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I'm looking to purchase a home. It has a steam heat boiler system, wrapped in a white material that seems "old". Is it possibly asbestos? How do I test to see?

  • Not an issue if you just leave it alone. – Jimmy Fix-it Jul 15 '15 at 2:29
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With an asbestos test kit or a professional asbestos testing firm. If you're buying the house, you may be able to get the sellers to pay for this.

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I would start by asking your real estate agent. They may be able to give you a quick answer like "definitely not, that's fiberglass" or "maybe".

It's also possible the current owners have done testing. If they have any knowledge of asbestos in the house, most (all?) states require them to disclose it (although it may be hard to enforce that). However if they did do testing and the results were negative I would think they'd be happy to share that information.

  • You seem to know enough about buildings to know not to ever listen to a realtor. :p But seriously, it's impossible to tell if a material has asbestos in it just by looking at it whether you're a realtor or not. Proper testing is the only way to know. – Zach Mierzejewski Jul 14 '15 at 18:14
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If your home is older than 1980 (was officially banned in 1977 in the US), then it is very likely that there is some asbestos in the house. It was viewed as a miracle product before there were health concerns. Asbestos was in a variety of building materials including, but not excluding drywall compounds, insulation products, drywall, siding, and roofing materials.

Having some asbestos in your home is usually not harmful unless it is disturbed and small particles are released into the air. The diseases associated with it are attributed to long term exposure such as working in mills. etc. The small amounts found in residences are virtually harmless.

The type of asbestos insulation found on building ducts and pipes is particularly nasty. If it does turn out to be asbestos, then you would need to hire a professional asbestos remediation team to remove it. This is not a DIY job because it requires special equipment and they basically plastic off the entire house and the workers are in special suits. Needless to say, it is very expensive and usually requires them to open up walls, remove ductwork, pipes, etc. that were contaminated to get rid of all of it.

You should have it tested and if it is asbestos (which it probably is), work with the seller to either have it remediated before you close, or have it subtracted from the price of the home. This is not a cost which the buyer should be responsible for.

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