We know today that asbestos is an incredibly toxic mineral, capable of causing illness up to and including cancer. But for decades, construction companies used asbestos-based materials to fortify, reinforce, and fireproof everything from wall paint to insulation. 

Hazardous Asbestos Is Still With Us in Many Buildings and Products

Despite a wide-ranging federal ban on the manufacture, import, and sale of asbestos products in the late 1980s, many older structures remain contaminated.

While asbestos insulation poses little threat to human health when it is left undisturbed, the fibers could create a significant risk if they are unsettled during the course of renovation or expansion work. 

Assessing Asbestos Risk in Older Homes  

Asbestos is a term used to refer to six naturally occurring minerals

When asbestos minerals are broken down into small fibers, they can be interwoven with other materials. While people have worked with asbestos for thousands of years, it became a mainstay of American construction in the early 20th century

Many Construction Materials in Structures Built Before the 1980 Contain Asbestos

Asbestos was used in many construction materials and products including but not limited to: 

  • Asphalt and cement-based roof shingles 
  • Siding 
  • Vinyl floor and wall tiles 
  • Heating ducts 
  • Furnaces 
  • Pipe wraps and thermal tape 
  • Paint
  • Insulation 

Although asbestos is now subject to strict regulatory controls, many homes constructed before the E.P.A.’s asbestos ban contain significant amounts of asbestos-based materials. If your home was built during or before the 1970s, you should presume that asbestos is present. 

However, the presence of asbestos does not mean that a home needs to be evacuated or rebuilt. Instead, individuals who believe their home is contaminated should exercise caution when working with potential asbestos products.

Types of Asbestos Insulation 

Asbestos insulation comes in four different forms: 

  • Loose-fill asbestos, which often has a white or grey coloration and could resemble broken-down Styrofoam. Loose-fill asbestos is typically more dangerous than other forms of asbestos, since it is also friable and easy to inhale.
  • Block asbestos, or semi-rigid asbestos slabs that would be cut on-site for insulation fitting. Block asbestos might resemble a white-colored brick or slab and usually contains high concentrations of raw asbestos. If this insulation is damaged, it could crumble and become airborne.
  • Asbestos wraps, which could have a cardboard-like appearance and texture. Since asbestos is naturally heat-resistant, wraps were used to insulate and protect hot water pipes, furnaces, and ducts.
  • Spray-on asbestos, designed to reduce labor costs and typically employed in large, non-residential structures. Spray-on asbestos insulation was applied to ceilings, walls, and structural beams, and might look like a hard, greyish material, not dissimilar to unleveled cement. 

Modern Insulation Should Not Contain Any Asbestos, But May Resemble It

The most common modern insulations include:

  • Foam insulation, which could be sold as a spray-on foam or static boards. Spray-on foam insulations come in a variety of colors but are usually white or pink. 
  • Cellulose insulation, which can resemble asbestos. 

Foam and fiberglass insulation materials are, in most instances, easily distinguishable from asbestos.

However, cellulose and asbestos insulation can appear very similar. 

How to Tell the Difference Between Cellulose and Asbestos Insulation

Cellulose insulation can be differentiated from asbestos by:

  • Material. Cellulose insulation is made from recycled paper products like cardboard and newspaper, whereas asbestos insulation is mineral-based. 
  • Texture. Both asbestos and cellulose insulation may appear friable and “fluffy.” However, cellulose insulation may contain noticeable traces of fiber or paper. 
  • Age. If your house was built after the early- to mid-1970s, its insulation is not likely asbestos-based. 

However, telling the difference between asbestos and cellulose insulation can be difficult, especially if your house was built before the E.P.A.’s asbestos bans. We have provided a guide for distinguishing between asbestos and cellulose insulation, but in all cases, the safest approach is to consult a professional and schedule proper asbestos testing of the areas and material in question.


If you may have been exposed to asbestos, speak with your healthcare provider about tests and screening to help detect the presence of asbestos fibers and asbestos-related damage.


AsbestosClaims.law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos. We hope this information helps you.

If you believe that your home was contaminated with asbestos, you could be entitled to significant compensation—money you could use to cover the costs of asbestos removal services, pay for medical treatment, and preemptively protect your physical well-being. 

In addition to legal claims, veterans disability, social security and employment protection like workers compensation, FELA and The Jones Act for maritime workers, there are asbestos trusts that have been set up to compensate those harmed by asbestos without having to file a lawsuit.
If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, including testing for exposure or how to file a claim, please get in touch by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (833) 4-ASBESTOS (427-2378) or (206) 455-9190.