How to Tell The Difference Between Cellulose and Asbestos Insulation

difference between asbestos and cellulose insulationSource: DepositPhotos

Until the late 1980s, asbestos was a very popular insulator and fire retardant for homes and buildings. It was also very versatile. You could use it in tiles and blow it with another material, vermiculite.

But because of its health risks, especially with long-term exposure, builders have more or less stopped using asbestos. Today, builders are using alternatives such as cellulose and fibreglass insulation instead of asbestos.

How to Tell the Difference Between Cellulose and Asbestos Insulation

Before going into telling the difference between cellulose and asbestos insulation, we need to start by understanding each of these materials.

Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos is a natural mineral. It’s generally soft and flexible but is known for resisting heat and corrosion. Through the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and even the 1980s, the construction industry had used asbestos as a fire retardant and insulator.

In many older houses and buildings, you’ll still find asbestos in the attic, drywall, and tiles (and tile grout). However, as long as there are no wall cavities or other damages exposing asbestos fibers to your living areas, it’s safe. It becomes a health hazard if the asbestos is airborne and able to reach your occupant areas.

Cellulose Insulation

Cellulose insulation is an alternative to asbestos. Cellulose comprises of a variety of materials, including recycled newspapers, cardboard, hemp, straw, and many others. When builders use
a paper-based cellulose mixture, they treat it with boric acid to give it fire resistance.

There are multiple types of cellulose insulation, the most popular of which are:

  • Dry Cellulose: Also known as loose fill insulation, builders will blow the cellulose into the wall through holes as insulation material. They might even use it to fill wall cavities.
  • Wet Spray Cellulose: Builders will typically apply this to newly constructed walls. The main difference between wet spray and dry cellulose is the addition of water during the spraying process. It provides a better seal for preventing heat loss.

Like asbestos, cellulose fits well within walls, pipes, and around wiring. It helps with both insulating your home and suppressing fires. Cellulose also uses recycled material, which is a big plus for building owners looking to go green or earn LEED.

How to Tell the Difference

Though very different in terms of their ingredients, when you look at these insulation products, they look very similar to the naked eye.

how to tell the difference between asbestos and cellulose insulation

Cellulose Insulation (Source: Eco Insulation)

tell the difference between asbestos and cellulose insulationAsbestos Insulation (Source:

Worried of Asbestos Exposure in Your Building?

Use This Quick Guide to Make Sure.

Though a different insulator, it’s the same issue with vermiculite attic insulation. It’s difficult to see if your vermiculite contains asbestos. You don’t want to risk exposure.

If you come across installed insulation material, you should call a professional consultant to do a test of it. It might be cellulose, but it could be insulation containing asbestos.

Your best course of action would be to avoid touching it and, instead, get a professional to take samples and confirm if it is asbestos. And if it’s asbestos, you’ll need to think about placing your building under an asbestos management program or remove the asbestos entirely.

Next Steps – Call a Professional Abatement Company

If you need to remove more than 10 square feet of asbestos, you should call a professional abatement company. With large projects, there’s a high risk of contamination and exposure
to you and those around you.

A professional contractor will safely and quickly remove the asbestos by setting-up barriers around the work area to prevent your tenants from coming into contact with the asbestos. Also, they will use reverse air flow to keep the asbestos fibers from spreading.

Next, they will wear special protective equipment to keep themselves safe. They will also properly clean the area with HEPA filter vacuums and dispose of the asbestos properly.

Type 2 (10-100 square feet) and Type 3 (100+ square feet) abatement projects are a major investment. But if your contractors don’t do it correctly, not only will you still have asbestos,
but you’ll end up spending more time and money fixing their mistakes later.

Need More Help in Managing Your Building’s Asbestos?

At FERRO, we save property owners time and money by removing their asbestos fully and safely the first time. Call us today to get started with your abatement project.