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Vermiculite Attic Insulation

Updated on November 28, 2012

Vermiculite Attic Insulation

Vermiculite is a natural mineral that possess extraordinary insulating and fire resistance properties. For this reason it has wide commercial and consumer applications such as fireplaces, acoustic panels, brake linings, soilless growing material, attic insulation and many more. When vermiculite is heated, it expands like popcorn into an accordion-like structure. This structure creates pockets of air which is why it makes good attic insulation.

Is Vermiculite a Health Concern?

Vermiculite on its own has not shown that it is causes any health problems. The issue arises when Vermiculite contains Asbestos. From 1920 to 1990 a mine in Libby Montana produced contaminated Vermiculite. This was then sold as attic insulation under the brand name Zonolite (and possibly others).

Asbestos poses a health risk when the fibers are present in the air the occupants breath. This typically occurs when the asbestos material is disturbed. If you discover vermiculite in your attic, stay away from it. Left in your attic untouched it poses a minimal, to no health, risk at all.

If you live in a home built prior to 1984 it is wise to take the necessary precautions when renovating the home. Asbestos was used in a wide range of construction materials including: floor tiles, siding, wall boards, joint and spackling compounds, electrical wiring insulation, HVAC duct insulation, roof shingles, fireplace and furnace insulation, and many more. For this reason you should consult an environmental company prior to taking on renovations in older homes.

Does My Insulation Contain Asbestos?

You can't tell if vermiculite contains asbestos just by looking at it. Sometimes you can find empty Zonolite bags left in the attic. If you're concerned about the insulation in your attic, contact a local environmental company to take several samples and have them lab tested. Do not take samples to be tested yourself due to possible exposure.

What Should I do if My Attic Insulation Contains Asbestos?

If the insulation is located in an area that is separate to the building's living environment (behind walls, floorboards or isolated to an attic which is ventilated outside) the advice is to leave it alone. The physical characteristics of vermiculite is such that the risk of it getting into the house air is low. Removing asbestos containing materials can cost in the thousands.

If you live in a home that you use the attic, or want to do renovations, the exposure is increased and you should consult an appropriate company about removing it.

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