How to Identify Floor Tiles & Sheet Flooring That May Contain Asbestos:
This article explains how to identify floor tiles that are likely to contain asbestos, by making a simple visual inspection, noting the probable age of the building and age of its materials, and similar clues.
This document assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by visual inspection. .
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Here 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.
Asbestos is safe and legal to remain in homes or public buildings as long as the asbestos materials are in good condition and the asbestos can not be released into the air.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Our photo (left) shows Armstrong® Excelon 12x12 vinyl asbestos flooring made in 1972, identified in our floor tile photo guide ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR - detailed photo guide to asphalt asbestos and vinyl asbestos floor tiles, and resilient flooring produced in 1900 -1980.
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.
Our photograph at above left shows asbestos fibers and asbestos filler fragments from an Armstrong vinyl asbestos floor tile examined in our forensic laboratory.
The asbestos floor tile identification articles in this series illustrate that with the combination of design appearance and an idea of floor tile age, many asbestos-containing floor tiles or sheet flooring products can be reliably identified even before confirmation by a test by a certified asbestos testing laboratory.
On occasion, the original flooring packaging or installation literature may be available for a given home: often an extra box of floor tiles was kept for future repairs.
The vinyl-asbestos floor tile package label information, combined with a simple comparison of tiles in the package with tiles installed in the building may be sound confirmation of asbestos-containing materials.
See Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tile Packaging. Historical information about the dates of flooring installation may also be sufficient to rule in or out the possibility that flooring in a building contains asbestos.
Asphalt asbestos floor tiles were popular in the U.S. from 1920 into the 1960's. Asphalt-asbestos floor tiles were produced at first in dark colors using a heavy asphalt binder combined with a very high percentage of asbestos filler fibers. It would be uncommon to find these floors still in use today, but if you encounter black or very dark asphalt floor tiles they are probably very high in asbestos fibers.
Asphalt-asbestos floor tiles were produced at first in dark colors using a heavy asphalt binder combined with a very high percentage of asbestos filler fibers. It would be uncommon to find these floors still in use today, but if you encounter black or very dark asphalt floor tiles they are probably very high in asbestos fibers.
Depending on the particular mixture of asphalt, gilsonite, asbestos, limestone, and pigment used, these floor tiles could contain as much as 70% asbestos by weight. One reason that so much asbestos was used in flooring tiles was simply the wish to find an application for asbestos waste product from asbestos mining operations.
The black and white floor tiles at left also may be vinyl not asphalt based since white tiles appear to have been laid at the same time as the black units. This home was constructed in the 1950's.
Since white resilient floor tiles would have been unusual to find before 1952-1955, we guess that the age of the floor may be consistent with that of the home in this photo.
While the asbestos fibers are mixed with a hard binder and the floor tiles are certainly not friable, we have read accounts of airborne levels of asbestos fibers being traced to the presence asphalt-asbestos floor tiles in areas either subjected to high volume foot traffic or to abrasive floor cleaning or maintenance procedures (like using steel wool pad floor buffing machines in a school corridor), or during demolition of this material.
Older nine-inch "thicker" vinyl or asphalt-based floor tiles, many more recent 12-inch floor tiles (1960 - 1980), and some more recent sheet linoleum as well as the mastic used to bed or glue down older flooring materials are likely to contain asbestos fibers and should not be disturbed by grinding, sanding, or demolition without taking the appropriate precautions.
We discuss the history and manufacture of asphalt-asbestos floor tiles in our Age of House articles
at Flooring Materials.
We discuss the inspection, diagnosis, and repair of various flooring products
at FLOOR TYPES & DEFECTS.
At CERAMIC TILE, ASBESTOS / LEAD? we address the question of whether or not other forms of flooring such as ceramic tile contain an asbestos hazard.
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.
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.
Asphalt-based asbestos floor tiles and plastic or vinyl-based asbestos flooring were popular in the U.S. in the 1940's - 1970's and were produced by some manufacturers (Armstrong) as late as 1980. Some asbestos-containing flooring products were manufactured (we estimate) as early as the late 1920's.
