Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles:
How to recognize ceiling tiles that may contain asbestos. We describe the appearance, ingredients, years of manufacture, history, and producers of various types of ceiling tiles & coverings as an aid in determining whether or not a particular ceiling covering or tile is likely to contain asbestos. This document assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection.
We provide photographs and descriptive text of asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing products to permit identification of definite, probable, or possible asbestos materials in buildings.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Certainly not all ceiling tiles contain or ever contained asbestos. Knowing the the history of ceiling tiles and their various ingredients, combined with the size, brand (usually unknown), visual appearance and location of ceiling tiles, and adding the age of the building or of the ceiling tile installation itself can often quickly decide whether special handling or further investigation is warranted when demolishing, remodeling, or otherwise disturbing a ceiling.
But asbestos fibers were used in some acoustic asbestos ceiling tiles, often amphibole asbestos such as amosite, crocidolite, anthrophylite, tremolite, and actinolite, with amosite among the most commonly-found.
Modern ceiling products do not contain asbestos.
Watch out: During any construction, demolition, or building remodeling project, as dust and particles from many materials, even paper and wood can be irritating or harmful to workers and occupants, prudent procedure would include appropriate dust control, personal protection equipment, and cleaning methods.
While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy may be needed to identify the specific type of asbestos fiber, or to identify the presence of asbestos in air or dust samples, many asbestos-containing building products not only are obvious and easy to recognize, but since there were not other look-alike products that were not asbestos, a visual identification of this material can be virtually a certainty in many cases.
Insulating board panel and ceiling tile and panel manufacturers produced a range of products, many of which may contain asbestos, but other ceiling and wall covering & building sheathing products made of organic fibers, wood fibers, cane fibers generally do not contain asbestos.
Our photo (above) shows an antique plaster and lath ceiling in a pre-1900 home.
Modern ceiling products do not contain asbestos. Using Certainteed as an example, [www.certainteed.com] you can obtain an MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet) for each of the company's products.
Common modern ceiling product ingredients include fibrous glass wool, urea formaldehyde resin, and fiberboard products contain slag wool, starch, cellulose [wood fibers], perlite, crystalline silica, and clay.
Watch out: It's worth noting that even modern building products can present health hazards if they are not handled properly. For example crystalline silica can cause nose, throat, and lung irritation. 
Some acoustic ceiling tiles contain asbestos. If renovation is planned it may be smart to simply handle this material as if it contained asbestos particles.
In these photographs of older square ceiling tiles the photo (below left) shows a smooth ceiling tile and the second photo (below right) an acoustic ceiling tile with its characteristic pattern of holes.
Both of these products might contain asbestos fibers, though the principal material is usually cellulose.
The larger suspended ceiling segment, 2'x4' in size (photo above right), was pushed aside to show the older layers of ceiling materials above.
The suspended ceiling tile, if made of fiberglass or cellulose is not a likely asbestos fiber source.
Our concern in this particular instance was that the entire cavity above the suspended ceiling was being used as an air conditioning return air plenum, exposing all of the building HVAC system and occupants to whatever particles were released by materials in the cavity, including possibly asbestos from the older layer of acoustic ceiling tiles.
The remediation contractor removed all of these layers to expose (and clean) the concrete ceiling above prior to installing a new suspended ceiling.
Our perforated acoustic ceiling tile photo above shows that these particular asbestos-containing ceiling materials were also sometimes applied to a vertical wall.
Below we show a different pattern of asbestos-suspect ceiling tiles found in a government building we examined in Poughkeepsie, NY.
As you can see from the photographs shown here, these acoustic ceiling tiles over a wet area can support mold growth.
Also see MOLD INFORMATION CENTER.
I have a recreation room that uses 2' x 4' Armstrong Ceiling Panels made in 1976 or later. They claim to be fire retardant, and are of the Scotch Pine variety. Do they contain Asbestos? - Mark Webb 2/1/12
Mark, unfortunately there were so many ceiling products, styles, and names that I've found it almost impossible to build a comprehensive list of asbestos and non-asbestos-containing products.
