Critical Advice on Asbestos in the Basement

Critical Advice on Asbestos in the Basement

Rebecca posted this on our post What is the best flooring for a basement?, and I thought a fuller answer than a mere dashed off comment was in order.

''Stumbled across your blog from Google and wondering if you have a suggestion for my basement. I am in the process of redoing the whole thing, but the floor is a bit of a mystery. I'm assuming it is vinyl tile down there (house was built in 1963) and there are at least 3 different layers of tile (vinyl? peel and stick? don't know). Someone said I shouldn't take it up because there might be asbestos,...''

  I like your someone. When it comes to asbestos, even the possibility of it, caution is always top priority. When it comes to the possibility of asbestos, unless you absolutely know otherwise, assume that it is in there. There are no visible clues to tell you, at least not to the non-expert. With old tiling, for instance, Vinyl Composite Tile, which is safely sold today, is indistinguishable from the older Vinyl Asbestos Tile. When you are not positive about it, have the material tested before doing anything, or just treat it like it is contaminated.

Asbestos was used as a 'binder' in almost all resilient flooring (this includes vinyl, linoleum, asphalt, and even the mastic in which some ceramic tiles are set) until about 1985. Because it is embedded into the substance, the mere presence of material containing asbestos is not necessarily a threat to you. If it is left alone, and in most cases only walked upon, it will not release its carcinogens into the air. You should keep the activity level low, and probably keep children away from these areas, because they can tend to do, out of curiosity and playfulness, the things you do want to avoid. Asbestos fibers are released when the material is damaged or agitated.

Don't Do This

(fortunately, he's not really removing asbestos, it's just a good 'Don't Do This' picture, in context.

NEVER do the following with materials containing asbestos:

  • mechanically chip
  • improperly remove
  • saw or cut
  • tear
  • drill
  • grind
  • sand
  • scrape
  • strip wax from
  • sweep
  • or dust

Even sweep and dust? Yes. Damp-mopping is your safest general cleaning option. You just want to do anything you can to prevent damaging the material. Only a well-trained professional should remove it.

If you decide to have the material inspected by an Accredited Asbestos Inspector, we offer the following advice:

1 - Use an inspector who is not connected with a company that removes asbestos, to make sure you're getting an unbiased inspection.

2 - Vet your inspector through the Better Business Bureau, and any local agencies responsible for air pollution control and worker safety. This is where reports would be filed against them, if any needed to be done. Make sure there are no legal actions or safety violations filed against them before they work in your own home.

3 - Check their accreditation. Each individual should be able to show you proof of their accreditation, and they should not be surprised or offended when you ask to see it. When consulting the agencies above, ask whet you should look for in your state or locality.

4 - Any inspection should include both a complete site inspection, and lab analysis of materials from your home. You should expect to receive a detailed report on the locations and extant of asbestos contamination, and recommendations for handling the matter.

5 - After any work is done, have the place re-inspected.    

''...and there are some spots where pieces are missing,...''

   (not Rebecca's floor, just a good picture I found)

The issue here is how well the missing pieces were removed. Any asbestos containing material which is damaged at all, even just in spots or on edges, or if it is just flaking, must be repaired or removed professionally. Don't get brave, don masks and glasses, and do it yourself. You may survive the process, but you will still kick a lot of this into the air, your vents, the general dust of the room. Seriously, it's a professionals only procedure. Also, federal requirements on accreditation may be lower than your state's. Go with the most stringent ones. Hire a certified flooring installer who has taken the Resilient Floor Covering Institute's training seminar on asbestos removal, and then keep the following in mind:

Seal off!

Seal off!

1 - Get the full work plan in writing before anything starts. It should include all of the regulations to be followed, and the cleanup plan.

2 - Look for proper asbestos handling equipment. At the very least this should include a acronym title="It stands for ''High-Efficiency Particulate Air'' and describes a type of air filter which can remove 99.97% of all particles greater than a size of 0.3 micrometers (0.0003 millimeters).">HEPA vacuum. Detergent should contain amphoteric, anionic and nonionic surfactants. I'll put some details in the resources section at the bottom.