Photo at left from a 1950's home shows Armstrong Excelon-type VAT, courtesy of reader Kim who adds that asbestos testing indicated that the white floor tiles contained 7% and the black contained 5% asbestos. We suspect the actual asbestos levels are higher in these tiles because both fibers and fine asbestos filler particles were often used.
If the flooring is being demolished, sanded, buffed with steel-wool floor polishers, or subject to heavy traffic, it might be a source of unacceptable asbestos particle release, as we discussed above at asphalt asbestos floor tiles as an asbestos source.
Armstrong was by no means the only company producing asbestos-containing floor tiles, though the company may have been the largest producer. Armstrong® produced the Excelon Tile™ series beginning with a plastic asbestos floor tile series in 1954, referring to the product as vinyl plastic asbestos floor tiles beginning in 1955, and vinyl asbestos tiles from 1957 to 1980. Resilient sheet flooring containing asbestos was also produced, finding wide use as early as 1968. The Solarian flooring brand appeared in 1977.
Adding to modern confusion about which vinyl floor tiles from the 1950's to 1980's do or do not contain asbestos, some lines such as the Excelon Supreme (ca 1977) did not contain asbestos. And some six-inch asphalt based or floor tiles tested by a reader were reported to be asbestos free even though their pattern matched other 9x9 asbestos-containing floor tiles in the Armstrong line. That's right 6" x 6" - though that floor tile size was rare.
Vinyl asbestos floor tiles were produced by a number of manufacturers, and the decorative tile patterns were varied, often annually as styles and tastes changed. It is possible to make a tentative identification of floor tiles based on the individual tile pattern, color, and thickness.
On occasion, the original flooring packaging or installation literature may be available for a given home: often an extra box of floor tiles was kept for future repairs. The vinyl-asbestos floor tile package label information, combined with a simple comparison of tiles in the package with tiles installed in the building may be sound confirmation of asbestos-containing materials.
The Wards vinyl asbestos floor tiles shown just below are nominally 1/16 gauge (4mm) in thickness 9" x 9" square.
Armstrong vinyl asbestos 9" x 9" floor tiles may also have been produced in three thicknesses, depending on the cost and durability desired by the consumer: 1/16", 3/32", and 1/8" thickness. Our 9" x9" lab sample of Armstrong vinyl asbestos floor tile was measured at 3/32" (about 2mm) thick.
Armstrong also made 12" x 12" vinyl asbestos floor tiles beginning in 1960. By 1972 most Armstrong vinyl asbestos floor tiles were sold in the 12" x 12" dimension. From 1973 to 1980 all Armstrong Excelon vinyl asbestos floor tiles were sold in 12" x 12" size.
At above left is our photo of an asbestos-containing floor tile sold by Montgomery Wards®.
In additional photographs below we show the examination of this "asbestos floor tile in the lab" as well as photos of the original labeling on the package in which these tiles were distributed.
Details about and more identifying photographs of Montgomery Ward vinyl asbestos tile flooring are at MONTGOMERY WARD ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION.
We discuss the history of vinyl-asbestos floor tiles in our Age of House articles at Flooring Materials. We discuss the inspection and diagnosis of various flooring defects, including vinyl asbestos tiles, at FLOOR TYPES & DEFECTS.
According to Rosato, even when vinyl or other synthetic organic resins were used as the binder to produce light colored floor tiles, asbestos fibers continued to be the main ingredient in these floor tile products, and may be present at levels as much as 70% by weight.
Amitco International an international flooring company established in 1964 and that has principal locations in the U.S. U.K.
Details about Amitco flooring are at AMITCO ASBESTOS FLOOR TILES
Details about Kentile flooring are
at KENTILE KENFLEX ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE GUIDE.
Details about Ever-Wear vinyl asbestos flooring are
at EVER-WEAR ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE GUIDE. Excerpts are just below.
