Tips for homeowners to stay safe during renovations
With the help of the internet, do-it-yourself (DIY) home renovations are more popular than ever. However, what YouTube and Pinterest might not be telling you is that DIY projects can put you and your family at risk of asbestos exposure.
Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause chronic, irreversible and life-threatening lung diseases.
These diseases, which can appear several decades after exposure, include asbestosis (a lung scarring disease), lung cancer and mesothelioma (a deadly form of cancer).
Here's what you need to know about asbestos before you start knocking down walls or ripping up flooring.
The danger of asbestos
Although asbestos-containing products are generally safe when left undisturbed, they become brittle over time and can crumble and the microscopic fibres are 18,000 times thinner than a human hair. When renovating or working on your home, it's safer to assume asbestos materials are present and to take every precaution.
It's best to test
Asbestos products are banned in Canada, but asbestos-containing materials were still common in building products used for homes built before 1990. You can't tell if a material has asbestos just by looking at it. You should
always test for asbestos if:
- you're doing DIY home renovation projects
- your home was built before 1990
- your home is damaged by a natural or human-made disaster
- you have crumbled, worn or broken asbestos-containing materials in your home
Where asbestos could be hiding in your home
Asbestos doesn't burn, which is why it was used in many products to resist heat. It could be anywhere. Common asbestos-containing materials are: built up roofing, shingles/siding, vermiculite insulation, ceiling tiles and coatings, popcorn ceilings, drywall and cement sheets, plaster putties and caulking, electrical switchboard panels, plumbing insulation, pipe and duct coverings, thermal boiler and fireplace insulation and many types of flooring.
Find out where asbestos could be hiding in your home.
What to do if you find asbestos in your home
If left undisturbed, asbestos materials in good, stable condition are unlikely to release dangerous fibres and pose a health risk. If you think you may have found asbestos, don't disturb the suspect material. Don't sweep, vacuum or dust possible asbestos debris and don't remove it. If possible, keep everyone out of the area and call an asbestos abatement company with trained and qualified personnel.
Hiring an asbestos abatement professional
If damaged asbestos-containing materials are not properly removed by an asbestos abatement company, they can endanger your life and the lives of others who come into contact with asbestos dust, fibres or raw asbestos materials. Research asbestos abatement companies, ask for references and ask how they remove asbestos from properties. You and your loved ones will be safer when the threat of asbestos exposure is properly eliminated.
Do your homework
Now that you understand some of the dangers of asbestos, as well as the importance of properly removing it from a structure, you are better equipped to make the right decisions. For more information about asbestos, return to the campaign webpage and view our Guide for Asbestos Management.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring form of fibrous silicate minerals. The ore was mined and then milled for its fibres. There are six different types of asbestos in two different forms: chrysotile (serpentine form) and amosite, crocidolite, actinolite, tremolite and anthophyllite (amphibole forms).
Learn more about asbestos from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) – What is asbestos.
What are the health risks?
If asbestos is disturbed, small fibres are released into the air. Breathing in these asbestos fibres can cause serious health effects such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma
(a form of cancer affecting the abdominal and chest walls).
Asbestos-related lung diseases are the number one cause of work-related fatalities in the province of Manitoba. In particular, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related lung diseases were responsible for approximately 33 per cent of the 260 fatalities accepted by the WCB of Manitoba in the last decade (2011-2020). In 2020, 69 per cent of work-related fatalities were a result of occupational diseases.
Learn more about the health effects of asbestos from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS): Asbestos – Health effects.
What materials contain asbestos?
Before the mid-1990s, asbestos was used in over 3,000 different manufactured products – mainly construction materials. If it isn't made of wood, glass or metal, it likely contains asbestos. Common building materials that contain asbestos include:
- flooring products, such as vinyl floor tile and vinyl sheet flooring
- drywall joint compound
- thermal insulations
- loose filled vermiculite insulation in the attic
- fireproofing and acoustic ceiling tiles
Can you tell if a material contains asbestos just by looking at it?
No. The only way to find out if a material contains asbestos is to have a sample tested at a qualified laboratory.
What is the likelihood that asbestos is present in my child’s school or my office building?
Any building constructed before the mid-1990s is likely to have asbestos present in some of the building materials. Buildings constructed before the 1980s would have a greater number of asbestos materials. This applies to schools, hospitals, office buildings, industrial buildings and homes.
The danger to people only occurs when materials containing asbestos are disturbed.
Do I have to get the materials in my house tested professionally before renovating?
It's best to test. There are some materials that are known to contain asbestos (see “Asbestos – what you need to know”). However, these materials are also available in forms that do not contain asbestos. The list of materials that may contain asbestos is quite extensive and the only way to rule out the presence of asbestos is to have the material tested.
What rooms in my home are most likely to contain asbestos?
Every room in your house has the potential to have asbestos-containing materials in it. Before 1990, asbestos was used in flooring products, wall and ceiling materials, loose fill attic insulations, electrical components, mechanical insulations, glues and adhesives, exterior cladding and roofing materials.
Can I remove asbestos by myself if I wear a mask?
No. Without proper training, equipment and procedures, attempting to remove materials that contain asbestos can very quickly put everyone in the home or building at risk.
The proper respirator, if fit tested and worn correctly, can protect an individual, but it will not prevent the hazardous asbestos fibres from becoming airborne and potentially contaminating other areas of the home or building.
It is extremely important that only trained and qualified individuals perform an asbestos abatement. Without using the proper equipment and procedures to control the spread of the hazardous airborne fibres during the removal process, everyone in the home or building is at risk.
How do I select a qualified contractor?
Selecting a qualified contractor for asbestos removal is an important step to have asbestos safely removed from your home. We recommend asking a potential contractor to provide you with the following:
Proof of training
A good training program is a start in the right direction. Qualified contractors will be able to provide copies of training records and certificates for each of their employees that will be doing the work.
Respirator management program
Ask for copies of the contractor's respirator management program and respirator fit testing records for each of the employees that will be doing the work. Reputable contractors will ensure that their training records are current and up to date.
WCB clearance certificates
Contractors who are awarded contracts for construction projects are routinely asked to provide WCB clearance certificates or letters of good-standing before starting work on commercial projects. A reputable contractor will have no problem providing this documentation.
You can find out a company's clearance status by visiting the WCB's Access Clearances page
Most contractors carry liability insurance. Many policies carry a pollution exclusion clause that states they have no coverage for asbestos-related claims. Ask them for confirmation of asbestos liability insurance.
Contact a local architectural, engineering and/or environmental health and safety consulting firm and ask them if they could refer you to a reputable contractor.
Ask for previous project references showing similar work.