Concerned about asbestos?

It’s not unusual for survey reports to contain seemingly dire warnings about asbestos in the property you are hoping to buy. Should you be concerned? What you need to do about it?

Between about the 1950’s and 1980’s asbestos was commonly used as a building material because of its fire resistant qualities which made it, apparently, ideal for such uses as lining the inside of boiler cupboards, lagging pipes or forming fire barriers between garages and living accommodation.

But it became increasingly clear that asbestos could cause serious health problems when fibre particles are inhaled.
And so, since the 1990’s the use of asbestos as a building material has been illegal.

So many homes that were constructed, refurbished or renovated in the past may have included asbestos containing materials (ACM’s), and many of these are still present today.

The first thing to say is that no standard condition survey (such as a Home Buyers or Building Survey) includes specific testing for the presence of asbestos. There are some materials, such as the corrugated cement roofs of sheds and garages, or some types of textured ceiling finishes often known generically as ”Artex”, which are known to commonly contain asbestos, but without carrying out laboratory tests it is impossible to confirm its presence or absence.

In the vast majority of cases, where the suspect material is in good condition and is not broken, powdery or flakey, then it is unlikely that any harmful asbestos fibres will be released. Textured ceilings can simply be painted or skimmed and the risk of fibre release is all but eradicated, as long as you don’t start drilling or sanding the material. Asbestos cement corrugated roofs can be left in situ if they are in a stable condition, and they’ll usually be completely safe.

So, in most cases, there’s little to worry about as long as you adopt a sensible approach and are aware that asbestos may be present. However, if you’re planning significant refurbishment or alteration of the property that might include ACM’s, then it is sensible to take a cautious approach and seek advice about how to proceed safely. The Health and Safety Executive website includes large amounts of useful information which will help you in deciding how best to proceed. Http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/

So, when faced with warnings of potential asbestos in your survey report, don’t panic, but be aware that it may be present and that you should stop and think for a moment before drilling or sanding materials that could be affected.