Finding asbestos within the home is a dreaded event for most homeowners, and asbestos removal isn't as cut-and-dry as it may seem. Asbestos has been linked to asbestosis and mesothelioma, lung diseases caused by breathing asbestos fibers. Asbestosis irritates and scars the lung tissues, while the more dangerous mesothelioma causes a type of cancer that is often fatal.
Hiring an asbestos abatement company is the safest, easiest method of removing asbestos from your house. Abatement companies are equipped with both the experience of working with asbestos and with specialized tools and materials. Yet many homeowners, in an effort to cut costs, wonder if do-it-yourself asbestos removal is possible—and if it is legal.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), currently, there are no federal regulations that ban a homeowner from removing asbestos from their own residence. It is abundantly clear that the average person should not, under any circumstances, try to remove asbestos themselves, and that there have been strict regulations on the handling and disposing of asbestos-containing materials that have become law.
As of 2021, there are no federal regulations that ban a homeowner from removing asbestos from their own residence. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly recommends that you hire a professional to remove the asbestos. Because of the substance's danger to your health, you'll want to stay out of harm's way as much as possible.
The bottom line is: to keep yourself and family as protected as possible, it's best to call in a professional when dealing with possible asbestos exposure.
States, counties, and cities may have different regulations about the self-removal of asbestos by a homeowner. In some places, several different agencies may regulate asbestos removal. For example, in the Seattle, Washington metro area, a homeowner is required to obtain a conventional demolition permit as well as a permit from the Puget Sound Air Pollution Control Agency before starting demolition work in areas with asbestos-containing materials.
Due to this patchwork of regulations, it is impossible to generalize about the legality of self-removal across all areas. Therefore, the best source for information on requirements in your area is the local building department or health department. In many communities, homeowners are legally allowed to remove asbestos by themselves, with a few restrictions:
- Residential, not commercial: Do-it-yourself asbestos removal is limited to residential property. If the property is commercial, a certified abatement professional must do the work.
- Single-family only: To prevent cross-contamination, self-removal may be performed only in single-family residences, such as houses, mobile homes, detached garages, houseboats, and mother-in-law or detached guesthouses. This does not include multiple-family units (e.g. apartment, duplex, condominium, etc.), nor mixed-use buildings and structures that contain a residential unit.
- Permits required: In most cases, you have to pull a permit to do demolition work on your house. A component of this demolition permit is to remove the asbestos. Contact your local building or permitting department for more information.
- Proper disposal: You cannot just dump asbestos in your home garbage pickup. You will need to dispose of the contaminated materials at an approved facility. The bar is typically set very low, requiring materials with as little as one percent asbestos to go in an approved waste area.
You might find these asbestos-containing materials in:
- Loose-fill insulation containing vermiculite
- Popcorn ceiling texture
- Textured paint and wall patching compound
- House siding
- Pipe insulation, particularly wraps or tape on older pipes
- Door gaskets on oil and coal furnaces
- Heat-resistant board and paper materials around wood stoves
- Vinyl floor tiles, tile backing, and tile adhesive
The best thing to do with asbestos is to leave it alone. Undisturbed asbestos-containing materials generally do not present a health hazard, provided the materials are in good condition and are not crumbling, flaking, or otherwise deteriorating.
A variety of commercial testing kits are available that can help you verify the presence of asbestos in building materials. However, these purchased kits may not be entirely reliable. A much more dependable option is to have materials evaluated by an EPA-certified laboratory.
Iliopoulou M, Bostantzoglou C, Nenna R, Skouras VS. Asbestos and the Lung: Highlights of a Detrimental Relationship. Breathe (Sheff). 2017;13(3):235-237. doi:10.1183/20734735.010017
Asbestos Laws and Regulations. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA Actions to Protect the Public from Exposure to Asbestos. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Protect Your Family from Exposures to Asbestos. Environmental Protection Agency.