Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of soft and flexible fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion.
As a result, it was widely used for electrical and building insulation due to its durability and fire resistance throughout the 1930s to the 1970s.
Unfortunately, it is toxic and poses a huge threat to human health.
As such, it’s been phased out and heavily restricted since the 1980s.
In some cases, asbestos is still used sparingly.
You’ll most commonly see it in the construction, automotive, and material industries.
Due to the threat to human health, federal, state, and local regulations control the creation, installment, monitoring, and removal of asbestos-containing materials (ACM).
This is where an asbestos survey comes into play.
We’ll cover what asbestos surveys are, why they’re necessary, and when you’d need one below.
Keep reading to learn more.
1. What is an asbestos survey?
An asbestos survey is a survey that is done on a building, property, or structure with the purpose of identifying asbestos-containing materials.
This survey is essential to establish if asbestos materials are present, and if they are, what and where they are.
When performing an asbestos survey, it’s important that the right one is done.
In #4, we’ll discuss the different types of surveys and when you should use each one.
2. Why is an asbestos survey needed?
Do you need to get an asbestos survey done for your property?
Asbestos surveys are necessary on a variety of buildings and properties.
In fact, if the property in question was built before 2000, then it’ll likely need an asbestos survey done during its remaining lifetime.
Asbestos can be deadly, and it is in the top 5 health risks at home and work.
When your body is exposed to asbestos fibers via inhalation, they slowly and silently attack your body.
Once they’re in, they can’t be removed.
Years later, they may lead to lung disease and cancer, which can often be fatal.
Despite asbestos being banned in the UK for the last 20 years, the United States has not formally banned it.
It has ceased to mine it, and its use has declined significantly.
However, the American industry still legally imports, sells, and creates products with asbestos.
To protect yourself and your family, you want to make sure that you’re checking the areas you’re constantly around for this deadly substance.
3. When are asbestos surveys performed?
Asbestos surveys are most commonly performed as an act of due diligence during commercial real estate transactions or financing.
Additionally, you may see these surveys performed before demolition or renovation of buildings or after suspected damage to buildings during flooding or other natural disasters.
The use of asbestos for insulation was banned beginning in the year 1989.
However, this ban did not cover all asbestos products (as noted above).
As such, it’s important to obtain an asbestos survey on all facilities when you identify any asbestos-containing materials.
In fact, this is so important to human health and safety that many local building departments won’t issue demolition permits until an asbestos survey is completed.
Renovation and demolition can release asbestos fibers into the air where they can be inhaled by occupants and workers.
To prevent this from happening, be sure to go by the book and have an asbestos survey performed!
4. What are the different types of asbestos surveys?
If damaged material is being repaired and it may pose a potential health risk to building occupants, then you’ll want to move ahead with an asbestos screening.
This screening assesses any suspected asbestos-containing material by obtaining samples for analysis.
Additionally, it will focus on areas with any damage and potentially friable suspect asbestos-containing material.
Asbestos screenings are often used on HUD projects and may also be referred to as a transactional survey.
Limited asbestos survey
This survey is a more comprehensive sampling of building materials and suspected asbestos-containing materials.
It targets sampling based on customer need for a homogenous building material.
This could include the roof, walls, siding, or any other area that may be suspected of containing asbestos.
Path of construction/pre-renovation asbestos survey
This is a comprehensive survey of building material.
It is limited to the path of construction and/or the actual building materials.
It may be used when renovating a single storefront in a strip mall.
By using this type of asbestos survey, you can ensure that the renovation will not impact the environment or release any asbestos-containing material into the other areas disturbed during construction or renovation activities.
Pre-demolition asbestos survey
If you’re looking for an incredibly comprehensive survey regarding any asbestos-containing material on your property, this is the route to go.
This survey focuses on all facets of an entire building, including interior and exterior building materials.
It also utilizes destructive sampling protocols.
It will require that you destroy small sections of the building to see if there’s any asbestos-containing material behind the walls, floors, and other areas that are hard to get at to ensure no construction workers are put at risk, but if you’re already planning to move forward with demolition, this type of survey is the way to go.
This is because, in some cases, asbestos-containing material will be discovered in hidden areas unexpectedly as demolition is performed and can pose a hazard if it is not caught ahead of time.
5. When are asbestos removal and abatement required?
Once you discover asbestos, the proper steps must be taken to remove any asbestos-containing materials.
Some other steps required after removal include abatement oversight, air monitoring, development of an operations & maintenance plan (O&M), and/or clearance sampling.
