What Does Asbestos Look Like?

That is a great question that does not have an easy answer. Asbestos is a microscopic fiber that is only visible under a microscope. When a homeowner or building contractor asks what it looks like, what they are really looking for is what building material may contain asbestos.

Asbestos has some pretty amazing properties. It is incredibly strong and resistant to heat. These characteristics have made it a valuable component in many building materials. Over the past 100+ years, asbestos has found it’s way into many homes and commercial structures in the form of insulation, shingles, joint compound, floor tiles… and the list goes on and on.

The only way to know for sure if you have asbestos it to have an inspection performed by a certified firm. Samples of suspect materials will be collected and analyzed in a laboratory. You will have definitive results that tell you where asbestos is and is not.

In the meantime, here are some of the more common building materials that do contain asbestos.

Asbestos Floor Tiles & Coverings

Asbestos is often found in floor tiles and flooring adhesives. Both floor tiles and sheet flooring, even those manufactured recently, may contain asbestos as a component. While all floor tiles and sheet flooring are suspect materials, older floors are more likely to be positive. Asbestos is most commonly found in 9×9 tiles and black mastics.

asbestos floor tile

Asbestos Floor Tile & Mastic

asbestos sheet Flooring

Asbestos Sheet Flooring

Asbestos in Drywall

Asbestos was a common component of joint compound for many years. For this reason, the largest area of concern in most residential homes is drywall joints. Because drywall is easily pulverized during demolition or renovation, it is important to be sure it is asbestos free prior to removal.

In addition to drywall joints, asbestos is commonly found in sprayed and trowled textures on both walls and ceilings.

Asbestos in HVAC Ducts

In older homes and commercial buildings, asbestos was used to seal and insulate ductwork. Asbestos duct wrap looks like a white felt paper. Duct wrap should be handled with particular care because it often contains an extremely high level of asbestos, is highly friable, and can be found within easy reach of frequently traveled areas of a building.

asbestos duct tape

Asbestos Duct Wrap

 Asbestos Insulation

Vermiculite insulation typically contains asbestos. It is a blown insulation found in older homes.

Vermiculite Insulation

Vermiculite Insulation

Asbestos Pipe Insulation

Much like duct wrap, asbestos pipe insulation contains high levels of asbestos and is easily pulverized with minimal contact. If you suspect asbestos pipe wrap in your home or place of work, it should be checked by a professional.

asbestos pipe wrap

Asbestos Pipe Wrap

Wrapping It Up

Listed here are only some of the most common places asbestos fibers are found. There are many more building materials that have the potential to contain asbestos such as window glazing, shingles, roofing tar, siding, and the list goes on.

Since asbestos cannot be seen with the eye, the only way to tell conclusively is through a laboratory analysis. Keep yourself and your family safe during your renovation by hiring a professional asbestos inspector to determine that areas of concern in your project.