Asbestos in Drywall Guide

By PropertyClub Team
Apr 20th 2023
Asbestos in your drywall may seem harmless, but it’s a problem you should not ignore for too long if you have the opportunity to address it. Many homes still contain asbestos today, and not in small amounts. Understanding how the material was historically used and its dangers is crucial for safe living if your home is older.

hash-markTable of Contents

When Was Asbestos Used in Drywall?
How Common Is Asbestos in Drywall?
How to Tell if Your Walls Retain Asbestos
What Does Asbestos In Drywall Look Like?
Should You Test Your Walls for Asbestos?
Asbestos in Drywall Bottom Line

hash-markWhen Was Asbestos Used in Drywall?

Asbestos was commonly used in drywall and other construction materials throughout the 20th century until the 1990s. In the 90s, its use severely dropped off following a major ban on the material in 1989.

But due to a brief overturn just a couple of years later, many doors were left wide open, allowing asbestos to still be used in small amounts in various parts of construction for some years in the 1990s.

If your home was built before 1980, it likely contains asbestos in at least one form. Even homes built after that might still contain asbestos in their drywall or other places. This makes it important to get a professional evaluation of the premises if the presence of asbestos is suspected.

You’ll most often find asbestos in the joint compound layer of drywall. It’s possible that it may also be used in other parts of the drywall, depending on how it was produced. Getting a complete sample that covers all layers of your drywall is vital if you’re sending it for asbestos testing.

hash-markHow Common Is Asbestos in Drywall?

Before its ban in 1989, asbestos was very frequently used in the production of drywall. It's estimated that as many as 50% of homes built between the 1920s and 1989 contain asbestos in the walls. 

Many homes built before 1989 used asbestos in different forms, including drywall. Homes from the middle of the century are practically guaranteed to contain asbestos. Maybe not in the drywall, but definitely in other parts of the building, including in ceiling tile, popcorn ceilings, floor insulation, siding, piping, and more.

The percentage of homes built before asbestos was banned that have never been renovated is staggeringly high. In some cities, as many as 60% of homes are suspected of containing asbestos, though this has never been extensively verified. 

hash-markHow to Tell If Your Walls Retain Asbestos

A visual inspection is never enough to tell if your drywall contains asbestos. The best you can do if you want to get a rough estimate of the likelihood of finding asbestos in your walls is to check when your home was built. If it’s several decades old and has never seen any renovation work, it is likely to contain asbestos.

The risk gets higher the further you go back in time. If your home was constructed around 1940-1950 and the drywall has never been replaced, you’re almost guaranteed to find asbestos in at least one layer.

This usually is not a problem, as asbestos is only dangerous if it gets disturbed, at which point its microscopic fibers start flying all over the place. But there are many cases where you might accidentally disturb it without even knowing, such as knocking the wall with a heavy object or denting it. 

hash-markWhat Does Asbestos In Drywall Look Like?

It is almost impossible to see asbestos in drywall with the naked eye as individual asbestos fibers are typically only viewable via a microscope. However, if asbestos fibers are grouped together they will look like a fluffy, fibrous material with a muddy brown color. You should not try to do this yourself however as the fibers can stay in the air, posing a threat to your health. If you think your drywall might have asbestos in it, the best option is to get it tested, rather than trying to look for it yourself. 

hash-markShould You Test Your Walls for Asbestos?

Testing your drywall for asbestos is always a good idea, whether you plan to sell your home soon or not. You should get an in-house inspection whenever possible. It will cost more, but handling it this way is safer than submitting a sample to a remote lab for testing.

That’s because you’ll have to remove a piece of your drywall to send to the testing facility. And since you can’t guarantee that you won’t affect the internal structure of the material in any dangerous way, you risk creating a potentially hazardous situation in your home without even realizing it.

If you have some old sheets of drywall stored for remodeling purposes, you should start with those. You are more likely to successfully remove a piece of them without creating any additional hazards.

hash-markAsbestos in Drywall Bottom Line

If you want to make sure that you’re living safely and without the threat of asbestos lurking in the air, it’s important to verify its presence in your drywall (and other parts of your home). This should ideally be done through on-site testing, although sending a sample to a remote laboratory is also an option if your circumstances don’t allow for regular testing.

Make sure to specifically test for asbestos before listing your house for sale. Otherwise, failing to disclose its presence can lead you into trouble with interested buyers, many of whom will readily use that information as leverage to push you towards a lower price.