Reading opinions about asbestos-risks in ceiling tiles discussed at legal services websites and at some home inspection websites either leaves you convinced of a serious asbestos hazard, or delivered a disclaimer recommending testing, encapsulation, or other "safe" advice from inspectors. Let's sort through the question with a bit more specific or authoritative information:
Suspended ceiling tiles of the 2'x2' or 2'x4' dimension, and manufactured by Armstrong, Celotex, Conwed, LoTone, and USG and made before the late 1970's are listed by several attorney-sponsored "mesothelioma websites" as often containing asbestos to add fire-resistance. On that basis, since the age of your ceiling is in that range it would be prudent to treat it as PACM.
We do, for one. Some ceiling tiles have been widely enough reported to contain asbestos that using some common sense is certainly appropriate: meaning don't make a dusty mess, don't demolish a ceiling of unknown materials without taking proper precautions, and if you are faced with a significant ceiling-renovation or cleanup expense, and if you can't tell for sure by visual inspection that ceiling tiles are asbestos free, have a sample tested.
Some home inspection clubs and open-associations focus almost entirely on using a disclaimer or on giving clients advice that is safe for the inspector and that may be safe for the client, though not necessarily safe for their walled.
According to Armstrong Corporation, those attorneys and some home inspectors are mistaken. Armstrong commented as follows:
Our mineral fibre tiles are made from a combination of the following naturally occurring, processed and recycled materials in varying proportions depending upon the tile type: mineral wool, clay, perlite, cellulose and starch mixed together in a water based process before being cured by heat.
They are then finished with a water based paint, or laminated scrim and paint, decorative facing. All these materials are environmentally safe and our factories comply with ISO 14001.
Asbestos, in any form, is not and never has been used in the manufacture of Armstrong ceiling tiles.
In general, for ceiling materials of the age you describe, for other brands and without other explicit information from the manufacturer, unless it is quite obvious by visual inspection that the materials are fiberglass or another non-asbestos material, the best answer is to be prudent: treat the material as presumed-asbestos-containing material (PACM) - which means don't make a dusty mess.
2'x4' ceiling tiles are usually drop-in panels in a suspended ceiling grid and are easily swapped out with minimal disturbance or dust if they are damaged, soiled, or need replacement.
We bought a house that was built in the 50's - it has what I THINK is a Celotex ceiling (or some copy of Celotex) - it's in horrible shape and needs to be taken down - what are your thoughts on it containing asbestos, considering the age? - Saundra
Reply: Apparently, yes. For details of this Q&A and for a list of Celotex insulating products believed to contain asbestos - please
see CELOTEX ASBESTOS PRODUCTS
Our photo, left, illustrates a plaster ceiling in poor condition.
I have a basement finished with acoustical ceiling tile. The previous owners left two boxes of the material. I took a picture of the box, but don't see how to post it. The box is printed with the following: Simpson Forestone Fissured Woodfiber Acoustical tile. A large label is glued to the box with the following: Thickness: 9/16. Size 12 x 24. No PCS. Sq FT 56.
Large red F with a 1 in white in a reverse print. Then it says, Forestone Flame Resistant Finish. Center scored, flanged joint. Meets Class C of the requirements of Federal specification SS-A-118b. It also has a hand stamp that looks like a lot number of 30182.
Can you tell me if it contains asbestos? The Simpson lumber company is still in business. Would they know?
re-posting a subsequent post: Michael said:
Here is the photo of the Simpson Forestone acoustical tile packaging [photo above left].
[re-published; reader-links get blocked for malware security but I took a snapshot of your photo for use as needed here - Ed.]
Let's try this: take another look at the box and give me
- any dates or date stamp codes on the material. If the lot number can be translated to mean made in 1982 that ought to be far enough past the use of asbestos in ceiling tile products as well as flooring to answer the asbestos question for this product - The company can translate the lot number for you. (Let me know) The product label refers to wood products as the ingredients. We don't yet know where the flame resistance derives.
- the U.S. Patent number at the bottom of the label (I couldn't read it in your photo)
and we'll research the tile further.
The only thing stamped on the material itself is the patent number: 2,791,289. The patent (from 1952) covers how they create the textured look. The patent does mention a bunch of materials, but not asbestos. ...
I emailed Simpson's Public Affairs (its the only email contact on their website) and they responded that Forestone does not have any asbestos in it.
Helpful Michael, I'll add photos and information to our article as it should help others. Generally when a product says it's made from wood fibers it's not an asbestos item. That patent number is helpful - that's what I wanted to see.
