Vermiculite Insulation Removal – why I decided NOT to do it myself

Sharing is caring!

Do you have vermiculite insulation in your attic? Are you thinking about removing the vermiculite from your attic? I had it in my old house and I decided to NOT remove it by myself and hire a professional asbestos abatement company instead.

In this article I’ll go over:

  • the reasons I decided against doing it myself
  • what vermiculite insulation looks like
  • how much I paid a professional asbestos abatement company to remove it
  • the results of their work

Disclaimer: I am not an air quality engineer or building expert. I am just a homeowner who realized that some jobs should be left to the experts. In this case, I’ll tell you why I decided to call in the experts to remove vermiculite insulation from my attic.

CAUTION: Most Vermiculite Insulation Contains Asbestos Fibers

As you probably already know, vermiculite attic insulation has a very high chance of containing asbestos. You’ll find lots of articles and videos explaining the dangers of asbestos.  (Here is one from the US Environmental Protection Agency.)

I was told that if you don’t touch the vermiculite insulation it is completely fine. So don’t disturb it or go into the attic.

Because if you disturb the vermiculite insulation it can cause tiny asbestos fibers – smaller than the eye can see – to become airborne. Breathing in these fibers puts you at risk of developing lung diseases such as asbestosis or mesothelioma. (Reference)

[Have a look at the picture farther below of my attic…you can see particles floating in the air making it look like it was snowing. This was dust I could see, and since asbestos fibers are not visible to the eye, it is scary thinking how much of it might have been flying around in that dust storm.]

You need to treat vermiculite insulation as Asbestos-containing material (ACM) until you have lab results stating there is no asbestos in it.

But what I was told is that it pretty much all vermiculite insulation has asbestos in it. 

And a popular brand was Zonolite attic insulation.

This vermiculite attic insulation had asbestos fibers in it because there was naturally-occurring asbestos in the Libby Montana mine that produced the vermiculite. (Reference)

And I found an original Zonolite attic insulation bag in my attic. (You can see the bag in the picture below.)

Original Zonolite attic insulation bag still in my attic (you can see the vermiculite pellets among the blown-in insulation)

So that clarified it: the vermiculite in my attic contains asbestos. My old house had asbestos insulation.

Why did I want to remove the vermiculite insulation from my attic?

You hear that this asbestos insulation – vermiculite – is fine as long as you don’t touch it.

But with an old house, things go wrong and sometimes you may need to access the attic.

If I ever had to hire a professional – such as an electrician – to fix something, they wouldn’t be able to go up into my attic because it wouldn’t be deemed a safe work environment.

Plus, my old house needs a new roof…soon…and I don’t know the condition of the supporting boards under the asphalt shingles…what if some of them need replacing?

This would mean I’d need to expose the attic to the elements if we tear off the shingles and the boards.

So that’s why I needed to get the asbestos insulation out of my attic.

My Attic Had a Combination of Insulating Materials

Attic containing a combination of blown-in insulation, asbestos insulation (vermiculite insulation) and saw dust
Attic with a combination of insulation materials (blown-in, vermiculite and sawdust)

Above you can see a picture of the attic. It had a variety of insulating materials up there. It had blown-in insulation (I think it was cellulose), vermiculite insulation and even sawdust.

Over the years different types of insulation were added over top of the previous insulation. They didn’t remove the old stuff before adding new stuff.

This meant the blown-in insulation that covered the vermiculite was also considered contaminated with asbestos.

It all needed to be removed.

What does asbestos insulation look like?

Below is a picture of the asbestos insulation (vermiculite insulation) that was in my attic. It is the shiny, cat-litter looking pieces spread among the brown-gray fluffy blown-in insulation.

The individual pieces of vermiculite often have little ridges on them and may have a silvery-gold color.

what does asbestos insulation look like.

This article from the US EPA has more pictures of vermiculite insulation.

I initially thought I could remove the insulation myself

Vermiculite insulation removal from an attic is expensive.