Asphalt Asbestos, Plastic Asbestos, and Vinyl Asbestos floor tiles were sold in both 9" x 9" and in some years 12" x 12" sizes. Just below are photographs and text describing other vinyl or asphalt based asbestos-containing flooring.
These photographs of EverWear Vinyl Asbestos floor tiles were provided courtesy of home inspector David Grudzinski,
Photo above: Flintkote insulating tile board, 1/2" x 16" x 32" - may contain asbestos. Reader contribution.
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Flintkote Corporation (1940's through at least 1978, some products are listed extending to 1982) produced a number of asbestos-containing materials over its 38-year history, distributing them nationally in the U.S. (and possibly Canada). Flintkote asbestos-containing products were also sold under its affiliate names: Beckman-Dawson Roofing Company and Richardson Roofing.
Products made by Flintkote that contained asbestos, based on the company's on documents (cited below) included at least:
Details about Montgomery Ward vinyl asbestos tile flooring are
at MONTGOMERY WARD ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION.
Excepts are below.
Here is the information from the original package in which this Montgomery Wards asbestos-containing floor tile was sold.
At the time of its popularity, the addition of asbestos fibers to the binder making up these floor tiles was considered a benefit in fire resistance and durability.
Click on any of these images to enlarge them to read the packaging text.
See ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR for our full list and set of photographs.
Details about Sears vinyl asbestos tile flooring are
at SEARS ROEBUCK VINYL ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE RECOGNITION . Excepts are below.
The photographs of Sears™ VAT vinyl-asbestos-tile floor tiles, including the original box, were provided by reader Aaron Cramer. Mr. Cramer is an attorney with expertise in asbestos and U.S. patent litigation and services.
The "VAT" visible on the original Sears packaging almost certainly indicates "Vinyl Asbestos Tiles", and we have a lot and pattern number Sears VAT vinyl asbestos floor tile #2119-3, 126715-25VF.
See our ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR for our full list and set of photographs.
Our photographs show the embossed pattern on these Sears vinyl asbestos floor tiles. The tiles are solid through in color and material and are about 1/16" thick and 9" x 9" in size. At above left our picture shows these Sears floor tiles installed.
See ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR to flooring produced between 1955 and the late 1980's and in some cases later products up to the present. Below we provide additional example photographs of asbestos-containing floor tiles in both 9" x 9" and 12" x 12" sizes.
At above left we show a 9" x 9" cork patterned vinyl asbestos floor tile found in a 1960's ranch style home in New York. At above right we show a 9" x 9" reddish brown asphalt or vinyl asbestos floor tile found in the same home.
Below is a 12" x 12" vinyl asbestos floor tile found in the same home as the 9" x 9" flooring shown above.
It is likely that this is an asbestos-containing floor tile.
At above left is a 12" x 12" vinyl asbestos floor tile found in a home built in 1969. Testing found 3% chrysotile asbestos in this floor tile sample. Thanks to reader R.M. for the photo and test information.
We have not identified the manufacturer of this floor tile though it may be an Armstrong tile (See Craftlon Collection 12" x 12" Adelphi II Aalst 54431 (showing a second color, Aalst)
see ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR) .
CONTACT us if you know this image and brand.
The resilient sheet flooring shown at above left is a modern product (we are using this photo as a placeholder) and does not contain asbestos.
But before about 1978, in products that looked like this same material, asbestos fibers were used as a strengthen material on vinyl sheet flooring backing.
Details for identifying asbestos or asbestos-suspect sheet flooring products are
at RESILIENT SHEET FLOORING ID GUIDE.
See other examples of linoleum and sheet flooring
at CONGOLEUM-NAIRN FLOOR TILES & LINOLEUM
Asphalt asbestos and vinyl-asbestos floor tiles were produced in 9" x 9", 12" x 12", and even 18" x 18" as well as in decorative strips, and in thicknesses of 1/16", 3/32", and 1/8", also in 0.08 gauge. Some sheet flooring or resilient flooring also contained asbestos, as did floor tile mastics.
