Unseen Risks: Could Your Attic Insulation Be Harming Your Health?

Asbestos roof designOld houses hold a nostalgic appeal for their architectural features unique to a bygone era. But the aesthetic could come at a cost: dated structures have a higher chance of containing harmful materials like asbestos.

Asbestos dates back to ancient Rome, where it was used in building construction. The practice continued to modern times where it was widely used in US house construction during the post-war manufacturing boom. It was a popular manufacturing material then because it was inexpensive and fire-retardant. It could also store heat, maintain dryness in damp areas, and keep cement strong.

It’s not all upsides to this building material, though. It has its dark side, as well.

The Dangers of Asbestos

Exposure to asbestos could lead to health complications like asbestosis and lung cancer. Detecting the material is difficult, however, because its fibers are microscopic. People cannot see, smell, or taste them, so it’s easy to unwittingly inhale or swallow the dust. Furthermore, exposure to asbestos has no immediate symptoms; an asbestos-related illness may take about 20-50 years to develop.

Until the formal ban of the deadly mineral in 1999, asbestos was present in about 50% of all residential properties.

Adding to the complication is the fact that asbestos fibers are difficult to destroy. Once they enter the body, they’re difficult to break down. While some of the fibers may stay in the nose and throat where it is still possible to remove them, others can make their way to the lungs or digestive system.

Identifying Vermiculite Attic Insulation

Workers installing asbestos insulationAsbestos fibers can lurk in various corners of your home like floor tiles and water pipes. Sometimes, you might even find thousands of loose particles of asbestos inside walls or beneath attic floorboards. That’s why it helps to identify whether your attic insulation is a secret haven of the dangerous mineral.

The main source of asbestos danger comes from vermiculite insulation, a pellet-like mineral. While not all vermiculite poses a health risk, those that come from the Libby mine are risky because they contain tremolite, a mineral similar to asbestos.

Here are some signs to look out for to identify whether your property contains asbestos:

  • Specific colors – Vermiculite insulation has a gray-brown or silver-gold color.
  • Rough textures – The asbestos will have a piano-like appearance as a result of the particle puffing up.
  • Flat appearance – Unlike loose-fill fiberglass insulation that looks fluffy, asbestos with insulation looks firm and flat.

Dealing with Asbestos Insulation

Any disturbance can release asbestos fibers into the air. If you really need to go to your attic, you should try to limit the number and length of the trips to lessen exposure.

If you suspect the presence of asbestos in your insulation, don’t panic. Asbestos fibers usually only have the worst effect when exposed to intense concentrations on a regular basis over a long period.

To limit the spread of the harmful mineral, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests you do the following:

  • Limit the disturbance of asbestos insulation in your walls and attic
  • Avoid storing boxes and other items in places with asbestos insulation
  • Do not proceed with a do-it-yourself method of removal
  • Get in touch with a professional contractor to safely remove the asbestos from your home

Without asbestos, attic insulation has significant benefits. It will improve the comfort of your home as well as its energy efficiency. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation energy evaluation.