The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: We just purchased a 1920’s colonial style home that we are renovating. During the basement work, we removed the carpet and discovered tiles that we fear may contain asbestos. A few were cracked, and most were covered with a rough layer of mastic that secured the carpet. If we cover these tiles with new carpet, would that be a health hazard? If not, is there a way to test the air for asbestos particles? Catherine
Dear Catherine: Vinyl floor tiles may or may not contain asbestos. The only way to confirm asbestos content is to have a small sample tested by an environmental laboratory. The cost of this test is nominal, usually less than $20. If you send a tile sample, be sure to include some of the adhesive mastic that secured the tiles, as well as some of the mastic that secured the carpet. Adhesive mastics often contain asbestos fibers.
On the optimistic side, asbestos tiles and mastic are not regarded as significant health hazards because they are not friable. This means that they do not crumble easily and, therefore, are unlikely to release asbestos fibers into the air. Covering asbestos floor tiles with carpet does not pose a significant health hazard. However, when you eventually sell the home, be sure to disclose that the tiles under the carpet may contain asbestos.
If you want to test the air for asbestos fibers, check for asbestos inspectors in your phone book. Not all asbestos inspectors perform air tests of this kind, so be sure to ask when you call these inspectors.