This photo guide to asphalt asbestos & vinyl asbestos floor tiles for each year shows at least one color photo of each floor tile style or pattern in an example color. A list below each group of photos includes the names of and links to additional photos for other colors of these styles.
Asbestos is safe and legal to remain in homes or public buildings as long as the asbestos materials are in good condition and the asbestos can not be released into the air.
To identify a particular asphalt-asbestos or vinyl-asbestos floor tile pattern & color, start in the image group most likely to be the same age as your building.
If you don't find your floor tile or sheet flooring by looking forward from that that year, you should also look backwards in the earlier years as your specific flooring pattern & color may have first appeared in an earlier year. For other tile brands than Armstrong, see the brand name floor tile links included in this list.
If you can identify your floor tile collection name or model number, or if you recognize it in the extensive library of flooring color and pattern photographs provided in these pages, laboratory testing of the sample to screen the flooring for asbestos may be unnecessary. Our home page for asbestos-containing floor tiles is
at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE PHOTO ID GUIDE
To send us photographs of possible asbestos-containing flooring that you are trying to identify, use the email address found
The Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tile (and asphalt asbestos and sheet flooring asbestos) photo catalog became so huge that the file was slow to load and unwieldy - so we broke the catalog into segments by year range. Scan through our images of asphalt asbestos or vinyl asbestos flooring, both tiles and sheet flooring) using the links below by starting at the earliest year that might pertain to your building or to when you think the flooring was installed. Because many floor tile patterns were produced over many years there is of course overlap among these year ranges.
Many of the colors and patterns of asphalt-asbestos or vinyl-asbestos floor tiles were manufactured over many years and may appear in more than one of the floor tile photo collections listed by date range here.
For each year we list the names of the tile patterns sold during that year, we include representative color images of the floor tiles, and throughout the entire floor tile pattern & color history series we include each floor tile color & pattern of the floor tile in the first year that it appeared , and we include representative colors and patterns in other years.
Examples of floor tile packaging, labeling, and other information can be found throughout the flooring photo collections listed here.
Shown at above left is a vinyl-asbestos floor specification summary and usage guide from 1959 - Armstrong.
Continue reading at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.
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Additional Prevention Measures
If the ACM is currently in good condition, increases in airborne asbestos fiber levels at some later time may provide an early warning of deterioration or disturbance of the material. In that way, supplemental air monitoring can be a useful management tool. If an owner chooses to use air monitoring in an "early warning" context, a knowledgeable and experienced individual should be consulted to design a proper sampling strategy. (See Useful Links for more information on air monitoring.) This air monitoring should supplement, not replace, physical and visual inspection. Visual inspection can recognize situations and anticipate future exposure (e.g., worsening water damage), whereas air monitoring can only detect a problem after it has occurred, and fibers have been released.
Note that the collection of air samples for supplementary evaluation should not use aggressive air sampling methods. Aggressive sampling methods, in which air is deliberately disturbed or agitated by use of a leaf blower or fans, should only be used at the completion of an asbestos removal project inside the abatement containment area.
The most accurate and preferred method of analysis of air samples collected under an O&M program requires the use of transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Phase contrast microscopy (PCM), which is commonly used for personal air sample analysis and as a screening tool for area air monitoring, cannot distinguish between asbestos fibers and other kinds of fibers which may be present in the air. PCM analysis also cannot detect thin asbestos fibers, and does not count short fibers. TEM analysis is more expensive than PCM analysis. However, the more accurate information on actual levels of airborne asbestos fibers that can be derived from TEM should be more beneficial to the building owner who elects to use supplemental air monitoring in the asbestos management program. TEM analysis is most reliably performed by laboratories accredited by
the National Institute of Standards and Technology and who follow EPA’s quality assurance guidelines. (
See References, U.S. EPA, Dec. 1989, Transmission Electron Microscopy Asbestos Laboratories: Quality Assurance Guidelines. Washington, DC: EPA 560/5-90-002).