Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that was used as a household insulation product from 1940 to the 1990s. It is a pebble-like, pour-in product that is usually light brown or gold in color, ranging in size from very fine particles to course pieces around an inch long. It may have shiny flakes or small accordion-like pieces.
Some vermiculite insulation used in the United States contains asbestos, which can cause health problems when inhaled. Extended exposure to asbestos may result in respiratory diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
If your home contains vermiculite insulation, CEE recommends getting it tested to determine if it contains asbestos before doing any further work in your attic.
Why should I care as a homeowner?
If you know your home is properly air sealed and has adequate levels of insulation (that’s between the insulation level of R-30 and R-50), you do not need to worry about vermiculite as long as it remains undisturbed.
However, if your home needs more insulation or is not properly air sealed, you will need to take care to ensure any additional work is done safely.
Better safe than sorry! It is safest to assume the vermiculite material contains asbestos. Any disturbance has the potential to release asbestos fibers into the air. Limiting the number of trips you make to your attic and shortening the length of those trips can help limit your potential exposure. You should never attempt to remove the insulation yourself — hire professionals who are trained to handle asbestos safely.
I have vermiculite Insulation — What are my next steps?
If the vermiculite you already have in your attic contains less than 1 percent asbestos (this is another eason to get a sample of your vermiculite tested), some insulation contractors will still work around it, taking the proper precautions while adding more insulation to your attic. If the vermiculite contains more than 1 percent asbestos, most insulation contractors require it to be completely abated (i.e. removed) before they will do any further work in the attic. Most insulation contractors do not do abatement work themselves, but you can ask them to recommend an abatement contractor.
Insulation contractors will no longer add vermiculite insulation to a home in order to insulate it.
How much will this cost?
Testing for asbestos costs $50 from Legend Technical Services. If asbestos is found and vermiculite is removed/abated expect to spend around $2,000 - $10,000. This is a very wide range, but cost depends heavily on the situation and contractor.
The Zonolite Trust
If you discover that you have a large abatement project before you, look into the Zonolite Trust before you begin. You can send them a sample and they will test the sample to see if it is Zonolite brand vermiculite. If you have this brand of vermiculite, you may be eligible for funds to partially cover the cost of abatement. To get started, you must open a claim on the Zonolite website.
Asbestos — EPA
Information on various asbestos issues in residential homes.