One issue that I often come across while inspecting older homes is asbestos pipe wrap. Asbestos pipe wrap was used from the early 1900's to the 1970's. The pipe wrap was used to insulate hot water and heating pipes. It gives the appearance of a white cloth like covering or wrap. Its purpose was to keep heat in the pipes to avoid heat loss. It was very good at its intended purpose however it had a very big drawback.
As we all know asbestos fibers are harmful to the human body. Asbestos fibers cause damage to the lungs and can cause cancer. Asbestos fibers are small and durable, and they can stay in the lungs for many years causing damage. Usually, people who are exposed to asbestos will not develop any health effects until years after exposure.
Home buyers and home inspectors should keep their eyes open and look for asbestos remnants and asbestos pipe wrap in older homes. I find this type of pipe insulation often while performing home inspections in NJ.
How do you identify asbestos pipe wrap? The wrap is white in color and has a paper outer shell. The interior of the material has a corrugated honeycomb like design. The material is light in weight and is soft. A cement material will typically be seen at the piping elbows. This cement material will usually contain asbestos fibers as well. The majority of this asbestos pipe wrap will be found in the basement of the home but can exist in other areas as well including behind walls. Make sure you just look and not touch any material that you suspect is asbestos pipe wrap. You do not want the fibers to become displaced and enter the air.
If you have asbestos in your own home or in a home you are buying what should you do? For the most part asbestos materials if left alone are generally not a health issue. The problem occurs when the material is disturbed, and the fibers become airborn (friable). But in reality, no one wants this type of material in their home. The safest course of action is to have it encapsulated or removed.
All asbestos abatement work should be done by a professional and licensed asbestos abatement company. Removing or working with asbestos is not a do-it-yourself project and should be left strictly to the professionals. The contractor must be licensed by the State of New Jersey.
Encapsulation of asbestos pipe wrap entails wrapping the material with a white cement cast like material. This outer covering will help prevent asbestos fibers from entering the air. However, in my opinion encapsulation is not a very viable and safe method. The problem is the material is still in your house. If the older heating pipes need replacement the encapsulated asbestos still can be disturbed. Yes, there is a lower risk of fibers becoming airborne but there is still risk. I would not recommend this method especially in today real estate environment. The truth of the matter is that most home buyers are going to want the material removed.
The best way to guarantee your safely is to have the material removed. Removal is referred to as asbestos abatement. The asbestos contractor will have to follow stringent protocols in order to make sure the asbestos is removed from the home safely. Some of these protocols will include sealing up air vents, sealing up the area of removal with heavy plastic so it is isolated from other areas, creating a negative air pressure environment, the use HEPA filtration systems, and proper clean up and disposal of the materials.
When you are looking at buying and older home or if you own an older home make sure to keep an eye open and look for asbestos pipe wrap. Makes sure you hire a thorough and well-trained NJ home inspector who knows how to identify these types of health hazards in the home.
East Hanover, NJ 07936
NJ Home Inspectors Lic # 24GI00058700