Professionals trained to inspect homes prior to sale and for the purpose of valuing property can often test for a variety of possible structural and environmental safety issues. People considering buying or remodeling a home built before the 1970s should probably hire someone to test for asbestos, a carcinogen that occurs naturally in rocks and soil and that was used widely in building materials prior to the 1970s because of its extreme heat resistance. The danger of asbestos is not in its mere presence but whether or not it is "friable," which means the asbestos-containing material can be crumbled or reduced to powder by hand. It’s also dangerous if the material has become broken or damaged by mechanical force. The danger of asbestos-containing materials is triggered when they are cut into or disturbed.
The cost for asbestos testing starts at $250 for an inspector to take a materials sample and have a lab analyze it. Ben Clarke of Certified Building Inspections in Middleburg, Virginia, tests clients’ homes for asbestos using this method. He always notifies clients during an inspection if he sees anything in the home that might contain asbestos so they add on asbestos testing if they necessary.
The cost to have the air in parts of a home tested for the presence of asbestos fibers ranges from $300–$1,200. Air testing is typically more expensive than a materials sample because the asbestos transmission electron microscopy (TEM) method uses electrons to create images of fine crystal patterns and analyzes the chemical makeup of fibers or structures encountered in the air sample.
Asbestos is commonly found in duct and pipe insulation, attic insulation, ceiling and wall acoustical tiles, cement asbestos siding, and floor tiles or floor tile adhesives. If a building is more than 30 years old, it’s wise to have it tested for asbestos—especially if you know you will be taking down walls or otherwise disturbing tiled or insulated surfaces. If a home inspector sees signs of friable asbestos, it’s also a good idea to run a test. The more samples the tester must take, the higher the cost of the inspection because it will take more time and incur higher lab analysis costs.
Full home inspection
Having a home inspector include the asbestos testing as part of a full inspection is the most affordable way to go because the inspector only has to come to the property once.
If an inspector has the proper protective gear and is trained in how to collect samples for testing, the bulk of the inspection costs for asbestos goes to the lab fees. Clarke of Certified Building Inspections charges $300 to take a material sample and test for asbestos as part of a home inspection—$225 of that fee goes to the lab to analyze the samples.
If asbestos test results are needed in less than a week, the cost may go up. Many testing services need seven to 10 business days because that is how long it can take a lab to analyze samples. Adaptive Environmental Consulting IV based in Mesa, Arizona, offers a 24-hour turnaround on asbestos testing.
Asbestos testing and home inspection services don’t typically offer the removal service. Most inspectors should know someone who is certified to remove asbestos. Nonfriable asbestos (the term for any material that contains more than 1 percent asbestos but cannot be pulverized under hand pressure) can often be covered up instead of removed to keep it from posing a hazard. For example, says Clarke of Certified Building Inspections, if you have a floor covered with asbestos tile, covering it with some other hard flooring will keep asbestos out of the air.