This is because there is a lot of work involved, and most attics aren’t the greatest work environments.

Attics can be tight and cramped and especially narrow at the edges of the house.  

And my attic was no different. It is only 36-inches between the ceiling joists and the horizontal collar ties near the roof’s peak. And way narrower near the edge of the roof.

But I thought, “Hey I can wear a respirator just like anyone else. I’ll go up there, double bag the insulation, bring it to the dump myself and save myself thousands of dollars.”

And since I didn’t have renters in my house for a month I thought it would be a perfect time to get up there and get that insulation out.

As I mentioned earlier, my house – like a lot of older homes – had a combination of attic insulation.  My house had some saw dust and vermiculite, and then blown-in insulation over top.   (I believe the blown-in insulation was cellulose in my attic.)

But because all those other insulation types have been in contact with the vermiculite, they are deemed contaminated, and they have to be treated as Asbestos-Containing Material (ACM) as well.

For my attic, I wouldn’t just be taking out a bit of old vermiculite. I’d have to remove ALL the insulation up there.

I read up on how to dispose of ACM in my area, and I thought I was all ready.

Why I Decided Against Removing the Insulation Myself

The first thing I did was to cut a hole in the gable of my roof so that I wouldn’t have to go through the attic hatch inside the house anymore.  I could access the attic strictly from the outside of my house.

So I put on my P100 respirator (only half face model though) and went up into my attic.

I brought a dust pan and some 6-mil plastic bags designated and labelled for asbestos into my attic. 

Working in that cramped space was difficult. It was physically taxing trying to balance on the ceiling joists and not step through the ceiling.

After about 2 hours up there I managed to fill 9 of the large bags with the insulation.
Most of it was cellulose that I bagged up, but since it was in contact with the vermiculite it all had to go.

After bagging those 9 bags, I looked around the attic and realized I had barely made a dent in the work.

Without the proper vacuum and other tools (like air scrubbers) this would take me way too long.

I’d seen YouTube videos where they modified dust collectors to act as insulation vacuums, and that might work well for pure cellulose, but they don’t have the proper filters to filter out the asbestos from the air.


Even though I wore a P100 half-face respirator the whole time while up in the attic, I still had an irritated throat that night.
I had shaved my face that morning to ensure a tight fit against my face, and I cinched the respirator mask tight to my face so I was breathing like Darth Vader.
But yet I still felt like I’d inhaled dust. 
That scared me.

Safety was the first – and main reason – I decided that I should call in professionals to remove the vermiculite from my attic.

(And I feel like it is the reason you should call a pro too.)

Assurance and Certification of being Asbestos Free

One thing that dawned on me is that if I removed all the insulation myself, I wouldn’t be able to guarantee or certify that it was all removed successfully.

I wouldn’t have that peace of mind knowing the air in the house was clear for my tenants.
I had cut the hole in the gable so I wouldn’t have to go through the house to get to the attic, but I still wanted the certainty of knowing the future tenants would be fine.

I guess I could have paid an air quality engineer to come and inspect my work when I finished…but since I don’t have proper asbestos vacuums, nor Fiberlock abatement products, I don’t know if I would have passed the test.

Being able to have a certification that all the asbestos was removed was the second major reason I decided NOT to remove the vermiculite insulation myself, and to hire a professional asbestos abatement company instead.

I didn’t have the proper tools

I touched on this earlier, but without the proper tools, removing vermiculite insulation from your attic is impossible. 

The company I ended up hiring to remove the asbestos insulation had a Sea Can full of specialized equipment.

The first couple of days they did have to remove the bulk of the blown-in insulation using dust pans and plastic bags, but then they were able to use special vacuums to suck up the insulation.

Removing the insulation myself would have produced too much bulk

Where I live a homeowner can remove and dispose of up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs) of Asbestos-containing Material: as long as they follow the guidelines on proper disposal techniques and arrange the disposal ahead of time.

