How to check for asbestos in your home

ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Many older homes in Australia have asbestos in them, and you may encounter it when building or renovating, but what is it, what do you need to know about it, and what do you need to do to remove it safely?

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a type of building material that was commonly used in homes for fireproofing and insulation purposes. It was popular in Australia from the 1940s all the way through to the 1980s, and was sometimes used as insulation thanks to its fibrous quality, but its use has been banned since 2003, because of the associated health risks.

In general terms, there are two kinds of asbestos you might encounter in a home, bonded and friable asbestos. According to the Bernie Banton website, bonded asbestos products are ones in which the asbestos fibers have been bonded with a material – the cement sheets known as fibro are an example of this. Friable asbestos products are ones in which the fibers are loose.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is another form of cancer typically affecting the outer parts of the lungs . According to NSW Health, the greater the number of fibers breathed in, the greater the risk of condition. NSW Health also says that the symptoms of these diseases may not typically be observed until 20-30 years after exposure.

Asbestos becomes a hazard when the fibers are airborne. If products containing asbestos are disturbed – for example, if they are cut, drilled or sanded – then fibres can be released into the air, becoming a potential danger to anyone who inhales them.

Where could you find asbestos in your home?

Asbestos products could be found in any number of places in homes built before 1990. In fact, the Australian Government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency says if your home was built before 1990, it’s safest to assume it has asbestos somewhere.

According to Asbestos Awareness, asbestos may be found in flat and corrugated fibro sheeting, contained within:

  • Internal walls and ceilings
  • External walls and cladding
  • Roofing
  • Infill panels in windows and doors
  • Eaves
  • Fencing
  • Carports
  • Sheeting under floor tiles
  • Bathroom and laundry walls
  • Backyard sheds
  • Dog kennels

It can also be found in:

  • Electrical switchboards
  • Backing to floor tiles and sheet vinyl
  • Carpet underlay
  • Backing behind ceramic wall tiles
  • Textile seals to ovens
  • Water drainage, downpipes and flue pipes
  • Roof shingles and guttering

In some homes, loose-fill asbestos insulation, which was also known as ‘Mr Fluffy’, was installed in ceiling spaces. According to Asbestos Awareness, this kind of insulation may have been used in homes in NSW and the ACT built between 1968 and 1979. They advise calling your local council, NSW Fair Trading or the ACT Government to find out if your home is in an affected local government area.

How do you check for asbestos in your home?

While you can conduct a visual inspection of your home to check for asbestos, it is unlikely that this will be sufficient, as most people cannot tell if building materials contain it, according to Asbestos Awareness. Only scientific testing conducted by an accredited National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) lab will be able to confirm the presence of asbestos.

If you believe that there may be asbestos in your home, it is recommended that you engage a licensed asbestos assessor to conduct a formal inspection and have samples tested in a laboratory as needed. For more information on this you can visit the NATA website, or call 1800 621 666.

What should you do if you find asbestos in your home?

If you suspect there may be asbestos in your home, it is important to not disturb it. Asbestos Awareness warns that you should not attempt any kind of DIY project if there is asbestos present, and that “if in doubt”, you should assume asbestos products are present and take every precaution.

You should never use tools on asbestos materials, as this could send particles into the air for people to breathe in, posing a potential health risk. You should not disturb asbestos products by drilling, sawing, scraping, sanding or otherwise trying to demolish or dismantle them, and you should not attempt to dump them.

If you suspect there is asbestos in your home, it’s important to check the legal requirements for managing, removing and disposing of it in your area. The safest way to remove it is to retain a licensed professional asbestos remover, who will have the necessary skills and equipment to remove it safely.

Asbestos Awareness also says not all asbestos products need to be removed. They can be painted and left alone if they are in good condition, but must be checked regularly for signs of wear and tear.

How much does it cost to get rid of asbestos in your home?

Removing external asbestos cladding can cost between $4,000 and $5,000, while removing asbestos from a single room in your house can cost between $1,000 and $1,500 and removing an asbestos roof can cost between $3,500 and $5,000, according to HiPages.

Typically, asbestos removalists will wear protective gear while undergoing work, and will dump it at an approved facility when complete, and these steps will be included in the cost. The price of asbestos removal will vary depending on how much is in your home, and where it’s situated.

 

 

Cover image source: Shisu_Ka/Shutterstock.com


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