Photograph of asbestos heating pipe insulation abandoned in a building Photo Guide to Asbestos Pipe Insulation in buildings
Asbestos insulation identification

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Asbestos pipe insulation in buildings - how to recognize & handle:

Asbestos insulation was widely used on heating pipes, sometimes on water pipes, and occasionally on other pipes in buildings. This asbestos insulating product appears most-often as a gray-white corrugated paper (photo at page top) but might also appear as a plaster or cementious paste on pipe elbows, valves, or on other irregular components.

This article provides photographs of abandoned and partly-covered-up asbestos pipe insulation in buildings to assist in the recognition of that material.

We include photos of pipe insulation that is not but might be mistaken for asbestos. We discuss the procedure and costs for removal of asbestos pipe insulation and comment on leaving the insulation in place.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Asbestos pipe insulation in buildings

Photograph of asbestos pipe insulationAsbestos pipe insulation, still in use or abandoned on building pipes, compared with fiberglass pipe insulation

This document assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection.

Asbestos pipe insulation materials like the insulation shown at page top should have been removed during asbestos abatement, and so form an indication of amateur workmanship, raising the question of asbestos particle contamination in other building areas.

Asbestos pipe insulation was very widely used in buildings and also on ships and on some industrial equipment.

World wide from about 1900 up to the 1970's in the U.S. and into the 1980's in some other countries, asbestos,most- ften in the form of crocidolite (blue asbestos) and less-often in the form of amosite (brown asb estos) and chrysotile (white as asbestos) was used in pipe insulation and pipe wrap to retain heat in heating and hot water systems and to avoid condensation on cold water supply piping.

In our photos of corrugated-paper asbestos pipe insulation shown here the dominant asbestos is usually crocidolite and the insulation is white with a gray or blush-hue.

For those purposes one of the most common forms of asbestos pipe insulation is the fabric-wrapped corrugated asbestos pipe insulation show here.

At joints, valves and other irregular surfaces the pipe, elbow, coupling or other fitting insulation was continued by use of an asbestos-reinforced pipe lagging: a plaster-like paste also referred to as "hard lagging". You'll find asbestos lagging also on boilers, valves, claorifiers (water heaters), and on water tanks.

Asbestos pipe insulation also shows up occasionally as an asbestos paper or as an asbestos-impregnated spiral wrap used on pipes and shown later in this article.

Don't Mistake Fiberglass Pipe Wrap Insulation for Asbestos: Images of Fiberglass Pipe Insulation Wrap

The photographs shown here assist in distinguishing between corrugated asbestos paper pipe wrap from fiberglass insulation pipe wrap.

Fiberglass insulation on heating pipes (C)

Thanks to reader JJ for the photo of fiberglass heating pipe insulation shown above. Look carefully at the end of these wrapped insulation sections (see my photo just below) to see the difference. In the photo of fiberglass pipe insulation, I peeled back a little of the white-painted outer fabric to show the yellow fiberglass interior.

Photograph of fiberglass pipe insulation

The photograph shown at the page top is some "new old stock" corrugated asbestos pipe insulation that was never used - just left in a basement ceiling.

Look closely at the photos that follow as it these are clear examples of the visual characteristics of the corrugated-paper-like asbestos wrap which was used along the lengths of heating and other plumbing pipes in buildings.

Photograph of asbestos heating pipe insulation abandoned in a building

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,

Asbestos pipe insulation in bad shape (C) Daniel Friedman

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.

A professional asbestos removal company would not have left these un-used asbestos pipe insulation sections "stored" here.

More photographs of asbestos heating pipe insulation can be seen at ASBESTOS in GOOD CONDITION and

Watch out: as we illustrate at the ASBESTOS in POOR CONDITION article linked-to just above, you might find newer fiberglass heating pipe insulation installed over an amateur or incomplete asbestos removal job. That article shows examples of incompeltely-removed asbestos indicating an amateur or improper asbestos abatement job.

Asbestos pipe insulation, insulated over with spray foam

Asbestos heating pipe insulation

Here's an example of an insulation retro-fit using spray foam insulation.

A professional would not have left this asbestos pipe insulation in place.

Perhaps more of this material will be found elsewhere in the building.

If a section of asbestos insulation were found to have been totally encapsulated by the new spray foam insulation, such as in a wall cavity, most experts would be expected to recommend that it be simply left alone.

Asbestos Spiral Pipe Wrap

Asbestos-suspect spiral wrap on a copper water pipe (C) Dan2018/08/12 Dan said:

Are these copper water pipes wrapped with asbestos? They are hidden above the drop ceiling in the basement.

Moderator reply:


That could be an asbestos pipe wrap; sticky asbestos-reinforced yellow-white or gray-white pipe wrap was used in North America.

To answer your question it would be helpful to know the age of the building, piping, and when the wrap was installed.

In the 1970's I installed an asbestos-based pipe wrap that looked much like that in your photo.

Give me more details about the building age and country and city and I may be able to comment further.

Reader follow-up:

The house was built in 1973 in Maryland. Another question is about what appears to be black mold on the wrap. I am assuming that either way, we're going to have to get a proffessional to remove this, correct?

Moderator reply:


I agree that the black stuff looks like mold growth.

The pipe wrap appears to be intact and not shedding.

The safest, least-costly and most-recommended approach (including by US EPA) is to leave such insulation in place, undisturbed, covering or encapsulating it.

The only down-side is that some day if a section of pipe has to be repaired it has then to be handled with appropriate care.

If your pipe insulation is what it looks like, originally it had a sticky surface - it's not likely to be shedding if left alone. I'd encapsulate it.

Asbestos on Roof Drains & Water Pipes

Corrugated asbestos paper insulation on steam pipes in a Gramercy Park NY apartment (C) Daniel Friedman

Above: loose corrugated asbestos paper insulation on steam pipes in an apartment in Gramercy Park, NY. It's a little worrisome to see asbestos insulation falling off of pipes that are just above a laundry basket.

Below: Asbestos insulation on a roof drain pipe.

Asbestos insulation on a roof drain (C) reader provided

Below: asbestos pipe insulation falling off of a section of copper piping in a New York building.

Asbestos pipe insulation falling off of copper piping in NY (C) Daniel Friedman

Asbestos in poor condition, damaged, falling off of pipes merits professional cleanup.

The urgency of that asbestos cleanup job is increased if asbestos is falling or on the ground in an area frequently entered and where it's likely to be tracked into other building areas. Examples of asbestos pipe insulation in poor condition are shown below.

Asbestos debris on basement or crawl space floor, falling off of pipes (C) Daniel Friedman

Watch out: building inspectors, home inspectors, contractors, and others should not go crawling around through a basement or crawl space in the conditions shown above, unless they are properly equipped with personal protective equipment and are properly trained.

In this article series 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.

Also see ASBESTOS DUCTS, HVAC a field identification guide to visual detection of asbestos in and on heating and cooling system ducts and flue vents.


Continue reading at ASBESTOS in POOR CONDITION or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see ASBESTOS PIPE INSULATION FAQs - questions and answers posted originally on this page






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