Asbestos Insulation Identification

Last Updated on 11th June 2024 by max2021

What types of insulation contain asbestos?

There are different types of asbestos insulation and it varies in appearance.

It was a very common material used in homes that were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

As such, some older properties may still contain some form of asbestos insulation.

Asbestos was frequently used because of its excellent heat retaining and fire proofing properties.

Let’s look at the different types of insulation containing asbestos that you may come across in older homes:-

Loose Fill Asbestos Insulation

Loose fill asbestos is most commonly found in lofts as loft insulation, but it can also be found under floorboards an inside cavity walls, both in domestic and commercial properties.

It’s very easy to identify as it has a fluffy, almost candyfloss like appearance, which is usually white or a blueish grey colour.

Out of all the asbestos containing materials you may come across, loose fill asbestos is probably the most dangerous.

This is because it is made from pure asbestos fibers, so if breathed in will cause the most damage to health.

For this very reason, you should never attempt to remove this type of asbestos yourself.

Always use a licensed asbestos removal contractor to safely remove and dispose of loose fill asbestos insulation.

asbestos insulation in a loft
Loose fill asbestos in a loft area

Pipe Insulation

It’s still quite common to find asbestos around pipes, boilers and heating systems.

Although it has many different appearances, this type of asbestos can usually be identified by its flaky and powdery appearance.

It can be difficult to identify when used as insulation on pipework as it’s usually painted over in a different colour or has had a protective coating applied on top of it.

Again, asbestos found on pipework is one of the most dangerous materials containing asbestos.

Asbestos fibers can be released very easily when the pipe lagging is disturbed.

You must be a licensed asbestos removal contractor to handle this asbestos material.

asbestos pipe lagging
Damaged asbestos pipe lagging

Asbestos Insulating Board

Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) is a very common building material that was used extensively in residential and commercial buildings.

Used most commonly as a fireproofing material, it was also used in ceiling tiles, partition walls, soffits, lift shaft linings and panels below windows.

Asbestos insulating board and non asbestos containing materials can be difficult to distinguish between as they look very similar in appearance.

Removal of AIB materials can be carried out by non licensed operatives providing they are fully trained and it’s very short duration minor work (less than 1 hour for 1 person in a 7 day period, not to exceed 2 hours spent by all workers).

Old asbestos ceiling tiles
Old asbestos ceiling tiles

However, any work that is classed as major eg demolition or extensive refurbishment would be classed as notifiable.

A licensed contractor is required for work that is likely to last beyond 1 hour for 1 person in a 7 day period, or more than 2 hours by all workers.

Is there asbestos in fiberglass insulation?

Although asbestos and fiberglass are often compared because of their similar properties, they are both infact different materials.

Asbestos is a natural material derived from silicate minerals, whereas fiberglass is man made from fiber reinforced plastic using glass fiber.

Both materials are fibrous and have excellent heat resistant properties, which is the reason why they may appear similar and are often compared.

Fiberglass does not contain any asbestos and was used as a substitute for asbestos insulation once the health effects of asbestos exposure became apparent in the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s.

Fiberglass, unlike asbestos, is considered to be generally safe when properly installed.

Is asbestos in insulation dangerous?

As mentioned above, asbestos in loose fill insulation and around insulation around pipes can be very dangerous.

The reason for this is that when the said asbestos containing material is damaged or disturbed, small asbestos fibers are released into the atmosphere.

This release of tiny microscopic fibers cannot be seen by the naked eye, and as they are so light, they can quickly attach themselves onto clothing, household items, skin and hair.

As such, a person can easily breath the asbestos fibers in, which poses a significant health hazard.

Inhalation of these tiny asbestos fibers results in them becoming embedded in the lungs, and once there, they become trapped as the body can’t dispose of them naturally.

Meaning that the asbestos fibers stay within the lungs for many years before health complications begin to emerge.

It can take anything from 10 to 50 years for any symptoms of an asbestos disease to manifest.

Some common asbestos related diseases include asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Additional Methods of Asbestos Identification

Microscopic Analysis: While visual identification can provide clues, microscopic analysis is often required for accurate identification. Specialists use polarised light microscopy (PLM) or transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to confirm asbestos presence.

Asbestos Encapsulation: For situations where removal isn’t feasible, encapsulation can be a safe alternative. This involves sealing asbestos materials with a protective coating to prevent fibre release.

Air Monitoring: Post-removal or encapsulation, air monitoring ensures that asbestos fibre levels remain safe. Regular monitoring can be crucial in environments with residual asbestos.

Updated Regulations and Guidelines

Current Legislation: Stay updated with the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulations on asbestos handling and disposal. Recent changes in legislation often impact compliance requirements.

Training and Certification: Highlight the importance of ongoing training and certification for those working with or around asbestos. This ensures that safety standards are maintained and updated as regulations evolve.

Practical Tips for Homeowners

DIY Risks: Emphasise the dangers of attempting DIY asbestos removal. Even minor disturbances can release hazardous fibres, making professional intervention essential.

Identifying Suspect Materials: Provide a checklist for homeowners to identify suspect materials that may contain asbestos, such as old cement products, textured coatings, and certain vinyl floor tiles.

Incorporating these additional points will provide a more comprehensive resource for readers, enhancing their understanding and safety regarding asbestos insulation.

Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their properties, carrying out an asbestos survey in their buildings so as not to put employees at risk.

So make sure you contact our Armco office to arrange asbestos testing or an asbestos survey before it’s too late! 

Whether you need an asbestos management survey or a refurbishment/ demolition survey, contact us at 0161 763 3727 or by visiting

Finally, for all your asbestos training needs call 0161 761 4424 or visit book an asbestos awareness training course.

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Published Jun 10, 2019

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