Asbestos Testing When Renovating

(Last Updated On: August 22, 2018)

Asbestos is formerly popular material in construction that when inhaled can lead to serious and deadly health problems. When renovating an existing building one must test for asbestos to ensure the safety of the workers. In NYC buildings built before April 1st 1987 are required to be tested before any permits can be issued. Even minor alterations require asbestos testing. Asbestos testing before building renovations or demolition saves lives and should be always taken seriously.

Asbestos Testing

Asbestos is a material which was commonly used in construction that is known to cause severe life threatening medical conditions. Below is some basic information and direction on how asbestos is dealt with and related protocols. If you are planning a renovation please check your local regulations they may differ from the information in this post. The information here is based on New York City regulations.


When to Test For Asbestos? (in NYC)

If you are planning to do a renovation in New York City (in most cases) you will need asbestos testing. Demolition work of course will also require testing. Asbestos test results are filed with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Asbestos is harmful when its fibers or asbestos dust is released into the air and then people breathe it in which can lead to serious health problems. Asbestos becomes most dangerous when the materials are disturbed for example when a construction worker hits a wall with a sledge hammer releasing asbestos dust into the air. This is why testing is done before renovation work can commence. As per NYC BUILDINGS BULLETIN 2009-031 buildings built after April 1, 1987 are exempt from asbestos testing. You may still choose to get the test done if the building was built after this date (just to be safe).


Asbestos Testing For Renovations

When you are performing a renovation asbestos testing is only required on materials and areas that will be disturbed by the renovation. For example if you are removing a wall you only need to test the wall to be removed.


Asbestos Testing For Demolition

If you are going to demolish a building you will most likely need to test for asbestos. Any materials types that are known to potential have asbestos will be tested and a lab will provide a report on such materials.


Who Tests For Asbestos?

A licensed professionals handles asbestos testing. They will send someone to the job site and who will take small samples from materials commonly known to have asbestos that will be disturbed during the proposed work. The material samples will be sent to a lab that will determine if asbestos fibers are present.  At this point 1 of 2 things will happen.

If there is no asbestos, the Agency who performed the sampling and testing will file an ACP5. This document filed with the DEP states the test was completed and work can commence. Your architect will then include the ACP5 in the application to the department of buildings and you can proceed to get a construction permit.

If there is asbestos, the agency will file paperwork for asbestos abatement (removal of the asbestos). You will need to hire a contractor licensed in asbestos abatement. A third party air monitoring agency will verify the asbestos is removed properly and that the air is safe to breathe. Your architect will take this documentation to the Department of Buildings in order to get a permit to proceed with the work.

Don’t Panic About Asbestos

Asbestos is very harmful but don’t panic it is essentially harmful when it enters the air. As long as you do not disturb the material creating dust and small particles it will most likely not harm you. Always make sure to hire licensed professionals.  Asbestos can only be determined through laboratory testing. Do not trust anyone who tells you they know whether or not you have asbestos without performing a lab test.

Misconceptions On Asbestos

Is asbestos banned in the USA? NO. Asbestos is still legal in the United States. Congress opposed the Environment Protection Agency in their attempt to completely ban asbestos. Only a partial ban was permitted by the federal government. Although the use of asbestos has been limited it has not been fully banned in the United States.

The danger of Asbestos was discovered in the 1980s. NO. Pliny the Elder a Roman doctor documented the dangers of asbestos. He observed slaves working with asbestos would die at a young age due to respiratory troubles. This was almost 2,000 years ago. After the industrial revolution doctors began observing factory workers, who worked with asbestos, having pulmonary issues. Doctors performing autopsies in the early 1900s found asbestos fibers in the lungs of factory workers working with asbestos.

Author Jorge Fontan AIA

This post was written by Jorge Fontan, a Registered Architect and owner of Fontan Architecture.


  • Deb Pearl

    September 14, 2017 5:58 pm

    My husband and I recently bought an older home and we are planning on remodeling it. We didn’t think there could be any concerns, but someone mentioned we should probably have it checked for asbestos. That is good to know that there are licensed professionals who could test the house for us! We wouldn’t want to start unless we knew it was safe! Thanks for the tips!

  • Derek Dewitt

    March 20, 2018 12:39 pm

    My wife and I are wanting to remodel our bathroom soon, but we are worried there might be asbestos present. I like your point about hiring a licensed contractor to help remove the asbestos and make it safe to breathe. If we have any present in our house, we’ll definitely start looking for contractors once the sampling is done.

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