have any asbestos inside. If your home is older, there's an increased chance of the material being in the flooring or in other building materials. Look into the year your home was built if you're not sure. Many homes have already been renovated, so you don't have to worry about asbestos. But, if the home still has many original finishes, including tiles, you may be dealing with asbestos. You may also discover asbestos tiles covered up by newer flooring material if you decide to do a remodel.
Discoloration of Asbestos Tile
Flooring made with asbestos often becomes discolored as it ages. That's because the asphalt in the tiles breaks down over time, and oil from the asphalt comes out of the tiles. That can leave the tiles looking oily, discolored or grimy, usually in patchy areas. Oily discoloration is often a strong indicator of asbestos in the tiles.
Floor Tile Size
When asbestos tiles were still in production, they came in three sizes: 9-inch squares, 12-inch squares and 18-inch squares. If you're already suspicious about the potential for asbestos, measure the tiles to see if they fit one of these three sizes. The most common size for asbestos tiles is 9 inches by 9 inches. Size alone isn't enough to make a determination since tiles made of other materials can come in the same size, but it can factor in with other traits.
Black Backing on Peeling Tiles
Asbestos flooring often has black mastic, which is a type of adhesive, on the back. You can't see it if the floor is intact, but you can spot the black adhesive if some of the tiles have already popped off the floor. The mastic itself usually has asbestos in it. The tiles may have asbestos, too. If you have loose floor tiles and see the black mastic, especially if the tiles show other traits of containing asbestos, don't disturb them anymore. Call a professional to handle the removal process.
Testing the Tiles
Still not sure? Testing the tile is the only sure way to know if you're dealing with the potentially dangerous material. You have two main options for testing: hire an asbestos remediation company or use a DIY testing kit. Some local building authorities restrict DIY testing, and instead require you to hire a pro, so make a call before you go this route. The kits come with everything you need to safely remove a sample for testing, including gloves and masks. After you buy the kit, you'll likely have to pay an additional fee to actually process the sample.
When left alone, asbestos tile doesn't pose a threat. But if you're planning a renovation or your old tiling is damaged, it's worth it to figure out if it contains asbestos before you proceed.
Shelley Frost combines her love of DIY and writing in her freelance career. She has first-hand experience with tiling, painting, refinishing hardwood floors, installing lighting, roofing and many other home improvement projects. She keeps her DIY skills fresh with regular projects around the house and extensive writing work on the topic.