Some photos of the surfaces of the tiles themselves would be helpful if that's convenient. You can use our email address at CONTACT found at page bottom.
. - DF
back in 1996, A friend of mine picked up a truck load of 2x4' ceiling tiles that were being removed from a small grocery store for total renovation (new owners I believe)..Anyway we finished his basement over several days, and never even thought that they could be asbestos containing.
Unfortunately, there is no way for me to test as he no longer lives in that house. They look like your common "department store/hospital" 2x4 tile, fairly heavy, could be broken easily (crumble), grey/brown back color with white face, and they did not burn (we tried!!) They almost seemed to be made of plaster or clay if I remember correctly.
As this was 1996, Its likely the tiles were at least 10-20 years old, which is worrying to me. I found a picture of the room where they were installed, not very clear as it was taken 10 years ago, but I could send it if you like. They had a design texture very similar to this: i.imgur.com/m0wS9h6.jpg
Follow up picture to previous comment, this is the only known picture i was able to find of the tiles in question. I wish I could do better. imgur.com/NpnfGtQ
Mike we can't say from just the acoustic ceiling tile pattern if the product contained asbestos or not; and indeed even some older ceiling tiles have been tested and found not to contain asbestos. If the second photo link you sent was of the room you describe I can't add a thing other than that we're apparently looking at a suspended ceiling from 2004 (10 years ago) or older.
Thank you for the reply. Yes, 10 year old picture of a 20 year old renovation, I wish I would have taken some close up pictures when I had the chance. The tiles most certainly were made sometime during the 1970's or 80's. Was it common for this style drop ceiling tiles in commercial settings to contain asbestos during that time?
Ah - so if we're talking about ceiling tiles from the 1970's or early 80's asbestos was a possibility - but did not appear in all brands and products of ceiling tiles
I posted a question about a month ago and it garnered no comments so I thought it was time to try the email approach.
I recently purchased a ranch home built in 1960. The basement has ceiling tiles that I would like to remove. Concerned about possible asbestos content.
Only visible notation is the lettering "FRF" on the back [of the ceiling tiles]
Your thoughts on the likelihood of these containing asbestos would be appreciated.
Thank you - S.P. 11/8/2014
S.P., we're sorry that you didn't get a prompt reply to the on page comment - we are sometimes overwhelmed by comments meriting a reply.
The images of your ceiling tiles look like a wood cellulose product. There were some manufacturers (Armstrong) who say their ceilings never contained asbestos.
The "FRF" mark on your ceiling tiles probably identifies the material as Thermafiber FRF® brand produced by USG Interiors, Inc. - see U.S. Patent "Low density non-woven material useful with acoustic ceiling tile products
US 8062565 B2"
The patent application (filed in 2009 - well after the cessation of use of asbestos in most building products in most countries) for that modern material describes it as follows:
[Note that there will most likely also be earlier versions of this product addressed by earlier patents and that the ceiling materials in your photos may indeed be older than this patent]
A non-woven material, that can be formed into an acoustic ceiling tile, is provided. The material includes a substantially planar and self-supporting core of an inorganic base fiber and a synthetic thermal bonding fiber. The synthetic thermal bonding fiber preferably has an increased bonding surface area that improves adhesion and porosity to provide a base mat or core with a low density to provide sound absorption required by an acoustic ceiling tile. - Cao, Bangji, Donald S. Mueller, Weixin D. Song, and Qing Yu. "Low density non-woven material useful with acoustic ceiling tile products." U.S. Patent 8,062,565, issued November 22, 2011.
The word "asbestos" never appears in this patent description. The ceiling tiles are described as an acoustic product intended for n oise reduction and meetingh ASTME84 (flame spread resistance) and ASTM C423 (Having a noise reduction property or coefficient (NRC) of at least 0.55).
More about the history of Thermafiber® and other applications of the material is at SHEATHING, FIBERBOARD
In general for ceiling tiles that are not identified absolutely, as we can't know an answer to the asbestos question for certain based on just these photos (without a lab test or ID of the manufacturer) and based on the age of the material it would be prudent to assume the materials are or could contain asbestos.
If you are faced with a costly or messy demolition then it's worth sending off a sample to an asbestos test lab - the cost is typically $50-$50 U.S.
