Just the word makes people, including me, cringe! But if you’re renovating, like I am right now, you may find yourself up close and personal with the dreaded stuff.
So in this article, we’ll cover a few of the basics questions that people may have about asbestos, including:
- What is asbestos?
- What are the dangers of asbestos?
- Where am I likely to come across asbestos?
- What should I do if I do find asbestos in my home, investment property or renovation project?
- What about asbestos in one of my rental properties?
- Where can I find information and assistance with asbestos removal?
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance. It is actually a mineral rock that was mined from the 1940’s right up to the late 19080’s in Australia. It was used in many materials and products and was considered a valuable building material due to it’s fire and heat resistance as well as moisture resistance and suitability for insulation purposes. Even though it is a mineral rock, it is actually made up of small fibres. It is these fibres that make it dangerous to people.
What are the dangers of asbestos?
Generally asbestos left undisturbed and whole doesn’t pose any immediate threat. It is the small fibres, that when disturbed, become airborne and may be inhaled into the lungs. The inhalation of asbestos fibres is now known to cause a variety of respiratory illnesses, including:
- Malignant mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura of the lung or the abdominal cavity)
- Lung Cancer
- Asbestosis – a form of lung disease which inhibits the lungs ability to perform gaseous exchange
These illnesses can occur many, many years after the contact with asbestos.
Now, some of you may not know this but in a former life, I used to be an Intensive Care Nurse, so let me tell you, I’ve seen my fair share of nasty respiratory illness and it’s not pretty. Mesothelioma and lung cancer in general have a very poor prognosis. Asbestosis is debilitating, leaving sufferers with a poor quality of life that degenerates over time.
Where am I likely to come across asbestos when doing home renovation?
Friable and non-friable
There are several types of asbestos and these types of asbestos can be classified as friable or non friable. Friable types of asbestos are those which can be easily crushed by hand and release dangerous fibres into the air. Definately something to avoid, these are high risk products! Non-friable products include those that are ‘tightly bound’ with other materials such as cement. These products generally product a lower risk and that is when they are broken and edges may release fibres.
Where in the house am I likely to find asbestos?
The most common place is in the walls of a house or shed. Asbestos cement sheeting was a very common building material, particularly in areas such as the laundry, backyard, shed, toilet and bathroom. Asbestos corrugated cement sheets were also very popular in fences and used as external wall cladding on houses.
You may also come across asbestos in guttering, downpipes, vent pipes, vinyl sheets and tiles used for florring, insulations, air conditioning ducts, roof tile and many other places.
In the current renovation project that we are undertaking there was a small asbestos fence as a boundary fence, the laundry and toilet walls are asbestos cement sheets and the neighbours shed on our boundary was also asbestos.
What should I do if I find asbestos in my home, investment property or home renovation project?
Your own home
Where the asbestos is in tact and non friable then theoretically it poses no dange. That said however, I have heard of a story where a potential buyer pulled out of the sale of a property because their building inspection found asbestos – even if it was intact, they just didn’t want to be near it. And you know, I kind of get that. I’m not sure if I was looking at a potential family home and there was asbestos, whether I’d be comfortable taking my family there to live…unless I had it all removed. But that’s probably just the over cautious mother in me.
An investment property
Once again, so long as the asbestos is in a good, intact, non friable condition then this should have no bearing. The only thing to think about is that if you do intend to do renovations then you need to factor in potential additional costs associated with removal of and precautions for working with asbestos.
Now you will need to think about this one and assess it before you purchase a renovation project. When assessing a potential renovation house then you need to determine where there is asbestos and if you plan to renovate that area of the property. There is legislation pertaining to the removal of asbestos in all states of Australia, so you need to famliarise yourself with the requirements for asbestos removal. Depending on the location of the asbestos, the geographical state in which the property is in, the type and quantity of asbestos you may be able to remove it yourself (with appropriate safety precautions) or you may need to engage a professional organisation.
Asbestos removal by professional organisations is costly so must be factored into the budget. Asbestos removal by yourself must be done with full precautions and you must factor in the appropriate time in the project to do so.
In the current renovation project we had a quote for removal of the small asbestos fence by a professional company. The fence was 14m long by 1m high, in 1m sheets. The quote was $1200. In the end, we purchased an asbestos removal kit from the local council, which also involved attending an asbestos removal education session and we removed the fence ourselves (following all precautions with our protective clothing) at a cost of $30.
The very interesting part of working in a house with asbestos is the attitude of various tradespeople. We’ve come across some tradespeople who just don’t want to work with it at all and want you to have it removed before they work and we’ve come across the complete other end of the spectrum with tradespeople who don’t care about it at all. Although from a cost perspective it’s great to have some people who don’t care about working with asbestos, it isn’t so great from a safety perspective as we have found that they do their work and leave bits and pieces of asbestos all over the place! That makes it really hard to maintain a safe environment or even know when your environment is unsafe as you don’t know what they have done or left behind!
Where can I find information and assistance with asbestos removal?
You can contact your local council for information relating to asbestos removal in your area. Certainly the local council where our renovation project is taking place, Latrobe City, is very well informed and resourced in relation to asbestos removal, out of necessity really given the large numbers of properties with asbestos materials in situ. Another resource I found online was Asbestos Australia, who had some good information including state based legislative requirements pertaining to asbestos.
You can also try searching for asbestos removal online for your local area and you may find some commerical organisation who deal with asbestos removal.
Exposure to asbestos is a bit like smoking – the effects of it are usually see a long way down the track and so people can become complacent or careless about how they deal with it. It is really important that you treat asbestos with the utmost care and if you come across it in your home, your investment property or your renovation project and are in any doubt about what to do, consult a professional organisation for information or assistance. You just can’t be too careful with your health.