How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

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Are old vinyl tile floors dangerous?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Loose asbestos fibers that can float in the air and be inhaled are called “friable.” Most vinyl flooring manufactured before 1980 contains asbestos but it is embedded in the material and not friable. So the tiles are not considered dangerous as long as they are left undisturbed on the floor. 

    Removing the tiles, however, can release some asbestos particles into the air and the standard recommendation is to wet the tiles before scraping them up and try to get each tile up without fracturing it. Then bag them securely for disposal. But the safest thing to do is leave them in place and put a new floor over it when you are ready for a new floor covering.

     Mid-20th century vinyl tiles with long streaks, like in the photo above, are easily recognizable as being vinyl asbestos. Other tile designs produced during the 1970s, like the floor shown below, also have asbestos content but cannot be visually confirmed by those characteristic patterns. Your should assume that any vinyl tile produced before the 1980 contains asbestos and take precautions to avoid putting fibers in the air during removal, unless it has been lab-tested for asbestos content. 

    You can determine whether your floor tile contains asbestos by sending a one-inch square sample to a testing lab for examination under a polarized-light microscope. Pro-Lab, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is one lab that can perform the test. Their asbestos sample testing kits are available at Home Depot, Lowes, and most hardware stores. Here’s an example of a recent Pro-Lab report on the tan floor tile above.

Chrysotile is the most common type of asbestos, also called “white asbestos,” and constituted 3% of the tile and 10% of the mastic/adhesive backing of this floor. By the way, old sheet vinyl flooring usually has a higher asbestos content than the vinyl tiles, and sometimes came with an asbestos backing paper that is readily friable when disturbed. So ancient sheet vinyl is in a different category, and should be removed by an asbestos professional.

    Also, see our blog posts Should I buy a house with asbestos siding? and How can I tell if there is asbestos in a house?

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about MOLD, LEAD AND OTHER CONTAMINANTS:

• Is mold contagious? Can mold spread to my home if there is a nearby house with mold?

Should I buy a house with mold?  

Why do new homes have more moisture and mold problems than older houses?

Can infrared thermal imaging find mold behind a wall?

What is the right humidity level in a mobile home?

Who can clean up mold found during a home inspection in Florida?

How do I look for and find mold in my mobile home? 

Does bleach kill mold?

Why is there mold around the air conditioning vents? 

What can I do to prevent mold problems in my home?

Why is there a lead paint disclaimer in my real estate sales contract? 

How can I tell if there is asbestos in a house?

How can I prevent mold in my Florida winter home when I'm gone for the summer? 

Should I use bleach to clean up mold?

There's an old fuel oil tank underground in the yard. Is it a problem?

What are those powdery white areas on my brick walls?

• What should I do if mold is found during a home inspection?

   Visit our SAFETY page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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