At EMI we regularly field questions including, “is my ceiling asbestos?” As a professional who has done this for nearly a decade and inspected thousands of asbestos materials, and taught hundreds of workers and professionals on the subject, my simple answer is “I don’t know, you need to get it tested.” Even my experienced eyes cannot tell if a material contains asbestos by simply looking at it.

Since we cannot tell if something contains asbestos by just looking, that leaves us two options:
  1. Collect and send a representative sample(s) to a laboratory for analysis, or
  2. Assume the material(s) to be asbestos and handle it the same way one would if it did have positive results.

Typically we recommend that a certified AHERA-certified inspector collect the samples and submit them to the laboratory because these certified inspectors are specifically trained on sample collection procedures, methodology, and sampling frequencies. However, for the homeowner, this can come at a minimum cost of $300 and up to a couple thousand dollars depending on the scope of the inspection. For the homeowner, this may account for a significant amount of their renovation budget.

So can a homeowner collect asbestos bulk samples from their own home?

Yes, they can – because asbestos regulations typically do not pertain to private homeowners. However, these sample results can only be used for the homeowner’s own information. So if the homeowner samples their own popcorn ceiling because they are planning on doing the renovation themselves and they just want to know to prevent contaminating their family that is perfectly fine. However, if a homeowner is hiring a contractor to do the work, the contractor cannot use the data collected by the homeowner and the ceiling will either have to be resampled or assumed to contain asbestos. This is because as soon as a contractor is hired, the regulations come into play and typically require certified inspectors to collect the samples.

When collecting samples the homeowner should use some personal protective equipment including, but not limited to, safety glasses, disposable gloves, and a HEPA respirator. Every effort should be taken to minimize the amount of dust generated.

The following general steps should be taken when collecting samples:

  • Create as little dust as possible!
  • Place plastic drop cloth beneath sample location (not needed if on floor)
  • Wet the area using a spray bottle with a drop of dish soap
  • Place ziptop bag directly underneath the sample location
  • Score /cut through paint or encapsulant a 1 inch by 1-inch square
  • Rewet the area once encapsulating areas have been scored
  • Scrape/cut material and place into ziptop bag
  • Spray a small amount of water into the bag and immediately close.
  • Seal/stabilize the disturbed area using duct tape, joint compound, or another adhesive
  • Clean up any debris using wet methods
  • Submit the labeled bag and chain of custody to the laboratory

It should be noted by the homeowner that if they do receive sample results from the laboratory stating there is asbestos in their home, this information will need to be disclosed at the time of sale.

When it comes to determining if a material contains asbestos the homeowner has a few different options, including sampling themselves, hiring a professional, or just assuming the material contains asbestos.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the asbestos experts at EMI at 907-272-9336.

Written by Glenn Hasburgh, Environmental Scientist/H&S Instructor