If there is, says Alastair Woodgate, of leading local Chartered Surveyors Rumball Sedgwick, there’s no need for a sharp intake of breath…
“It sounds like a nightmare: you’ve found your dream home, but your survey has revealed the presence of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). Asbestos is a word that can strike fear into a home-owner. But what risks does it carry? How worried should you be?
Well don’t panic. Few people realise that ACMs are present in about half of all residential property. So it isn’t uncommon to find asbestos in your home and in most cases, there’s nothing to worry about. As long as it’s well maintained and not disturbed or disintegrating, it doesn’t present any immediate hazard to health.
Asbestos is likely to be dangerous only if the fibres are released into the air and you breathe them in: they are lethal carcinogens when inhaled and can put you at long-term risk of developing lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma. Preventing exposure is, therefore, paramount.
Asbestos is, in fact, a collective term for six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. The most dangerous are blue asbestos (crocidolite), brown asbestos (amosite) and white asbestos (chrysotile). Asbestos rose in popularity thanks to its resistance to fire, heat, and electrical damage, its sound absorption and its affordability. It was not until 1999 that the import, supply and use of all asbestos containing products was banned.
Asbestos is most commonly found where it has been mixed with other materials to strengthen them such as cement sheeting or corrugated roofing. It can also be in decorative ceiling coatings, floor and ceiling tiles, boiler cupboards, cold water storage tanks and in loose fill insulation.
Houses built this century will not contain asbestos, but asbestos-containing linoleum and thermoplastic floor tiles were particularly popular in the 1950s and 1960s and Artex was still being made with white asbestos up until the 1980s.
If your home contains undisturbed ACMs then it is often best to leave them where they are – especially if they are in good condition and unlikely to get damaged. Just check their condition from time to time to make sure they haven’t started to deteriorate.
If you are refurbishing your home and are concerned about the presence of asbestos, contact a professional. If you are bringing in builders, inform them of any ACMs in your home before they start work to help reduce the risk of fibres being disturbed.
Don’t dispose of any asbestos or related materials yourself. ACMs need to be legally disposed of as hazardous waste. Make sure you use an accredited firm, licensed to dispose of them properly. You can seek advice from the environmental health officer at the Council.
When buying a property over 20 years old, be aware of the likelihood of asbestos being present. One of the many benefits of a survey is that your Chartered Surveyor will flag up any potential risks.”