... I will send out a sample today and get the results back to you.
I feel very certain that these tiles are much older than 2009 as the gentlemen who owned the house has had breathing issues for many years and had done little to the house for the last 15 yrs.
He recently passed away at 82 after living in the house since building it in 1960. ...
Yes the wood fiber version of insulating board and ceiling tiles dates back more than 50 years. However when we searched by product name suggested by the marking on your tiles, I did not (yet) find patent registration or other older data that would give a sure product name.
Most likely your ceilings don't contain asbestos but the lab report will be helpful both to protect you and to assist other readers who can recognize the same material.
Please find attached the [CEILING TILE ASBESTOS TEST] report [PDF] from EMSL regarding the ceiling tiles we were discussing previously.
As suspected by you from the start, they did not contain any asbestos.
Hopefully this helps someone else in the future. - S.P. 19 Nov 2014
We moved this list to CEILING TILE MATERIALS - separate article.
Our photo (left) shows tremolite asbestos panels glued to the ceiling over a basement of a commercial building in White Plains, New York.
Tremolite asbestos panels were used as a fire-proofing over a boiler room and where other heating equipment was installed.
See ASBESTOS FIREPROOFING SPRAY-On Coatings for photos of dangerous tremolite asbestos ceiling panels and photos of spray-on asbestos fireproofing coatings.
Also see CEILING FINISHES INTERIOR
and see ASBESTOS DUCTS, HVAC a field identification guide to visual detection of asbestos in and on heating and cooling system ducts and flue vents.
Also see Micro-Photographs of Dust from the World Trade Center collapse following the 9/11/01 attack. Links to U.S. government and other authoritative research and advice are included.
Additional asbestos-in-ceiling tiles questions and replies are in the FAQs section of this article.
Was wondering if you could tell if these are likely asbestos ceiling tiles? The building was made in 1985 though I don't know the age of the tiles. They say "CON SAFE" on the back... They are in my workplace, a government building. - B.B.
While the current 1999 EPA notice basically retracted asbestos bans in the U.S., as we noted in the introduction to this article, because of consumer resistance to purchasing asbestos-containing material (ACM) for housing or office finish products, it's not likely that an office put up in 1985 used ACM.
Unfortunately, a responsible and reliable reply is that one can't know for sure when a material was made nor what it contains simply from your photo - you'd need to have a little sample of the material tested by a certified asbestos testing lab for a definitive answer.
How dangerous is it to clean up an area after asbestos tiles were removed without proper equipment or disposal? What is required to be safe during clean-up? - Darlene 1/21/2013
Darlene: in my OPINION the answer is at least potentially YES.
If asbestos containing material, particularly friable materials such as ceiling tiles, or any ACM that was removed in a manner that created dust was removed without proper dust containment and follow-up testing, there could be high enough levels of asbestos in remaining dust in the building to be a hazard to occupants.
For example, running an ordinary household (non-HEPA) vacuum cleaner, or even a HEPA rated vacuum if it leaks, would send that asbestos-containing dust into the air - where occupants may indeed breathe it.
In my own experience I've encountered this problem a number of times and often follow-up testing confirmed that further professional cleaning was needed. Provided that there is an established need (and thus justification of the expense) for an asbestos dust cleanup, a professional will set up dust containment to keep other building areas safe from dust, use a negative air machine as part of that containment, then typically s/he will HEPA vacuum and damp wipe the building surfaces. A follow-up test by a professional confirms that the cleanup was successful and that the containment sysetm also worked.
We are buying a house built in 1941 that has 16"x32" ceiling panels glued to the rafters in every room (photo attached). Leaks from the roof have damaged many of them and we need to know whether they contain asbestos before we disturb the area. Are asbestos testing kits from a hardware store a legitimate way to go? - C.H. 4/18/2013
No one should pretend that they could reliably identify or exclude asbestos-containing material in your building or its ceiling from just your photo, but I certainly understand and appreciate the question.
There are certainly ceiling tiles that do contain asbestos, and others even of the same era (up to the 80's) that do not. Sometimes one can look at the material by eye and see that it is a wood fiber product; but if you don't know, leave it alone until you do.
