Finding asbestos within the home is a dreaded event for most homeowners. But asbestos removal isn't as cut-and-dried 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.
As of 2018, there are no federal regulations that ban a homeowner from removing asbestos from his or her own residence. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly recommends that you hire a professional to remove the asbestos. While the EPA advises you to find an accredited abatement professional, it also states that "federal law does not require persons who inspect, repair or remove asbestos-containing materials in detached single-family homes to be trained and accredited."
States, counties, and cities may have different regulations about 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.
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. 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
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.