What Do Asbestos Ceiling Tiles Look Like? Six Ways to Identify Asbestos Ceiling Tiles

Written by Milan Jara on 18th Jul 2022

 Ceiling Tiles

Asbestos was commonly used in ceiling tiles between 1920 to 1985. This may cause you to wonder, "what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like, and are they in my home?"

Homeowners must be mindful of tiles installed before 1985 as they may contain asbestos. If left undisturbed, they do not pose a health risk, but many of these tiles are installed in suspended ceilings in basements to cover wires, plumbing, etc, which, when moved, can pose a concern. This concern causes many people to ask, what do asbestos ceiling tiles look like?

The good news is that some tiles may contain asbestos, but not all do. We discuss how to know whether your tiles contain this material and how you should handle them. The appearance, history, manufacturer, and producers of various brands will enable you to determine whether your ceiling tiles will likely carry this material.

What Ceiling Tiles Are Likely to Carry Asbestos

 Ceiling Tiles

Asbestos was often used in ceiling tiles and those placed in suspended ceilings in the paper facing or backing or the tile body. Asbestos was a common material found in mastic adhesives used in glue-up applications for ceiling tiles.

Asbestos ceiling tile tends not to crumble easily, but if disturbed, it is soft enough to release asbestos fibers and asbestos dust. Also, some asbestos tiles used in suspended ceilings may contain asbestos fiber and asbestos dust from other sources on the upper side of your tile.

Six Ways to Tell if There Is Asbestos in Your Ceiling Tiles

There are six methods that you can use when trying to determine whether your ceiling tiles may contain asbestos. While it may be scary, keep in mind that if asbestos tiles are not disturbed, you are safe. It is only when moved that the particles can be inhaled. Also, not all tiles from this era contain asbestos.

Furthermore, it is better to be aware now as opposed to later when serious health issues arise.

  1. Examine Ceiling Tile Material. Some panels are fiberglass. You can tell with just a visual inspection. While it may not be possible to identify every form of asbestos by a visual inspection, you may be able to learn which ones don’t contain asbestos.
  2. Fiberglass does not contain asbestos. If the tile has homogeneous fiberglass, it will not contain this substance unless it has been cross-contaminated. Be aware, though, that even the presence of fiberglass as one ingredient in some tiles doesn’t permit ruling out asbestos. Some products combined the two.
  3. The Manufacturer’s Data or Stamp on the Packaging. Look for evidence of what the manufacturer was. There may be a stamp on the back of your tile, installation records, or left-over packaging. You can also determine the manufacture date by the ancillary stamps to indicate compliance with governing laws or time-stamped dates.
  4. Age of Home. Consider your home’s age to estimate the ceiling’s age. If the building age is newer than the last known date of asbestos use for your location, that may be enough to provide a no asbestos ruling.
  5. Ceiling Age. Consider how old your ceiling is. There may be records or dates for various renovations that reveal the same thing as mentioned above. When it comes to the date threshold, if your ceiling was put up in the U.S. after the mid-eighties, it probably doesn’t have asbestos. For other locations, the date may differ.
  6. Manufacturer Statements. If the tiles were made by a company that claims their products never had asbestos or provides dates when the production of said tiles had ceased, you may have your answer. Please note that even if a ceiling was put up shortly after that date, the tiles still may have asbestos as old and new stock may have been combined.
  7. Test Your Material. If your answers come up empty and you cannot perform asbestos ceiling tile removal without generating dust, then take a sample to make sure.

Asbestos-containing material was commonly used in dwellings built between 1920 to the mid-1980s. This style is known as a suspended ceiling, drop ceiling, or acoustic ceiling. The size tends to be 2 x 2 or 2 x 4 with a square or rectangular shape.

Other identifiers are that they are lightly colored, have pinhole markings, contain a mild texture, and have a powdery appearance. However, often it is difficult to identify whether the tile does or does not contain asbestos without a sampling. This truly is your best indicator.

What Asbestos Forms Were Used in Ceiling Tiles?

 Ceiling Tiles

Three types were used. They were:

  • Crocidolite Asbestos - used in the production of ceiling tiles
  • Chrysotile Asbestos - most used asbestos form and was found in the manufacturing of certain ceiling materials
  • Amosite Asbestos - widely used, this was found in the ceiling, floor, and roofing tiles

Companies that Produced Asbestos

These companies were:

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

Sadly, many of these companies were aware the material was harmful to individuals yet continued to create the product. Eventually, they filed for bankruptcy with established trusts offering compensation for victims.

What Can Homeowners Do?

People are advised to check the basement or attic for extra tiles to determine if they have an asbestos product. Sometimes extra materials are lying around and contain a brand stamped on the back of the tile. If you can’t find them, assume the ceiling contains asbestos.

You can also hire a professional to do asbestos testing for your building material. Do not do this on your own. You should place renovations on hold until you can consult with a professional. Disturbing the asbestos tile causes particles to become airborne, releasing the asbestos into the air and leading to health problems for anyone in the home.

If your home contains asbestos ceiling material, there are things you can do. You can cover asbestos tile to avoid airborne asbestos exposure or hire someone to safely perform asbestos removal.

If you are wondering what asbestos ceiling tiles look like, you may not be able to tell. It is always advisable to seek the help of a professional to make sure - especially if all methods mentioned above turn up inconclusive.

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