It’s now common knowledge that residing in or around environments where asbestos is present is harmful to human health. Even though you may hear people talk about asbestos or see buildings being treated for asbestos, it’s not some infestation like mold that develops over time.
Asbestos is actually a silicate-based material that used to be commonly used in building construction for surfaces as common as walls or floor tiles. The risk for many people who live or work in buildings with old flooring is that it’s hard to know if the building has asbestos floor tiles just by looking.
While it can be costly to do so, the safest course of action is to assume that there is in fact asbestos in your tiles and get it treated, especially if your floor was installed in the 1980’s or before, the heyday of asbestos tiling.
Step 1 - Examine the Tiles Closely for Decay
You should examine the material closely to determine its condition. Asbestos will not be harmful if it is fully intact and in good condition. It’s when the material is broken up that you risk releasing the dangerous asbestos fibers into the air, which can then be inhaled. So, if you find that the asbestos is in a bad condition or there is any kind break in it, it would be best to contact an asbestos professional and have them come in to remove the materials before you begin the work of putting in a new floor.
If you don’t find that there’s any cracking or other signs of decay, you can probably safely build over the asbestos with a different material. Again, the stuff isn’t wildly radioactive or anything, just harmful when broken down and inhaled. However, if you can seal intact asbestos underneath a fresh layer of flooring, the overall effect is about as safe as removing the tiles all together.
In fact, replacement may be even safer than removal if you can vouch that the old tiles are in good condition, since the process of removing them runs the risk of breaking them and releasing the harmful fibers.
Step 2 - Check for Discoloration
When inspecting the tiles, look for parts that are grayish brown, dark gray, dark brown, or black. Vinyl or asphalt tiles that have these colors in it have a high likelihood of asbestos fibers. One of the main ingredients used in old asbestos tiles was asphalt, so they were primarily made in dark colors only.
Step 3 – Date the Tiles
Another time period that asbestos floors were popular in was between the years of 1920 and 1960. The flooring during this period was usually made in 9-inch squares and is quite a bit thicker than most of the modern vinyl tiles. Keep in mind that the mastic used as an adhesive for these older tiles might also contain some asbestos.
Step 4 – Laboratory Testing
You can easily eliminate all doubt and send a sample of any tiles that you suspect to contain asbestos to a special laboratory for testing. The lab will usually require you to send at least three samples.
Since there is still a chance that asbestos is present in this case, be sure to use a mask when you’re cutting one out your samples.
Step 5 – Collect a Tile Sample
Use a utility knife to cut your samples free and put them into a plastic bag that you should then seal very tightly before sending out. You can cover the area that you cut the sample out of with a large piece of duct tape.
Alternatively, they do sell home testing kits, but given that if the tiles are intact, you’re going to have to make an incision to test either way, the lab may just make more sense.