3 - The contractor should do the following:

a - Turn off your HVAC, cover any vents, and seal off the room from other areas of your house with plastic sheeting. The air within needs to be isolated.

b - Mark the work space as a hazard area, and prevent access by non-professionals until the work is fully complete. They may recommend you relocate while they work.

c - Mist the asbestos containing material before removing it, to weigh down any liberated fibers.

d - NOT break up the material into small pieces.

e - NOT track any dust or debris through your home.

'Sterilize' the area of asbestos when finished.

f - Properly dispose of the material. Improper disposal is illegal, so do not do this yourself.

g - When finished with the removal, clean ceilings, walls, floors - any surfaces - with damp or wet sponges rags or mops, and the air with a HEPA vacuum. There should be no dust or debris left when they are done.

h - Before departing, workers should put all disposable cleaning materials and equipment, including the clothing in which they worked, into heavy, leak proof, sealed plastic bags labeled with appropriate hazard warnings. They must dispose of the

4 - After this job is complete, get assurance in writing from your contractor that all of the proper and legally required procedures have been followed, and expect a Clean Air Certificate, ensuring that the air in your home is safe to breathe..

5 - As we said above, you may also have an inspector, possibly your initial one, re-inspect to ensure that the work was done properly.


...and someone suggested I put concrete patch down. I would like to try a basement epoxy kit like Rust-Oleum makes, but not sure if it would stick to tile. I'm trying to do this as inexpensive and easily as possible, so any suggestions/tips are greatly appreciated!

  Unless you have to remove your flooring (see above), the best advice usually is to put a new floor over the old one, and/or to 'seal' it. These allow for little to no agitation, and can safely encapsulate the offending material. You could lay down a subfloor, a functional underlayment, made of 1/4 inch plywood or some backerboard material to isolate it before installing a new floor.

As far as concrete patching, the best thing I can find about this (we do not handle concrete, you see) is that concrete patching is used to patch cracks, chips, dents, etc. in slabs of concrete, but not to fill in or level out other floor materials. When I looked up the documentation on a particular brand of concrete patch and it said on its first page, under the heading Limitations, "Do not install over substrates containing asbestos."

There is a material called Self Leveling Compound. Its primary use is to level off floors that are not perfectly level before a new floor is installed, but if the manufacturer allows it for this purpose, it could help here as well. It would be poured right over the tiles. This issue would be with any high areas. These compounds have limits on how much you should pour down (how deep you can go), and you do not want to be left with high spots of the vinyl, which one might normally want to grind down. That you do not want.

Sealing the floor would involve coating the flooring with a sealant so the fibers cannot be released. Even this should be done only by a well trained professional.    


For the booklet "Recommended Work Practices for Removal of Resilient Floor Coverings"

Resilient Floor Covering Institute 401 E. Jeffereon St. Ste. 102 Rockville, MD 20850 (301) 340-7283     A guest post to our blog on Risks of Contacting Hazardous Materials During Home Renovations     And finally, a crazy technical list of terms to look for when checking that detergents have "amphoteric, anionic and nonionic surfactants", as we wrote about above. If you trust wikipedia as a source, you can read more at

Anionic surfactants

Ammonium lauryl sulfate dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate perfluorobutanesulfonate perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) sodium laureth sulfate, also known as sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) sodium lauryl sulfate (SDS, sodium dodecyl sulfate, another name for the compound) sodium myreth sulfate. ...also phosphates and carboxylates.

Nonionic surfactants

cetostearyl alcohol (consisting predominantly of cetyl and stearyl alcohols) cetyl alcohol cocamide DEA Cocamide MEA Decyl glucoside, Dodecyldimethylamine oxide Glucoside alkyl ethers Glyceryl laurate Lauryl glucoside Nonoxynol-9 Octaethylene glycol monododecyl ether Octyl glucoside oleyl alcohol. Pentaethylene glycol monododecyl ether Polyoxyethylene glycol alkyl ethers Polyoxyethylene glycol alkylphenol ethers Polyoxyethylene glycol octylphenol ethers Polyoxyethylene glycol sorbitan alkyl esters Polyoxypropylene glycol alkyl ethers Sorbitan alkyl esters stearyl alcohol

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David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty

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