Asbestos is not part of building 21st century homes, but the cancerous mineral still exists in millions of old homes throughout the United States.

This means unsuspecting families still spend hours of their days inside these carcinogenic hotbeds, which can cause mesothelioma cancer.

Here’s a scary thought: Your home may be filled with this cancerous substance.

How many houses in the U.S. still have asbestos hiding in the walls, roof shingles, floor tiles, and insulation? How does asbestos in homes happen? Where is asbestos hiding in your home?

This blog answers all of those important questions.


How Many Houses in the U.S. Have Asbestos?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey, more than half the houses still standing today were built before 1980. This year is the unofficial demarcation line separating asbestos’ peak usage and phasing out. Approximately 12% of current homes in the U.S. were built prior to 1940.

This data from the U.S. Census Bureau means more than half of U.S. homes were built with asbestos in or around the walls, floorboards, ceiling tiles, roof tiles, insulation, pipes and electrical wires. If they weren’t refurbished within the last 30 years, then the degraded “legacy” asbestos poses a risk to all inhabitants.

Houses With Asbestos: By Location

The website Filterbuy analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and uncovered the cities with the most pre-1940 homes. The website includes three lists, one each for small, mid-size and large cities.

The northeast and midwest regions of the U.S. have the largest percentages of old homes, explicitly homes built before 1940. The U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than 30% of current houses in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island were built before 1940.

Which Cities Have the Most Houses Likely with Asbestos?

Cleveland has the most pre-1940 homes in the country. It has nearly 109,000, which is around 52% of all homes in the city. Boston (106,449, 48.2%) and San Francisco  (183,323, 45.1%) are second and third, followed by:

  • Minneapolis, Minnesota (84,419, 43.8%)
  • Baltimore, Maryland (123,352, 42%)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (285,003, 41.2%)
  • Chicago, Illinois (492,213, 40.4%)
  • New York, New York (1,383,287, 39%)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin (95,525, 36.7%)
  • Oakland, California (65,364, 35.8%)
  • Washington, D.C. (105,898, 32.8%)
  • Detroit, Michigan (117,572, 32.7%)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (61,959, 32.2%)
  • Portland, Oregon (82,428, 27.6%)
  • Seattle, Washington (88,091, 23.7%)

Buffalo (59.8%) has the highest percentage of old homes among mid-sized cities, followed by:

  • St. Louis, Missouri (58.7%)
  • Providence, Rhode Island (57.4%)
  • Rochester, New York (57.2%)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (48.2%)
  • Worcester, Massachusetts (42.5%)
  • Springfield, Massachusetts (41.6%)
  • Cincinnati, Ohio (40.9%)
  • St. Paul, Minnesota (40.1%)
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan (37.5%)
  • Akron, Ohio (32.9%)
  • Toledo, Ohio (32.6%)
  • Des Moines, Iowa (31.7%)
  • Yonkers, New York (30.5%)
  • Richmond, Virginia (30%)

Cambridge, Massachusetts (47.3%) has the highest percentage of old homes among small U.S. cities, followed by:

  • Berkeley, California (46.9%)
  • Lowell, Massachusetts (45.8%)
  • New Haven, Connecticut (44.1%)
  • Allentown, Pennsylvania (44.1%)
  • Syracuse, New York (43.8%)
  • Dayton, Ohio (37.1%)
  • Manchester, New Hampshire (36.6%)
  • Bridgeport, Connecticut (35.8%)
  • Hartford, Connecticut (35.7%)
  • East Los Angeles, California (34.1%)
  • Pasadena, California (30.2%)
  • Waterbury, Connecticut (30%)
  • Elizabeth, New Jersey (28.8%)
  • Patterson, New Jersey (28.1%)


Most Home-Buyers Buy Old Houses

Most purchases are for older homes, increasing the chances of buying a hazardous residence. The National Association of Home Builders conducted a survey in 2018 of preference versus actual purchase. Around 30% wanted a brand new home, but only 11% of home sales were for new construction. The other 89% were for existing homes.

Before purchasing an existing home, we recommend getting a thorough inspection to detect any asbestos. If any exists, ask for an asbestos remediation expert to make your new residence safe.


Where Is Asbestos in Homes?

Asbestos can exist in many places in your house. Asbestos, which is the only scientific cause of mesothelioma, could be in your kitchen appliances, hiding in your walls, or sitting on your roof shingles. It could also be on your couch or inside that bottle of baby powder.

Here are four ways asbestos exposure happens inside a house, apartment or another type of home.

Health and Beauty Products With Talc

While asbestos is mostly fazed out of American commercialism, it can sneak into products that include neighboring minerals as an ingredient. A perfect example is talc, which explains how using talcum powder causes cancer.

Talc and asbestos often share the same geographical areas, which means they can mix during mining procedures. Talc is ground into a powder, called talcum powder, to absorb moisture and keep skin healthy. It is used in cleaning powders, cosmetics and more.

However, loose asbestos strands may contaminate the powder, putting any consumer at risk. In recent years, talc products like Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder have emerged as potential home exposure methods.

Asbestos exposure from talc products has caused an uptick in women with mesothelioma. Avoiding any powders that include talc is recommended.

Home Appliances With Asbestos

Asbestos was a fire-resistant substance with the ability to preserve household components for decades. Any appliances at risk of catching on fire or heat damage were obvious choices for asbestos’ inclusion.

These appliances filled American homes with the potential for secondary asbestos exposure. They include:

  • Dishwashers
  • Washer and dryer machines
  • Toasters
  • Baking ovens
  • Oven mitts
  • Stoves and stovetops
  • Electrical sockets
  • Hairdryers
  • Heaters
  • Lamp wicks
  • Ironing boards

Asbestos Exposure From Renovation Projects

During the middle of the 20th century, new homes lined the streets of up-and-coming American neighborhoods. Some 50, 60 or even 70 years later, those homes no longer have their “new” label.

They’re old, classic homes in need of renovation. The paint-chipped walls, deteriorating foundation and mold-infested ceilings are signs of a much-needed rehabilitation. However, any attempt to make an old home look new again could be dangerous.

Renovation projects open up dangerous exposure doorways. “Legacy asbestos” refers to the presence of old, deteriorating asbestos in old, deteriorating buildings. Tearing down walls, replacing or power washing roof shingles, eradicating mold, and more home-renovation work can disturb this already-delicate legacy asbestos.

Any disruption can send sharp fragments into the air. Since renovation jobs often require breathing in tight, asbestos-filled spaces, working without protective equipment can lead to potentially deadly exposure.

Workers Bringing Asbestos Into the Home

During the 20th century, one of the most common at-home exposure methods involved transferring loose fibers from one person to another. Workers in at-risk occupations — building construction and insulation, automobile repair, electrical work and more — would unknowingly have asbestos dust stuck to their clothes, skin or hair.

Their spouse, children or even parents could be exposed by hugging the worker, touching the same household objects or spending time close to each other.

While most industries no longer use asbestos, any repair or renovation jobs can put workers at risk. There’s still a chance of bringing “legacy asbestos” from buildings or vehicles into the home.

Unfortunately, due to asbestos’ miniature size, it’s nearly impossible to tell at the moment you’re exposed. The most crucial safety precaution to take is awareness.

We hope that knowing where asbestos may be present will encourage you to replace old appliances, hire professionals for renovation work, avoid using asbestos-laced talc products, and wear protective equipment in at-risk jobs.

Sources & Author

Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.

    Sources & Author

Picture of Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.