I thought that my 800 square foot attic wouldn’t have that much insulation up there…

But after bagging up just 9 large bags of insulation, I realized that I had a lot more insulation up there than I realized!

Some of the bags I filled were quite heavy.

The odds are that if I was to remove all the insulation from my attic, the weight would end up exceeding what a homeowner can dispose of in my region.

This would have put me in a weird situation: I’d probably have to hire a company to transport it.

Vermiculite Insulation Removal Cost

After that first day – when I wore my half-mask P100 respirator yet still had an irritated throat – I wondered what my health was worth.

Sure vermiculite insulation removal can be expensive…but was being cheap and doing it myself worth the health risks?

I decided they weren’t.

So for the reasons mentioned above, I decided to call around for some vermiculite insulation removal quotes from professional asbestos abatement companies.

One quote came in at $16,000.

This is $20 per square foot.

The second quote came in at $12,000.

This is $15 per square foot.

I asked the company with the lower quote if they had 3rd party air quality testing and certification. They did, so I went with them.

Fortunately they were able to come a couple weeks later and begin the vermiculite insulation removal.

Note: if you live in the United States you may be eligible to receive some money for reimbursement from the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust. I don’t live in the US, so I don’t know all the details, but click here to learn more.

What did the Professional Asbestos Removal company do?

I wasn’t with them on site every minute, so I can’t give you a step-by-step breakdown of what they did.

But what I can do is tell you how it affected me as a homeowner (albeit one who doesn’t live in the home and it didn’t have renters at that time).

Over the weekend the professional vermiculite removal company set up their Sea Can of tools in the driveway, and a large disposal bin in my yard.

When the workers came on Monday they taped up all the air vents, and they were able to use the hole I cut in the gable for their air scrubber machine.

Vermiculite insulation removal began and they taped up the gable vent and used the hole in the gable to feed their air scrubber machine into the attic.
Air scrubber machine fed through hole in the gable and gable vent taped up

Both companies that quoted me said that ease of access to the attic affects the quote.

And having a gable-access like I had helped save me money.

I don’t know the exact amount it saved, but I also liked that the workers didn’t have to go through the house to get into the attic.

And I allowed them to cut a hole in the opposite gable so they could set up their scaffolding system.

You can see that everything was taped off to prevent any fibers from blowing out of the attic.

Over the next few days they removed the insulation from the attic strictly by going in and out of the holes in the gable of the roof. They didn’t need into the house.

They used a dust pan to remove a lot of the bulk from the attic (just like I tried to do), and then they used their special asbestos vacuum to remove the rest (which I didn’t have).

So they started working on a Monday and by that Friday they had all the insulation removed, Fiberlock stuff sprayed into the attic, and a 3rd party air quality engineer had examined and certified my attic to be clear of asbestos.

AFTER PICTURE - my attic cleared of the vermiculite insulation and certified asbestos-free
AFTER PICTURE – My attic cleared of the vermiculite insulation and certified cleared of asbestos

Then on Saturday a couple of the workers came to dismantle the scaffold, remove all tape and generally clean up.

So it took them a week and at the end I had a cleared attic.

Paying for Professional Vermiculite Insulation Removal is Buying a Peace of Mind

It cost $12,000 but it was buying a peace of mind.

Now I know my attic is cleared of asbestos insulation.

If I have to remove some of the wood underlying the shingles during re-roofing, I don’t have to worry about exposing the attic.

If some wires needs replacing in the attic, I can now hire a professional electrician to safely do the work.

I am very happy to have this behind me and knowing it has been done properly and safely.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading why I decided NOT to remove the vermiculite myself, and the reasons why I hired a professional company to do the work for me.

Basically it boiled down to what is my health worth to me.

I hope this helps you in some way.

Up Next:

Rotting Fascia Boards – maybe you need drip edging…

Rotting fascia boards - maybe you need drip edge on your roof.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *