Asbestos Ceiling Tiles: How to Identify & Cover Them

asbestos ceiling tiles

Asbestos ceiling tiles are not common today, but that does not necessarily mean that there are no asbestos-containing tiles in your house. When buying a house with asbestos ceiling tiles, testing, and knowing when these tiles are dangerous is also essential. First, you need to know what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like.

So, in this article, we are going to discuss asbestos ceiling tiles, their differences from cellulose tiles, how to test them, what to do if you have asbestos ceiling tiles, and how to cover them.


What Are Asbestos Ceiling Tiles?

Before discussing what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like and how to cover asbestos ceiling tiles, let us take a closer look at the material itself. ‘Asbestos’ is a mineral substance that occurs in nature. It is later broken into soft fibers for creating products including building materials.

Because it was marketed as a material that resists heat and is a good insulator, the demand for this material peaked In the middle of the 20th century. Therefore, asbestos fibers were mixed into many products in multiple industries.

However, from the 1970s there were reports stating that inhaling the small fibers of asbestos ceiling tiles can be dangerous for your health. If these odorless and microscopic fibers enter your body, they never dissolve.

Studies have shown that people who breathe high levels of asbestos fibers have an increased risk of Asbestosis, respiratory diseases, Mesothelioma, or even lung cancer in some cases.


asbestos in ceiling


When Did Ceiling Tiles Stop Using Asbestos?

Around the time that reports came out – the early 1970s – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started banning certain uses of asbestos. This was also coined with the decline of asbestos use in general. But in 1991, an appeals court revoked a 1989 EPA rule that banned most uses of this material. Since then, many uses of asbestos have remained technically legal.

Although there are rules about the healthy use of asbestos in building materials, still, there are many houses from past decades with asbestos ceiling tiles. And because of this, how to identify and how to cover asbestos ceiling tiles has become a frequently asked question.


What Do Asbestos Ceiling Tiles Look Like?

In addition to telling you what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like, we are going to tell you how to find asbestos ceiling tiles using more effective tips. Because simply inspecting visually can throw you off sometimes. Let us see how you can find asbestos ceiling tiles in house or basement:


Shape, Size, and Appearance

An asbestos ceiling tile (also known as drop ceilings, suspended ceilings, and acoustic ceilings) usually has a 2×2 ft. or 2×4 ft. size, and a square or rectangular shape. They also have a light color, mild texturing, pinhole markings, and a powdery appearance.


Ceiling Material

Some ceiling tiles are made of fiberglass and you can recognize them by visual inspection. Keep in mind that it is not possible to identify all forms of asbestos by simply looking at them. However, you can recognize some materials that are not asbestos for sure, like homogeneous fiberglass.


asbestos ceiling tiles


Packaging Data

To identify asbestos ceiling tiles, you can also check the stamps or statements on the tiles, their packaging, or the installation records. Using these, you can often find out if you have asbestos ceiling tiles in house or not.


Building Age

Compare the age of your house with the last date of using these kinds of tiles in your country. If the building age is newer, then you can be sure that there is no asbestos ceiling tile in basement and in your house.


Ceiling Age

In addition to the age of your building, you can use the age of the ceiling itself (dates or records of renovations) to see if they are in fact asbestos ceiling tiles or not. Buying a house with asbestos ceiling tiles in the U.S. is only possible if it was built before the mid-1980s.


Manufacturer Statements

Some manufacturers let their customers know that their products never contained asbestos, or state the dates after which producing asbestos ceiling tiles stopped. Remember that a ceiling installed shortly after its production date could still contain asbestos, in case new old stock asbestos ceiling tiles were used.

Some of the companies that manufactured these tiles include:

  • Flintkote Company
  • National Gypsum
  • Owens-Corning Fiberglas
  • United States Gypsum


what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like


Asbestos Ceiling Tiles Test Kit

In addition to the tips mentioned above, there is a better way of asbestos ceiling tiles testing. If you are not familiar with the ceiling, are not sure what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like, and do not want to make a dusty and hazardous mess, there are more convenient options like using an asbestos ceiling tiles test kit.

Such a kit usually has a two-step process:

  1. First, you need suspected asbestos from your home,
  2. Then mail it to a laboratory. And after a few days, the result is sent back to you.

