What I'm Seeing Now


Vermiculite Insulation

In this old house we ran across a lot of vermiculite insulation in the attic.

It is rare in my experience to see this much, seen here in the attic of a 1925 vintage house.  Additional fiberglass insulation had been added on top of some of it, and support boards and platforms elsewhere to walk on and store things.

Sometimes called mineral fiber insulation, vermiculite insulation was used in the United States in the early decades of the last century.

It does not burn, which made it very useful as insulation.  It is said to have an R-value of 2.08 per inch, which is slightly less than loose-fill fiberglass.

So, what's the problem with it?  A lot of vermiculite contains asbestos, although the percentages can vary.

Expert opinions say to assume what you see contains asbestos, which in this form is extremely "friable," meaning particulates can be easily discharged into the air and ingested into the lungs, and therefore it is very dangerous.  Vermiculite can cause Asbestosis, Mesothelioma, and lung cancer.  And even when ingested in small amounts.

Obviously an environmental remediation company needs to be consulted on how to best proceed here.

How can you minimize the risk when you see it in a house you are purchasing (or living in)?

~  Don't go into the attic space or use it for storage. 

~  Make sure the access to the attic is completely sealed.

If you decide to remove it, do not try to do so yourself.  Consult professionals.

~  Caulk any gaps and holes in the ceiling - light fixtures, cracks in the ceiling, gaps around window or door trim (in case any fell there from the attic).

My recommendation:  certainly environmental remediation is needed here.  Nobody wants to buy, or live in, a house with known health risks.  Vermiculite risk is not an urban legend.  It is real and must be taken care of.



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comment balloon 7 commentsJay Markanich • October 17 2016 05:23AM


Good morning Jay,

Something I did not know and thanks for the lesson.

Make yourself an astonishing day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) over 4 years ago

I have never ran into it, but it looks like you have hodge podge samples of all kinds of stuff there!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 4 years ago

Raymond - I expect most people have never heard of this.  The realtor and buyers on this inspection had not.

Fred - we do.  Lots of very old neighborhoods all over the area.  With lots of very old components in the very old houses!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

That's some scary stuff.  It's one thing for us to see this and another for you to face environmental challenges every day.  Stay safe.

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) over 4 years ago

It apparently is scary, Stephen.  Imagine all the guys who installed this stuff in houses years ago (apparently some 1 million houses).  And the guy who nailed all those wood slats and added insulation up there, frying the particulates!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Thanks for this post Jay! I never heard of this stuff! How common is it in older homes. We have a lot of old homes here! Was it used all over the country or just in some areas

Posted by Tom Bailey (Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc.) over 4 years ago

The EPA estimates that 1 million homes had it as the primary insulation, Tom, as in this house, and that there are unknown millions more that have it mixed with other types of insulation, and used this way in houses up until about 1990.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

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