I recently bought a very old house. I am concerned that some of the insulation wrapped around the pipes leading from the hot-water tank is made of asbestos. How can I find out, and should I be concerned?

To find out if the insulation is in fact asbestos, you can take a sample of the material to a laboratory. To find one, look up "Laboratories" in the Yellow Pages. However, it should be pointed out that asbestos poses no real danger if it remains undisturbed. Asbestos is only dangerous when it is crumbled and turned into dust. It can then enter your lungs and create severe health problems. If you are going to remove some of it and take it to a lab, make sure that everyone is out of the house, that the basement is very well ventilated, and that you wear full protective gear. A better solution might be to carefully wrap duct tape over the asbestos that is covering the pipes. If the pipes are covered, no dust will escape, and there will be no danger. It is possible that years from now the asbestos will have to be removed, but the tape is a safe interim solution.