Buying a 1950’s Home: Asbestos


When you buy a 1950’s home, there is a good chance that there either is or was some type of asbestos flooring or siding.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that had thousands of uses in home and industry in the post WW2 building boom.  Unfortunately, asbestos was linked to cancer and lung diseases in the 1980’s.  While its use is now prohibited, countless products containing asbestos can still be found in American homes.

Asbestos-containing flooring in particular came into prominence in the 1950’s.  Offered in a rainbow of colors, these floor tiles were always square, and either 9”, 12”, or 18”.  If you believe that you have asbestos tiles in your home, you should go ahead and treat them like asbestos.  In fact,  some experts say that it is safer to assume that any vinyl project manufactured before 1980 contains asbestos.

The good news is that there is no reason to panic.  If they are intact, they are not a major risk.  The problem arises when they are broken or disintegrating.  You should never break them into pieces.  The absolute worst thing you can do is to try to sand the tiles or the glue that held them down.

The best course of action is sometimes to leave asbestos tiles where they are.  Many folks choose to go right over asbestos tiles with new flooring, such as carpet, engineered wood, or another type of natural stone or ceramic tile.

If you really just want them removed completely, there are ways to handle the material safely.  You can find instructions online for removing asbestos products yourself, but I personally think this is a job left to the professionals.

If you are buying a 1950’s home, you should be sure to find out if the sellers know about any asbestos products that may be covered up by other flooring, such as tile or carpet.

In our 1959 charmless cape cod, the basement floor was 9” asbestos tile that was actually chipping up in the bathroom.  We encapsulated all of it in wood-look ceramic planks.  Of course I love the look (since I picked it out), but when we sell I will definitely let our buyers know what is under the tile ceramic floor.  If they don’t love it as much as we do, they will need to take extra precautions if they decide to remove it.

How have you handled asbestos products in your 1950s home?