From the dimensions you gave and from your photo, I'm not 100% sure you are looking at acoustic ceiling tiles, though I agree that the beveled edges in a closer look at your picture look like glue-up or staple-up ceiling tiles not plaster. For comparison see PLASTER BULGES & PILLOWS.
As you suspect possible asbestos I suggest:
I can't comment on an over-the-counter asbestos test kit - as honestly I just don't know what you were looking-at. Identification of asbestos dust or fibers in materials requires two kinds of microscopic examination; if the test kit is simply a container for a sample, along with safe sampling instructions, and that material is sent to a certified lab, perhaps that's fine.
At ASBESTOS TESTING LAB LIST we provide information on how to find a qualified, certified asbestos testing laboratory.
If there is access to the ceiling from above and if you can safely enter there and safely lift insulation for inspection, chec, to see if those bulged or pillowed segments of the ceiling are visible from their upper side as plasterboard. [If you find vermiculite ceiling in the area don't disturb it because that may be an asbestos hazard even if the ceiling proves not to be. Vermiculite building insulation (VERMICULITE INSULATION)was often poured into previously un-insulated ceilings of homes from the 1940's.]
Keep us posted if you have the material tested or if you are able to explore the extent of water-related damage above this ceiling - what you find will assist other readers.
Do you think this contains asbestos? - Anonymous
Your photos show what look like 9-inch or possibly 12-inch brown fiberboard acoustic ceiling tiles. While the predominant material in these ceilings is usually wood fibers, indeed up to the 1980's many such ceilings contained asbestos as well.
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately find where there are asbestos containing materials (ACM), presumed-asbestos containing materials (PACM), or what might also be called "asbestos-suspect materials".
That said, here are some things to consider:
For safety it makes sense to treat presumed-asbestos materials or PACM as if they indeed contained asbestos, meaning apply the same guidelines: leave intact materials alone if possible, encapsulate the material for added protection, and if materials are damaged, friable, or are likely to be disturbed by normal building activities, bring in a professional asbestos abatement contractor who, after confirming that the materials are asbestos-containing, will handle the removal or encapsulation with professional dust control, removal, cleaning.
For a single damaged ceiling tile such as in your photo, I'm doubtful that calling a professional asbestos abatement company will be justified, but if you treat the material as Presumed Asbestos Containing Material (PACM) that means using appropriate methods for cleanup and then encapsulation or covering of the damaged section.
I removed them all about a month ago, sometimes i have some breathing chest mild problems but i think from painting and general reno dust. Are you familiar with these tiles in Ontario? - M. 11/28/12
The tiles in your ceiling by dimension and general appearance could contain asbestos;
In my OPINION, even if the tiles didn't contain asbestos, exposing yourself to a high dose of dust can easily result in respiratory irritation and on occasion other health issues from rodent, insect, or other particles.
If you never checked with your doctor you should do so. I'd do that even before testing the material for asbestos.
We have square ceiling tiles in living room and bedroom that were probably installed in the 60's or 70's. The ceiling has been painted with a latex-type paint. There are no friable areas, everything seems intact and covered with a layer of paint. Does this painting effectively prevent presumed asbestos fibers in the tiles (based on age) from entering the air and creating a hazard? Or should the ceilings be furred out and covered? - Edward, 12/3/2012
If the ceiling is painted, not friable, not damaged, not in an area likely to be damaged, it's best to leave it alone. You don't need to install a new ceiling layer over it.
Additional asbestos-in-ceiling tiles questions and replies are in the FAQs section of this article.
Continue reading at ASBESTOS CEILING TILE FAQs or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.
Or see ASBESTOS-FREE CEILING TILES
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
OR use the Search Box found below at Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia
Please see ASBESTOS CEILING TILE FAQs
(Mar 13, 2015) Sergio Freddson said:
This is a very thorough article! I never realized asbestos was so common in residential homes. I guess I just always assumed it was used more often in commercial buildings. I'll have to double check a few areas in my home for asbestos tiles. Thank you for your advice!
Generally asbestos-containing materials such as ceiling tiles are safest left alone and in-place unless the material is damaged, falling down, shedding, leaving debris that can be tracked through a home or otherwise made airborne. It's ok to paint over, encapsulate, seal, or cover-over such materials if occupants prefer. Unnecessary removal is actually more likely to be hazardous than leaving the material alone.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Search the InspectApedia website