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One word that no homeowner in Ottawa wants to hear when considering a potential home renovation or room addition is asbestos. In Canada, if you own a home that was constructed in 1990 or earlier, there is a chance that there is asbestos in some of your home building materials. The presence of asbestos alone is no reason to panic, however. As we will see, asbestos is not immediately harmful to homeowners unless certain conditions are met.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural mineral that has many benefits as a construction material. Not only is it a great insulator, but it has high heat resistance and durability as well.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibres has been linked to a variety of lung problems and forms of cancer. Simply put, you do not want to be inhaling airborne particles of asbestos. When dealing with asbestos building materials, protective equipment must always be worn. And before you try to handle asbestos yourself using only gloves and a paper mask, know that trained professionals wear respirators and protective suits for a reason.

Asbestos as a construction material

Asbestos was used frequently in home building materials in Canada from the 1930s up until the early 1980s, with asbestos-containing vermiculite insulation possibly being used up to 1990.

You might be surprised to know that asbestos is still used in certain materials today. In fact, if you have been reading the news, you will know that only recently did Canada implement a full asbestos ban which will take place in 2018. Until then, know that while Canada restricts the usage of certain asbestos products, and today’s vermiculite insulation no longer contains asbestos, the usage of certain asbestos products is still legally allowed in Canada when the risk of airborne fibres and inhalation is low.

The key to understanding what types of asbestos products are banned and which are still in use in Canada until 2018 is found in the concepts of friable (can be reduced to powder) and non-friable (hard, not easily reduced to powder). Since asbestos is only harmful when the fibres are airborne, friable asbestos products have largely been banned in Canada.

Some of the currently banned friable asbestos-containing products that were in common use in home construction up to 1985 include sprayed fireproofing, insulation on piping systems, drywall, acoustic insulation, popcorn ceiling texture, plaster and vinyl floor tiles. Vermiculite insulation that was possibly contaminated with asbestos was banned in the 1980s but existing stockpiles may have still been installed up until 1990.

Asbestos in the home

Today you can find asbestos legally in Canada in some types of insulation board, roofing materials, ceiling and vinyl floor tiles, certain types of cement sheeting and pipes, water supply lines, fire blankets, plastic filler and even brake linings for automobiles. These are all considered non-friable sources of asbestos in Canada and are therefore categorized as low risk health hazards.

Regardless of the friable or non-friable nature of asbestos-containing materials, the fact remains that it is a known carcinogen. Long-term exposure to asbestos can lead to many illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. The other unfortunate part about these diseases is that symptoms may not show up until 20 years down the road or longer. This is why the Government of Canada is finally banning all asbestos-containing materials as of 2018. New national building codes will be introduced and also new regulations prohibiting the use of any asbestos-containing materials in new home constructions, home renovations and home additions will be put in place.

Does your home have asbestos?

You cannot know which materials may contain asbestos in your home simply by performing a visual inspection. Samples must be taken by professionals and lab testing is required to determine with accuracy any building materials that may contain this toxic substance.

However, the most important question in regards to asbestos is not ‘do I have it?’ but rather ‘am I going to be renovating?’ This is because asbestos is only harmful if it is disturbed and the fibres becomes airborne to be breathed in.

Home renovations where asbestos may be present

If you are not planning a home renovation or addition, and are not going to tear down, remove or generally disturb any of the walls, flooring or building materials in your home that may contain asbestos, then there is nothing to worry about. This is the reason why asbestos is considered more of a long-term removal issue as opposed to an immediate removal issue such as mold. Asbestos is not harmful on its own if it is left alone and behind walls, ceilings, in the attic or in solid materials that are not destroyed or tampered with.

Now, if you are planning a future home renovation or addition, and your home was built in 1990 or earlier, then it is best to perform an inspection prior to renovation, addition or demolition as asbestos may be found in your vermiculite attic insulation, drywall, vinyl floor tiles, ceiling tiles or popcorn plaster ceiling.

In Ontario, asbestos removal is classified under three scenarios once asbestos has been found on the work site: type 1 (low risk), type 2 (medium risk) and type 3 (removal certification required). According to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, each type requires the worker to have received basic proper training for asbestos removal, with type 3 requiring a more in depth certification process.

Depending on the amount of asbestos-containing materials being handled, some of the required protections for workers may include proper identification of the work area as an asbestos hazard, the use of protective clothing by workers, proper containers for the removed asbestos and the use of respirators.

Our team of professionals are trained to deal with exactly this type of situation. If you prefer peace of mind, contact our renovation experts by email [email protected] or call (613) 725-7366 and start discussing your home renovation project today!