Asbestos – what it is and what to do if your home contains it.

We often meet people who, during a knockdown rebuild, want to save money by undertaking the knock down themselves. However, did you know many houses in Australia still contain high levels of asbestos materials? The health department has identified a third wave of people with asbestos-related health issues – those who undertake DIY renovations.

This blog includes information on how to identify asbestos, what to do if you find it in your home and how to handle knockdowns and renovations.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a material widely used in home construction from the early 1950s to the late 1980s. Exposure to loose asbestos fibres can lead to diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and even lung cancer.

How do I know if my home contains asbestos?

You cannot see or smell asbestos so it is extremely difficult to identify its presence in your home. However, as a general rule:

– If your house was built before the mid-1980s, it is highly likely to contain asbestos
– If your house was built between the mid-1980s and 1990, it is likely to contain asbestos
– If your house was built after 1990, it is unlikely to contain asbestos

If you are not sure if a part in your house contains asbestos, play it safe and assume it does. To make certain, head to the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) website. It can provide details of an accredited testing centre in your area where you can accurately identify asbestos. Alternatively, a licensed asbestos removalist can also arrange for the testing of suspect material.

Where am I most likely to find asbestos?
Typically, you are most likely to find asbestos in the following places in and around your home:
The home’s structure: Asbestos may be found in flat, patterned and corrugated wall and roof sheeting, guttering, imitation brick cladding and the lining under eaves.
Inside the home: asbestos may be located in the cement sheeting of the walls, ceilings, floors and tiles of bathrooms and laundries. It is also found in the insulation of wood heaters.
Outside the home: Outside the home, asbestos is most commonly found in fences, garden sheds, garages and carports. You may also find it buried within dumped waste materials.
What should I do if I find asbestos in my house?
If you suspect asbestos in your home, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Asbestos only poses a risk to health when asbestos fibres are breathed in. Asbestos that is intact and undamaged does not pose a health risk as the fibres are still bound with cement.
If you do find asbestos, never try to remove it yourself. Instead, engage the services of one the many experienced asbestos removalists available.
Will my new home contain asbestos?
No. Asbestos (and all products containing asbestos) have been banned in Australia since 2003.
If you are one of the many Australians who will look to renovate or knockdown rebuild next year, I strongly advise you use a licenced professional. It is during renovations and knockdowns that asbestos building products can be disturbed and released into the air.
A licenced professional has years of experience in identifying and removing asbestos. Although the risk is small, don’t risk the health of you and your loved ones.
For more information on dealing with asbestos visit the Department of Health website and read their informative manual Asbestos – a guide for householders and the general public.