Asbestos floor tiles are fairly common in properties of a certain age and needn’t be a reason to panic, you may not even need to remove them. Nevertheless it pays to know how to identify them and asbestos floor tile removal is a serious business. Hiring an accredited professional to remove asbestos tiles is the obvious choice but we will also look at how to remove them yourself and, just as importantly, how to dispose of asbestos safely.
How can you tell if you have them – Identification
Let’s start with a principle used in the flooring and construction industries: If you think it could be asbestos, treat it as asbestos, even if the material hasn’t been tested.
With that in mind, here are the keys to identifying asbestos floor tiles.
- Gather information about the age of the tiles: Asbestos flooring was made into the 1980s, though its heyday was the 1920s through the 1960s. If you know when the building was built or renovated, this might help you estimate when the tiles were installed.
- Measure the tiles. Asbestos floor tiles were manufactured in three sizes: 9”x9”, 12”x12” and 18”x18”.
- Examine the condition of the tiles: Intact asbestos tiles are not a major risk and can, in fact, be left in place and covered with other materials such as carpet, vinyl, linoleum or concrete. Tiles that are disintegrating should be handled with extreme care.
- Look for discoloration: Asphalt is a main ingredient in asbestos tiles, and the oil from the asphalt can leach out. If the tiles or the floor beneath show oily discoloration, the tiles very likely contain asbestos.
As you can see, this method is not an exact science. The only way to make it a science is to hire a licensed asbestos inspector or by sending a sample to a lab to be tested, but doing so can be costly and time consuming. Some would prefer to push ahead with proper asbestos handling procedures.
Where are they most likely to be found – History of usage
Asbestos came into popular use around in the first half of the 19th century due to its affordability, insulating qualities, flexibility and resistance to fire. Laws phasing it out or banning it immediately from some industries were first passed about 1980.
In the last two hundred years, it has been used in thousands of products including brake pads, clutches, gaskets, fire proofing and prevention materials, plastics such as vinyl, cigarette filters, laboratory hoods, heavy duty work clothing, construction adhesives, ductwork and insulation.
Mining asbestos was banned in the US in 2002, but we still import more than 1,000 tons of it per year from countries like Brazil. Asbestos is present in a range of products still manufactured including disc brake pads and lining, cement pipe, cement corrugated sheets and roof coatings.
How do you deal with them?
You’ve got two options for handling asbestos flooring tiles. As noted above, they can be covered with new flooring if the tiles are not disintegrating. Pouring concrete over tiles is the best way to seal them. If you don’t want that expense, a rubber-backed carpet is a good choice. Vinyl and linoleum are also used effective. Remember that tiles in good condition are not considered a serious risk.
If you cover up the flooring, Tom Silva from This Old House recommends notifying anyone who buys your home that asbestos tiles are present. The Sellers Disclosure Form in your state may not require this information, but the new homeowner should know at some point in case they decide to tear up the flooring. It is when the flooring is disturbed that the dangerous asbestos fibers can be released into the air.
Removing the asbestos tiles is the second route.
DIY asbestos tile removal
Most experts like those at the Minnesota Department of Health recommend that a licensed asbestos contractor be hired for the work or that options for covering the tiles be explored.
However, if you choose to remove the tiles and do the work yourself, you should know about the types of regulations most states have. Robert Scott, hazardous waste disposal specialist for A-1 Services in Michigan, offers these general rules:
Asbestos materials must be disposed of in special bags manufactured for this purpose. The bags must be properly sealed shut.
Not all landfills are built to handle the disposal of asbestos. When you locate one that accepts it, ask about its specific regulations. You may need to give the landfill advance notice, so that a hole can be dug in an area designated for asbestos. It cannot be included in the main waste stream. The location might be recorded using GPS.
Now, if you tackle the project yourself, these tips will help to keep you and others safe.
Step 1: Close off the work area by covering air vents, doors and windows to keep asbestos-containing dust from being spread.
Step 2: Wear a toxic dust respirator at all times. Other protective gear you should wear includes safety goggles, gloves, boots and thick clothing.
Step 3: Always keep the floor space wet. This will help reduce airborne asbestos particles.
Step 4: Use a floor scraper or flat shovel to pry asbestos tiles from the subfloor
Step 5: Place the removed tiles in appropriate bags, and tape them closed according to the instructions provided.
Step 6: Mop the floor thoroughly when the tiles have been removed.
Professionals use air quality equipment that most homeowners don’t have, so hiring a pro for the work is still the best way to eliminate potential dangers of asbestos tile removal.
How do you dispose of asbestos tiles?
Dumping asbestos tiles in a landfill without taking appropriate precautions is prohibited in most states. The most affordable and legal way of disposing of the material is to contact your waste disposal company and follow its guidelines. Most, like A-1, provide special disposal services for hazardous materials.
An asbestos contractor will do the work for you, but a surcharge for the service will be added to the cost of disposal.
How much does it cost to remove and dispose of asbestos tiles?
Here is a list of prices for removing asbestos tile and disposing of it.
- Professional asbestos tile removal: $6 to $10 per square foot depending on factors such as the condition of the tiles, how difficult they are to remove from the subfloor and how extensive the measures must be to keep the area confined.
- Asbestos disposal bags: $2 to $5 per bag depending on the size and the quantity you buy. Bulk packs cost less per bag.
- Asbestos disposal in a landfill: $42 to $55 per cubic yard of waste plus a one-time fee of $25 or more for digging the hole required for asbestos burial.
If a contractor transports the bags of tiles to the landfill or if they are picked up by your local waste company, expect a surcharge of at least $25 with additional charges based on the total weight of material being transported.
Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for asbestos flooring removal –
EPA guidelines for handling asbestos materials in the home
Learn from other homeowners how they handled asbestos tile in their homes –
A wealth of information about asbestos tiles and other building materials containing asbestos –