Asbestos is prevalent in most midcentury modern homes, but its dangers can be avoided with proper removal and the help of a professional. Photo by Thinkstock.

If you have an authentic Midcentury Modern home or have participated in a mid mod home renovation, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have come into contact with a pesky mineral called asbestos. You’ve heard of it and its negative connotations, but what is it exactly? Is it as dangerous as the infomercials say? And if so, how are you supposed to get rid of it? In his six years of working in the remodeling business, Steven Shields, owner of Shields Residential, has seen his fair share of asbestos. So we asked him all of our burning questions and more to alleviate your worries and help prepare you for any asbestos problems you may encounter during your renovation process.


Now, if asbestos is so bad, why is it in most midcentury homes? Although asbestos was discovered some 4,500 years ago, miners officially started collecting the substance in the late 19th century, when it was used for building due to its heat resistance, strength and affordability, all the while unaware of the dangers it would later cause.

In 1899, doctors began to notice that people who worked with asbestos (either mining or in the factories) were experiencing lung problems and even early death. The illness in relation to asbestos became known as asbestosis, and once the association was made, asbestos production was slowed and eventually banned in 2003, but not before it was widely used in construction from 1946 to 1980.

Shields Residential specializes in the remodeling and restoration of Midcentury Modern homes in the greater Palm Springs area. Photo courtesy of Shields Residential.

How to Identify It

“I see it every day,” says Steven. “99% of midcentury modern homes have asbestos; It was a premium product.” However, there’s no need to throw your kids in the car and evacuate the house immediately. “Asbestos is not to be feared, just respected!” says Steven.

In order to determine whether your home has asbestos, it’s best to call in a professional. “Identifying asbestos can be challenging for even an experienced expert because of its widespread use in flooring adhesive, plumbing vents and classically in popcorn on the ceiling,” says Steven. So, before you start tearing things down for your renovation, call an expert, as trying to remove asbestos yourself is more dangerous than leaving it alone.

How to Remove It

“In most cases, the asbestos present in your homes is safe for you to live with,” says Steven. “The key element in asbestos safety is to not disturb it and make it airborne so it can be breathed into the lungs.” The only time you should really consider the asbestos in your home is before a potential remodel. “If a remodel or restoration you are performing includes removal of something you suspect to be asbestos-laden, hire a professional,” he says.

Asbestos was versatile and could be used in many parts of the home, including flooring, ceilings, plumbing and even furniture. Photo by Thinkstock.

Who Can You Call?

The best person to call for asbestos removal is a licensed General Contractor. “Hire a licensed General Contractor who has a passion for midcentury, rather than going directly to subcontractors,” says Steven. “Subcontractors charge you more than they charge generals, so you pay only marginally more for having an expert in your home to guide you!”

Make sure before you hire them that they are licensed and have the proper certificates. “Most contractors who are involved in suspect products like acoustic (popcorn) ceiling have an Asbestos Certificate and are qualified to handle the proper removal,” he says. “This will be less costly than inviting a company exclusively specializing in asbestos removal.


For more on Steven Shields, visit


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