Sometimes the asbestos ceiling tiles test kit includes both the kit fee and the laboratory fee. In other cases, you pay twice for the kit and the lab results separately. When buying an asbestos ceiling tiles test kit, find out about the payment method. It also helps you know whether or not a pre-paid mailer is included.

Tip: When collecting solid, friable, or dust samples, ensure your safety by wearing disposable coveralls, gloves, safety glasses, boot covers, and respirators with HEPA filters. Also, keep loose asbestos fibers out of the air by liberally spraying down 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent with cool water.

After confirming that these tiles are used in your house (with or without realizing what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like!), you can deal with them using the following methods.


asbestos ceiling tiles danger


What to Do If You Have Asbestos Ceiling Tiles?

These tiles are dangerous if only they are damaged, broken, and releasing dust or fibers so it is possible that you can inhale or ingest them. Many of the asbestos ceiling tiles fibers will trap in the nose and the throat mucous nose and throat. However, some may pass into the lungs or the digestive system, and that is when they can cause health problems.

An asbestos ceiling tile is most dangerous when it is friable, meaning that it easily crumbles by hand, and releases its fibers into the air. Among asbestos-contained products, sprayed-on asbestos insulation is highly friable, but asbestos floor tiles generally are not.

To avoid this problem, you need to know how to cover asbestos ceiling tiles and the steps for painting asbestos ceiling tiles.


How to Cover Asbestos Ceiling Tiles: Painting

First, ensure safety (like the way you did before using an asbestos ceiling tiles test kit). Then, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the air circulation or heating systems. You need to do this so they cannot spread asbestos fiber into the air and cause danger.
  2. Remove all the furnishings. Because for painting asbestos ceiling tiles, you need to spray it and it might land on them. If there are some items that you cannot remove, cover them up with plastic sheeting. Also, cover the floor, remove the light fixtures, and remove the smoke alarms.
  3. Mask the walls with plastic sheeting as well, to prevent the sealing paint from splashing on them. For plastic sheeting, we recommend the ones that come with masking tape for the best sealing.
  4. Fill up the holes and cracks with the spackle so the paint does not penetrate them. Then, remove all cobwebs with a duster and wipe the dust off.
  5. After covering friable or sagging asbestos ceiling tiles, it is time to paint them. For painting asbestos ceiling tiles, spray the ceiling tiles to seal them.
  6. For a better result, we recommend repeating the last step twice. But wait for the first coat to dry before spraying the second layer. Read the latex paint directions to know how much you should wait for it to dry.

Painting asbestos ceiling tiles is the seal. So give it enough time to dry up completely (the recommended time is at least 4 hours). When dry, remove the coverings from the furniture, the walls, and the floor. Your asbestos ceiling tiles are now successfully sealed.


how to cover asbestos ceiling tiles
Photo by Max Vakhtbovych from Pexels


How to Cover Asbestos Ceiling Tiles: Encapsulation

Painting is not the only answer for how to cover asbestos ceiling tiles; you can also encapsulate them. Using this method, the fibers in the tiles cannot become airborne. The best way to encapsulate these tiles is using drywall to cover them.

This is better to be done by a professional. However, keep in mind that this is not a long-term solution. As disturbing or degradation of asbestos ceiling tiles can cause the asbestos to be airborne again.


Other Methods

If you have these tiles in your house, but you are particularly interested in how to cover asbestos ceiling tiles, there are other things that you can do, like removing the tiles entirely (followed by tiles or ceiling replacement). However, this task must be done by certified and licensed asbestos professionals and not the homeowner.

Note: If you are planning to renovate the place and suspect that there are asbestos ceiling tiles, wait and do not renovate until you call a professional. As mentioned earlier, disturbing the tiles will release asbestos into the air, causing health problems for anyone who spends time in the home or even the building.


Final Thoughts

We hope that now you know what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like and how to cover asbestos ceiling tiles in your house (or deal with them in general). As long as it is undisturbed, there is no serious problem. But you cannot make sure of this fact if you are not the original homeowner.

Remember that apart from ceiling tiles, asbestos can also be found in floor tiles, heating duct pipe wrapping, vermiculite, popcorn ceilings, and old paints.

Do you have other questions about asbestos ceiling tile? Share them with us in the comments.

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