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Asbestos in the home: A homeowner’s guide

Asbestos is a highly toxic material that must be properly identified and carefully removed when found on a building renovation project.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring minerals. It is composed of flexible fibres which are extremely heat, electricity, and corrosion-resistant. Asbestos is mined throughout the world, particularly in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.

During the 20th century, asbestos was used widely as an insulating material in both commercial and residential buildings. Its fire-retardant capacity and effective thermal and acoustic insulating ability made it a popular material for use in ceiling tiles, floor tiles, ducts, wall lining, partitions, and infill panels.

In 1999, the importation, supply, and use of all asbestos was banned in the UK due to the associated health risks.

Asbestos is still used in other countries such as the US, but it is highly regulated.

The health risks of asbestos

According to government statistics, asbestos is responsible for more than 5,000 deaths per year in the UK. Asbestos exposure is particularly dangerous in younger people. This is because asbestos-related diseases take a long time to develop.

Asbestos fibres can be easily inhaled once airborne and become lodged in the lungs. Regular exposure over a prolonged period of time increases risk as does exposure to high concentrations of asbestos.

The fibres lay dormant for decades and then cause a range of fatal and debilitating diseases including:

  • Mesothelioma – a fatal cancer of the lung lining
  • Lung cancer – asbestos-related cancer is almost always fatal
  • Asbestosis – scarring of the lungs which although not usually fatal is extremely debilitating
  • Diffuse plural thickening – thickening of the lung membrane which causes breathing problems
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) – progressive lung disease which negatively impacts quality of life

Signs of asbestos in the home

Used copiously before the year 2000, asbestos was a key material for home improvements. Unfortunately, asbestos is comprised of tiny dangerous fibres that are odourless and invisible to the naked eye. Found in cement, insulation, pipes, Artex ceilings, PVC tiles and more, asbestos can be impossible to spot.

There are three main types of asbestos – brown, blue and white – but without a microscope its fibres are too small to see. So, what are the signs of asbestos in the home? The main thing to look out for is any materials in your house that were used before 2000. In fact, the only way to be sure if there is asbestos in your property is to pay for an asbestos survey.

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Symptoms of asbestos exposure in the home

If you’re wondering “when is asbestos dangerous in the home?” as long as the deadly material isn’t disturbed, it isn’t hazardous. That’s why it’s so important not to work on any area of your home that may have asbestos.

Asbestos fibres can be breathed into your lungs, causing major issues. The longer you’re exposed to the fibres, the more damage will be done. The main symptoms of asbestos exposure in the home are:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Abdominal swelling and pain
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • There are many more symptoms, and asbestos can even cause different types of cancer

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What to do if you find asbestos in the home

If your home was built during the last century, asbestos may have been used at any point.

Wondering what to do if you find asbestos in the home? In the first instance, contact an asbestos surveyor. This is the only way to know for certain whether asbestos was used when building your property.

Under no circumstances should you move or disturb any materials that may contain asbestos. If you do this accidentally, never attempt to hoover up the asbestos as this will only spread the fibres further. If an asbestos survey shows it has been used in your property, the best option is to pay an expert for its safe removal.

asbestos shed removal cost

How is asbestos removed?

If you discover asbestos whilst renovating, it will need to be carefully removed by a professional. First things first, your tradesperson will do a risk assessment.

On-site risk assessments

An on-site risk assessment will provide details about all the work that is needed to make the site safe. It will provide a timescale and detailed information about:

  • The quantity of asbestos
  • The type of asbestos
  • The controls to reduce exposure
  • Decontamination procedures for equipment
  • Waste management
  • Emergency scenarios
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)

How to safely remove asbestos yourself

If you’ve found out that your home contains asbestos, you may be wondering how to remove asbestos yourself. Due to its hazardous nature, this is a terrible idea. The second you irritate the asbestos fibres, they will become airborne and you’ll likely breathe them in. You’ll need to contact a professional.

You should always ensure you hire a tradesperson with the proper qualifications. Requirements for asbestos removal experts are that they have a BOHS P402 Standard certificate, be HSE licensed and have a Hazardous Waste Carriers license.

How do I stay safe?

First things first, get an asbestos survey. Then if your home is found to have asbestos, contact a removal expert. Do not try and remove it yourself.

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How much does asbestos cost to be removed by a professional?

Asbestos can be removed in a few ways, but encapsulation is also affordable and effective. It even eliminates the need to dispose of the asbestos, reducing the risk involved with exposure. The average cost of asbestos encapsulation is £25 per m².

The average price of asbestos removal is around £150 per m².

Asbestos disposal

Once asbestos has been safely removed from a site, it must be disposed of correctly. Nationwide waste management companies such as Biffa provide a comprehensive asbestos disposal service.

Fully regulated storage containers are delivered to locations across the UK. They are then filled with the asbestos containing materials and securely sealed. The containers are then transported to a hazardous waste disposal site where the material is properly managed.

FAQs

How do you identify asbestos?

To be 100% certain of the presence of asbestos, a material sample must be sent to a specialist laboratory.

How do you safely remove asbestos?

This depends on the quantity. All asbestos should be removed by an experienced contractor. For large quantities deemed very hazardous, a licensed removal expert must be used.

What certification is required to deal with asbestos removal?

For non-licensed removal, a CSCS card is sufficient. For licensed removal, HSE certification is required.

How do you dispose of asbestos?

Asbestos must be disposed of at a landfill site with a specific permit.

Who is legally responsible for removing asbestos from domestic properties?

It is the homeowners’ responsibility to organise the safe removal of asbestos from a domestic property. Once a contractor is hired, the asbestos removal becomes their responsibility.

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