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09 Aug 2021
Adam Bate Rebecca Goodman

What should I do if I find asbestos?

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Asbestos fragments with mask and goggles

 

Asbestos is common in older properties, but it could cause serious health problems.

If you find asbestos in your home you might want to arrange for it to be removed, especially if it’s causing a health risk.

However, the costs could be high and you’ll need a professional to carry out the work.

Here we look at everything you need to know about asbestos removal including:

  • What it looks like

  • The three different types of asbestos

  • How much asbestos removal costs

  • How home insurance could help

  • What to do if you’re buying or selling a house with asbestos in.

 

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is now banned in the UK but it was previously used in residential and commercial buildings as an insulator and an adhesive.

Many countries still use it, including China. It’s the term used for a group of minerals used for insulation.

It looks like thin, wispy hair particles that stick to other materials and become heat and water resistant. 

This works as a good material to use in building work. But if the hair particles are broken up and released into the air, they could cause serious harm if someone breathes them in.

The impact of breathing in asbestos often isn’t seen immediately and could take years to develop.

Asbestos causes around 5,000 deaths every year, including 20 per week of tradespeople who were previously exposed to it, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

Some serious health conditions have been linked to asbestos. These include:

  • Lung cancer

  • Asbestosis - a scarring of the lungs

  • Pleural thickening

  • Mesothelioma, a type of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs.

 

Asbestos also tends to have a greater impact on people who already smoke.

 

What was asbestos used for in the home?

Asbestos hasn’t been used in UK homes since 1999 when all types of it were banned. But before then it was widely used in buildings across the country. 

So, if your home was built before 2000, there’s a chance it contains asbestos. 

As a building material, asbestos was used for lots of different reasons including because it was resistant to fire, water and electricity. It was also cheap to use and soundproof. 

It was common to find asbestos in window frames, pipe lagging, and there was even asbestos shed and garage roofs before it was banned. 

There are many parts of a building where you might find asbestos including:

  • Vinyl floor tiles

  • Partition walls

  • Bath panels

  • Ceiling tiles

  • Behind a fuse box

  • Airing cupboards

  • Heat insulation

  • Roof insulation

  • Artex ceilings

  • In a toilet seat or cistern.

 

Is asbestos dangerous?

The idea of asbestos is to strengthen a building or to provide insulation. If it’s intact and not damaged, it shouldn’t be a safety hazard.

If you have it in your home, it doesn’t necessarily need to be removed. But if you are worried you can always contact a professional to ask for advice, or speak to your home insurance company.

However, the problem occurs when it’s broken down and the particles begin to disintegrate.

This can happen if it’s in an old building or if a property is being demolished or renovated, for example.

In this case it’s important to tell any builders well in advance where the asbestos is before any work begins.

 

What does asbestos look like?

You might not be able to tell what asbestos is because it looks a lot like other building materials.

If it’s old or disintegrating it might look like fine hairs, which could easily be breathed in and could be deadly.

However, when first used (so back in the 1980s and earlier) it would have been a hard texture, like concrete.

So, instead of trying to guess if you have asbestos or not, it’s a good idea to hire a professional to carry out asbestos testing. 

 

What are the different types of asbestos?

Asbestos is usually either brown (amosite), white (chrysotile), or blue (crocidolite). 

The different colours identify how asbestos was used in a building.

Blue and brown asbestos was used to make other building materials stronger, such as concrete. It was also used as an adhesive

It poses a greater health risk to those exposed to it. 

These types of asbestos were also used to make asbestos cement.

This was created by mixing asbestos with cement to create a hard grey material that can be used for materials including:

  • Wall cladding

  • Downpipes and gutters

  • Asbestos roofs. 

 

Brown asbestos was used to create the Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) and was traditionally used as a way to fireproof a home.

But it was also used in places such as window panels, ceiling tiles, and partition walls.

White asbestos is the most common type of asbestos used in the UK. It’s heat resistant and was used to insulate buildings and keep heat in.

It was usually used around boilers and heating pipes.  

 

What to do if you find asbestos in your home

Many people have a pretty good asbestos awareness and know how dangerous it is.

But if you do come across it, what should you do? 

This depends on the condition of the asbestos, and what your plans are for your home.

If it’s in a good condition it might be safer to leave the asbestos where it is.

You could either leave it completely or have it encapsulated fully, which tends to be cheaper than having it removed.

This process involves the asbestos being sealed in with a protective layer applied to it.

But if you‘re having building work carried out, the asbestos will be disturbed for any other reason, or if it’s already disintegrating you will need to speak to a professional. 

Find out how regular home safety checks can keep your house in a safe and well-maintained state.

 

Can I remove asbestos myself?

It could be dangerous to try and remove asbestos yourself. If you come across it while carrying out a DIY project, it is always safer to get advice from an expert.

There are rules around how long a professional can spend when working with asbestos.

It needs to be for less than one hour in a seven-day period by one worker, according to the Health and Safety Executive. This can’t exceed two hours spent working on the asbestos by all workers. 

It’s possible to buy an at-home asbestos testing kit. Several companies make these and prices vary considerably.

The kit lets you take a sample of what you think is asbestos and you can send this back to the company to test.

But these kits generally aren’t recommended due to the dangers of coming into contact with asbestos if you haven’t had the right training.

You can find a licensed contractor via the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA) website or your local council.

They should carry out asbestos testing to decide if it needs to be removed or not, and will safely remove the asbestos if needed.  

For help see our five-step guide to hiring a trusted tradesperson

 

How much does asbestos removal cost?

The cost of hiring a professional depends upon the work you need and the extent and condition of the asbestos.

The cost of an asbestos removal survey could be around £200. The cost to have it removed could be around £50 per m2.

But before you book anyone to carry out the work, it’s worth comparing the prices from a few different contractors. This ensures you’re getting good value for money and you aren’t being ripped off.

Always ask for confirmation in writing of all the costs before any work begins.

It might be possible to find a cheaper asbestos removal service via your local council. So, it could be worth contacting them first to see what services they offer.

You can find out what’s available in your area by entering your postcode and searching on the GOV.UK website

 

Does my home insurance cover asbestos removal?

It’s rare for a home insurance policy to cover asbestos removal. But every policy differs so check the terms and conditions of yours to find out how much cover you have, or contact your insurer.

This is because asbestos was used so often, and can be in a home without posing any health risk.

So it might pose a huge cost if insurers started to cover asbestos removal as standard on a home insurance policy. 

It might be the case that your policy covers any damage asbestos causes to your home. For example, if it has been disturbed or is disintegrating and is now a health risk. 

This depends on the insurer, so give yours a call or double check the policy terms and conditions to find out what help is available.

Remember you might need to still cover the home insurance home insurance excess on any claim you make on your insurance policy. 

Removal of asbestos is unlikely to be covered if it’s been damaged by something that isn’t included on the policy e.g. wear and tear

For more information on what your home insurance policy could cover, see our guides on subsidence insurance and spotting the signs of damp in your house.

Compare home insurance quotes

 

What to do if you’re buying or selling a property with asbestos

If you buy, or sell, a property with asbestos in it this should be picked up in the building survey report

Depending on the condition of the asbestos, you might be able to use this to negotiate the price of a property, if you’re the one buying it. 

You could find out how much it would cost to have the asbestos removed and ask the seller to reduce the asking price, for example.  

If you’re selling your house you don’t legally have to tell a buyer about asbestos. But they’ll probably find out when the building survey takes place.

You might also be accused of withholding information if you aren’t upfront about it from the start.

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