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Even though exposure to asbestos can be a major health risk, most homeowners insurance policies don't cover removal of asbestos. Homeowners insurance policies have an exclusion for pollution, which generally prevents you from being reimbursed for cleaning up pollutants, including asbestos, in your home. The only possible exception is if the asbestos is exposed as a result of a covered peril, like wind damage. But even then, you are not guaranteed to be covered — it varies by policy.
Why isn't asbestos inspection and removal covered by insurance?
Asbestos is usually not covered under homeowners insurance, even if you have open-perils HO-3 coverage, because almost all home insurance policies have an exclusion for pollution. This includes things like fuel and chemical spills, but it includes asbestos, too.
The other reason asbestos detection and removal isn't covered by homeowners insurance is that it would be prohibitively expensive, both for insurance companies and homeowners. Covering asbestos removal would likely require insurance companies to substantially increase homeowners insurance rates.
Asbestos can be found in most homes built before the 1980s. Cleaning it up is very expensive, since it requires a lot of specialized equipment and training. But asbestos is typically only dangerous if you inhale it, so if the asbestos in your home is safely sealed away inside your walls, it likely doesn't pose a health hazard.
When homeowners insurance might cover asbestos removal
There is one situation where your homeowners insurance policy might help pay for the costs of removing asbestos from your home. If your home experiences damage from a covered peril, your dwelling policy may pay for the entire cost to repair the damage, including the cost of safely removing and cleaning up the asbestos. You would include the cost as part of your overall damage claim.
For example, imagine someone broke into your house and vandalized your walls, exposing asbestos-filled insulation in the process. In this case, your homeowners insurance policy might pay for some or all of the cost to repair the damage, including removing the asbestos insulation and any particles or dust that were released in the process. However, this is not true of all homeowners insurance policies, so check yours to understand what is and is not covered.
What is asbestos? When is it dangerous?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was used as a common building material in homes because it is highly temperature- and fire-resistant. As a result, it was primarily added to things like home insulation, ceiling tiles and flooring materials. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was discovered that inhaling asbestos dust over a long period of time could cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Asbestos was commonly used in many homes in the United States until its carcinogenic properties were discovered. If your home was built before the 1980s, there is a high likelihood that your home contains asbestos in some form. Fortunately, asbestos is usually only dangerous if you breathe in the actual fibers of asbestos, which are released when the material is damaged or decayed. And in most cases, you have to inhale the dust for a long time — months or years — in order to suffer negative effects. If the asbestos in your home is sealed away, such as if it is in the insulation inside your walls, you are not very likely to get sick.
Even if asbestos is directly in contact with your living space, such as in your ceiling tiles, you may not need to remove it immediately. In this case, the asbestos particles are trapped within the tiles, so they won't harm you unless the tile is damaged. However, you should avoid any activity that would release the particles, like cutting or drilling into the material, without proper precautions. This is of particular concern when remodeling your home, or if the material is ever damaged. Call a professional to inspect your home if you are concerned about possible contamination.
Where could I have asbestos in my home?
Until its health dangers were discovered, asbestos' insulating properties meant that it was used in many places throughout homes, especially in areas where insulation or temperature regulation are important. However, you are not likely to have asbestos in any part of your home that was built or added after the 1980s, as the material was phased out during that time.
Possible locations of asbestos in your home include:
- Around stoves, boilers, water heaters and fireplaces
- Heating ducts and furnaces
- Vinyl flooring
- Ceiling tiles or "popcorn ceiling"
- Exterior walls, especially stucco
Unfortunately, it's not possible to identify whether your home contains asbestos on your own. If you are concerned about the presence of asbestos in your home, you'll have to contact a professional to do an inspection.
Cost of removing asbestos
Depending on how prevalent asbestos is in your home, removing it can cost thousands of dollars, especially if you need to remove it from multiple rooms or areas. Asbestos removal requires specialized equipment and training to make sure that all the asbestos dust is collected safely.
Unlike other home repairs that you may be able to do yourself for a lower cost, you should not try to remove asbestos. Professionals who deal with asbestos removal are trained to minimize contamination and to prevent spreading asbestos dust in your home. They will also clean the area. In fact, removing asbestos without training is very likely to add more contaminants to your home than simply leaving the asbestos in place.