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While the manufacture and import of asbestos have been mostly banned since the late 1980s, you may still encounter the material if you live in an older home. With that in mind, you should always check your flooring for potential asbestos when living in older homes. Considering its toxicity, is it always necessary to have it removed, or can you cover it with a carpet?
You can carpet over asbestos floor tiles if they’re undamaged. In tile form, the dangerous fibers are contained and aren’t toxic to be around. You can add carpet over the top to cover this, if it’s glued down, not nailed. But if the tile is crumbling or shows signs of damage, it will need to be removed.
In this article, we will explore what asbestos is and why it is thought to be dangerous. We will also look at how to cover asbestos tiles safely and safely remove the carpet that has been laid over asbestos tiles.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring crystal made up of flexible, soft fibers. These fibers are great for insulation and are resistant to electricity, heat, and corrosion. For these reasons, it was used a lot in various parts of construction as early as 1866.
However, in the 1930s, many respected medical journals began linking asbestos to several illnesses, including cancer. It was determined that the small fibers, when airborne, could be inhaled by workers and people in contact with the material. These fibers would accumulate and become permanently attached inside the body. This was the cause of many serious illnesses, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Some bans were put on using asbestos in the 1970s, but millions of homes, schools, and offices are currently stuck with asbestos in one form or another. In fact, in 1990, the bans were altered to allow products with less than 1% of asbestos to be used, such as vinyl tiles, brake pads, and roofing materials.
Asbestos Floor Tiles
Chances are, if a building is older than 30 years, it will have asbestos somewhere inside. It is not uncommon to find asbestos floor tiles when looking to remodel or change an older building’s flooring. If you think you may have asbestos in your home or building, do not touch it or disturb it. Call a State Asbestos Contact to have your floor tested.
The good news is, there are two different types of asbestos:
- Friable asbestos – a material containing asbestos that breaks easily or can be crumbled by hand. These are extremely dangerous as they quickly release toxins into the air. Old insulation is a type of friable material.
- Non Friable asbestos – undamaged material that safely contains asbestos fibers. Floor tiles are a type of non-friable material.
If the floor is undamaged, the tile is considered nonfriable and is safe to leave in place. However, if you see deterioration or crumbling around the edges, it will be classified as friable and will need to be professionally removed.
How to Carpet Over Asbestos Floor Tiles
If you have asbestos floor tiles and have checked them for damage to find that they are in good condition and classified as non friable, it is possible to carpet over the top. One important thing to consider when covering asbestos tile – with any new surface – is the floor’s new height. If the new flooring is thick, there may be issues with opening and closing doors or uneven footing at thresholds.
There are three main ways to install carpet, one of which should be avoided when covering asbestos tiles.
Apply Glue to the Subfloor
With this method, the carpet is glued directly onto the existing floor. The floor must be smooth, with no inconsistencies in height, as they will be noticeable through the carpet and can cause spots to wear over time.
- It is the easiest and quickest option
- It is the cheapest option
- It will be easier to remove further down the line
- It will not add too much more height to the floor
- It can be less comfortable without the padding
- It provides less insulation
- It may not last as long
In the video below, you can see how easy it is to apply the glue and fit the carpet in place:
This method requires no nailing or stretching of the carpet.
Do the Double Stick Installation
This method is almost the same as the above method, the difference being the addition of padding underneath the carpet. Padding is used to make the carpet more comfortable, for insulation, and longevity.
- The result will be more comfortable
- The carpet will be better insulated, which is excellent for basement floors, especially
- The carpet should last longer as it is not wearing on a hard surface
- This method is more costly as the padding is extra material that needs to be purchased
- The result will be even thicker and can affect doors and thresholds, as mentioned before
- The process will be more time consuming
- The result will be even harder to remove later
As with the above method, this requires no nails or stretching, which is not recommended when covering asbestos tiles.
Avoid the Stretch Installation
This is the method to avoid when covering asbestos tiles in any room. When installing a carpet this way, a strip of wood needs to be nailed around the room’s perimeter. These strips have nails sticking up for the carpet to grip, as can be seen in the video below:
- This method is quick and efficient
- It is far easier to remove carpet when it has been tacked down vs. glued
- This method can damage the under tiles, which is not an issue unless they are asbestos
- Not great for larger rooms as it is not secure in the middle
- Can dislodge when used frequently
This method is not suitable for covering asbestos tiles because it is only safe to cover when intact. If you start nailing into the material, it will become friable in those spots. It may not seem like a lot, but even the smallest amount can be toxic, especially over a long period of time.
Can You Remove Carpet Over Asbestos Floor Tiles?
Many people and contractors will carpet over asbestos floor tiles (if the material is undamaged) to save money and time. When asbestos tiles need to be removed, it can only be done by a team of professionals. Never attempt to remove yourself, as it requires specialized equipment and clothing to prevent fibers from penetrating.
When looking to lay down new flooring over asbestos tiles, it is essential to consider its potential removal later on. Since the best method for laying carpet on asbestos tiles is to glue it, it can be challenging to remove it. With this in mind, consider having it professionally removed earlier to avoid the expense later.
How to Safely Remove Carpet From Asbestos Floor Tiles
The key to removing carpet safely from asbestos tiles is known as a ‘test pull.’ When removing the carpet, follow these steps, and call in a professional if you do not feel confident.
- Wear thick gloves, safety goggles, and a mask before starting any removal.
- Choose a corner, the furthest away from other rooms or doors.
- Gently loosen the corner and pull the carpet out from the tile underneath.
- Slowly pull back, observing for any signs of disturbance in the asbestos tile.
- If no damage or disturbance is seen, continue to slowly pull the carpet back, taking small sections at a time.
- Look for movement in the tiles or bubbling that could indicate damage.
If the test pull reveals deterioration or pulls some tile with it, stop the pill immediately and carefully replace the carpet. In this case, you can either keep the carpet and cover it with a new one or call in professionals to have the whole floor torn out.
Yes, you can carpet over asbestos floor tiles, provided they are in good condition. When undamaged, they are not a danger and can be left in place. To apply carpet, be sure only to use glue and no nails, not risk piercing the older tile and causing fibers to become airborne.
However, it is important to consider the potential removal of the carpet later on. When glued down, it will be much more challenging to pull the carpet free without causing cracks. In this case, chances are it will need to be professionally removed.
- Mesothelioma: The History of Asbestos Use in America
- Wikipedia: Mesothelioma
- Wikipedia: Asbestosis
- Asbestos: Asbestos Floor Tile: Is It Safe to Remove on Your Own?
- EPA.gov: State Asbestos Contacts
- YouTube: Cunner Outdoors
- YouTube: Home Depot
- Asbestos: Banning Asbestos in the US: History, Facts & the Murray Bill
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Giovanni Valle is an architect, designer, internet entrepreneur, and the managing editor of various digital publications including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place. He is the founder of BuilderSpace LLC.