How to avoid and manage asbestos

How to avoid and manage asbestos

The mention of asbestos tends to trigger alarm bells for people, yet the material itself can be quite elusive. Many of us are aware that it poses a serious health threat upon exposure but lack an understanding of its application in our society and why such a dangerous mineral has been so widely used in public construction.

In order to avoid the costly complications of purchasing a home with an asbestos problem, it’s beneficial to be able to recognise the signs and ensure the necessary checks are carried out before you buy a property. However in some cases, despite prior diligence, and because asbestos can often be hidden, you may discover it in your property well after construction has started. In this case, it is crucial to manage asbestos appropriately for health, legal and of course financial reasons.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of silicate minerals made up of long, thin, strong fibres. It is highly resistant to electricity, water, heat and chemicals. Its uniquely wide range of resistant properties makes it a valuable material in construction as well as other industries. Before its regulation in commercial use, asbestos was used extensively for insulation, heating, electrics, flooring and roofing.

Why is it dangerous?

Asbestos fibres can be readily separated and become easily airborne if disturbed, which commonly takes place during construction and renovations. The durability of this mineral means that if inhaled or swallowed, the fibres cannot be broken down by the body. Long-term exposure to these particles results in an accumulation in the lungs which eventually causes tissue damage. Some severe asbestos-related diseases include mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

Which properties are at risk?

Although many European countries have now banned its usage in building materials, asbestos was a central feature of residential construction between the 1930s and the 1980s. If the property in question dates back to this period, there is a strong chance asbestos is, or has been used, within the structure.

3 tips for avoiding a property with asbestos

Asbestos certainly does not have to be a deal-breaker on the property, although avoiding asbestos altogether is the ideal scenario. Here are some tips for avoiding properties with asbestos.

1. Preliminary checks at viewings

Although it is certainly not limited to the locations mentioned below, it is worthwhile being aware of building materials that commonly feature some amount of asbestos. It would be wise to enquire with your estate agent about the presence of these materials when viewing a property, specifically in such items as:

  • Insulation boards between wall partitions
  • White tape on heating ducts
  • Insulation around boilers, ducts, pipes, wood stoves and fireplaces
  • Vermiculite insulation
  • 9x9 floor tiles
  • Acoustic ceiling tiles
  • Cement products like sidings, gutters, and rainwater pipes
  • Popcorn ceiling texture
  • Glues used under flooring.

2. Ask your real estate agent

A visual check is not enough to indicate the presence or absence of asbestos and its condition. It is advised to ask your real estate agent for an asbestos assessment report of the property. If they cannot offer you one, it is strongly recommended to have one conducted prior to proceeding further.

3. Request an asbestos survey

There are different types of asbestos surveys with varying degrees of comprehensiveness. The type of survey required is dependent on the kind of work that will be done with that property, differentiating between demolition, refurbishment, etc. At this stage, it can be very useful to have a professional, like an architect, guide you through the specific requirements based on your plans for the property alongside the relevant government regulations.

It is good to remember that, despite the most detailed screenings, asbestos sometimes resides so deeply in the structure of the building that it is only discovered during thorough renovation. In such unfortunate situations, you need to halt the renovations and shift focus to managing the asbestos before proceeding any further.

3 tips for managing a property with asbestos

If you find your property does contain asbestos, steps can be taken to manage and remove it from the property. Here are three tips for managing and treating properties with asbestos.

1. Conduct a deep inspection

If asbestos is discovered during the renovation process, a company must first be hired to perform a deep inspection. This inspection will give you the necessary information about the extent and condition of the asbestos in the property.

2. Permits and removal / management

Although this varies between laws in different areas, if deemed to be in good, non-threatening condition, some products containing asbestos can be "sealed" instead of removed completely. In most places, upon discovering asbestos, it must be reported to the municipality and management plans are to be devised. At this stage the corresponding permits to support the management plans must also be acquired; asbestos treatment cannot begin until such permits are granted by the municipality.

3. The costs to expect

Whilst the removal company is dealing with the asbestos in the property, no one is permitted to work on the site. The contractor may need to be compensated for this waiting period, therefore it is advisable to have a discussion about such potentialities in the initial contract. The cost of the management and / or removal of the asbestos itself greatly varies depending on its quantity, its position in the building and what needs to be replaced.

Getting professional help to deal with asbestos

Although encountering a property with asbestos is a cause for concern and should be taken seriously, it does not have to be an outright deal-breaker. With an appropriate risk assessment, you should be able to evaluate the condition of the asbestos-containing products and also determine whether you could afford the treatment potentially required.

Having a professional onboard can also be very useful in a situation in which asbestos is unexpectedly discovered during the renovation. Past experience with such scenarios mean architects can effectively negotiate new project timelines with the contractors and will likely be able to recommend cost-effective removal companies. Unfortunately, undesirable developments do tend to occur during renovations, so it never hurts to have a professional who has seen it all in your corner.

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes


Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes

Architect, author, international speaker, Founder and CEO of AKKA Architects, Stephanie is part of a new breed of young visionary architects who operate beyond the nowadays restrained realm of architecture....

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