These steps will ensure that asbestos fibers are not present in the air following removal.
6. How much does an asbestos survey cost?
The national average for asbestos testing is around $483.
The test prices will vary depending on building size and project complexity.
7. Can you be fined for not getting an asbestos survey?
There’s a myth that “asbestos is no longer used.”
Unfortunately, this exposes commercial property owners to fines of $25,000 per day when they unknowingly disturb asbestos-containing materials.
Don’t fall for the lie that “newer” buildings don’t contain asbestos — it’s no defense against the fines.
So what are the three options for owners of commercial properties?
They act as if newer buildings don’t require an asbestos survey
Some people assume that asbestos just isn’t used anymore because of the 1989 law.
As a result, they proceed as if they don’t need an asbestos survey and try to cut corners and save money.
While it will save you money, it will also increase your legal, financial, and health risks.
Don’t stick your head in the sand!
It simply isn’t worth it.
They proceed under the assumption that asbestos is present
Assuming that you have asbestos present is going to be the most expensive route.
However, if you do this, you can likely get to work more quickly, and you should be protected from fines and litigation.
You’ll just need to alert the proper governing bodies of your intentions.
They hire a licensed certified asbestos consultant to conduct an asbestos survey of the job site
Beginning the project with an asbestos survey will help to prove that asbestos is not present.
If the property is indeed clear, then the owner can proceed without the added expense of specialized personnel, equipment, and procedures.
8. When is asbestos most dangerous?
There’s a common misconception that the mere presence of asbestos is harmful.
This isn’t true.
Asbestos-containing materials are unlikely to present any sort of health risk if they are left undisturbed and in good condition.
The real health risk emerges when these materials are damaged and disturbed.
When this occurs, the material will release fibers into the air where they can be breathed in.
So, what does that mean?
If your property happens to have an asbestos-containing material, don’t panic.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re at risk for any serious health conditions, like mesothelioma.
That said, it’s often best to have these materials removed to ensure that your property remains safe.
9. What items often contain asbestos?
You may wonder what asbestos-containing material may exist in your building if it was constructed after 1989.
Here are the prime suspects you may encounter:
Vinyl floor tile
10. How do you know if your project requires an asbestos survey?
Some states (i.e., New York and California) always require an asbestos survey when a commercial building is being renovated or demolished, regardless of the age of the building.
Check with your specific state to see what is required.
Additionally, both the EPA and OSHA require asbestos surveys by law.
11. How do you test for asbestos?
Do you suspect there’s asbestos in your home?
When you crawl into your attic, do you see a gray fluffy material that you think may contain asbestos?
Often, this fluffy stuff is blown-in cellulose made from recycled paper, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t asbestos elsewhere.
Here’s where you may find asbestos in your house:
Sheet vinyl flooring
Ceiling cavities as insulation
Wallboard joint compound
Exterior cement tile siding
Heating pipe insulation wrap
If you’re interested in testing for asbestos yourself, there are a few steps you can take IF it is legal in your state.
Keep in mind that asbestos can’t be seen with the naked eye, so materials must be submitted to a laboratory certified by the EPA for testing before you remodel.
Be sure to follow all the precautions below when you gather your sample to send to the EPA.
Do not disturb the area you’re testing
Wear disposable protective gear
Blanket the work area in a plastic sheet and mist all surfaces with water
Isolate a material sample and mist it with water
Use protected pliers to transfer the sample to a Ziplock plastic bag
Seal and label the plastic bag
Carefully dispose of the plastic sheeting laid in Step 3
Vacuum the testing area and dispose of the vacuum’s contents
Clean the area with moistened cloths and dispose of them
Paint over the area from which you loosened a sample
Carefully remove and dispose of the protective gear worn during the process
Send the collected sample to an EPA-certified asbestos-testing lab
An asbestos survey is a worthwhile investment whether you’re maintaining, renovating, or demolishing a building or property.
It helps to protect potential harm to human life and ensure a successful transaction across all types of commercial and multifamily real estate.
Additionally, it’s often the first step to ensure that you’re able to receive permits and execute any plans you have for your property moving forward.
As you conduct an asbestos survey, it’s important to engage a certified team of professionals who understand the state, local, and federal regulations.
While we listed how you can perform a test for asbestos on your own above, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend going this route if you’re inexperienced.
There are some states that won’t even permit DIY asbestos testing, and, as it can cause serious bodily harm, we’d recommend using a professional service.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.