Tips for Buying a House with Asbestos

Finding the perfect old property to renovate is every person’s dream. You can mix original features with new elements and design a house that is truly unique to you. But a lot of older houses, particularly those built between 1940 and 1980, were built using asbestos. Most people have heard of asbestos, and know that it’s something that affects your health, but beyond that would struggle to tell you what negative impacts it has on your health, where it can be found, or even what it looks like.

For others still, the idea a house that contains asbestos will put them off buying their dream home; but there’s no need to give up on your ideal property if you know how to handle it and approach it as part of your renovation plan.

What is asbestos?

Firstly, let’s clear up what asbestos is exactly – asbestos is a mineral that was mined extensively, and was used in house building materials because of its fire proof properties and how cheap it was. It is made up of tiny fibres,  it is these fibres that make it dangerous. When inhaled, the asbestos fibres can embed into the lining of your lungs and lead to conditions such as pleural plaques, lung cancer or mesothelioma, a type of aggressive cancer that develops between your organs. These conditions can, however, take decades to develop and the amount of asbestos it takes to cause them varies from person to person.

Example of asbestiform riebeckite ore, also known as crocidolite (or “blue asbestos”), one of six mineral types currently regulated as asbestos.

Asbestos is traditionally associated with factory workers and shipbuilders, who can often make a claim for compensation for their exposure and illness; but if you become ill because of asbestos in your home, you won’t be eligible for this because it wasn’t someone else who exposed you to the dangers. The best course of action with asbestos in residential properties is to prevent exposure altogether.

Don’t underestimate the danger

Asbestos could be found in any house built before the year 2000 and could be present in nearly any room of a house, from the kitchen to the attic. Because it is mixed in with other materials, it may not be immediately obvious when viewing a house. When whole, asbestos doesn’t pose a danger, but if it is chipped or broken, as often happens in a house renovation, it should be dealt with by professionals who can dispose of it safely. It could take only one exposure for someone to develop a related condition, and obviously the more you are exposed to it, the more the danger increases.

Construction worker using pneumatic hammer, construction site concept.

Despite this, asbestos does not make a house unliveable, unless there are extremely high levels of it present, and that’s actually very rare nowadays. So don’t fret, here’s how you can deal with it.

Know where to find it

When viewing a house, find out when it was built and what renovations have taken place since then. If minimal renovations have taken place, then this should be your first warning that you’ll need an asbestos survey.

If knowledge of the house’s history is unavailable, you’ll have to know where to look for signs of asbestos containing materials. These can be in roofing, plaster covering walls and ceilings, tiles and tile adhesives, guttering, plumbing and sheds or garages. The easiest place to spot asbestos is sheds or garages and roofing, as the sheets used for this have a very distinctive look. In other areas, you might be looking for small white fibres embedded in the material, however, they may not be visible and this is why an asbestos survey is needed.

Man tearing out old kitchen during home renovations.

Asbestos and your renovations

Consider the asbestos survey and the cost of its removal as part of renovation budget. People often account for rewiring, plastering and extensions for their new home, so add this into your budget as well. Perhaps it gets missed because there’s no visible pay-off as with other renovations, but the expense really is worth it for the peace of mind.

Another reason, if you need one beyond health risks, is that any contractors who discover asbestos in the course of their work on your home will either stop until you have it removed, or sort their own removal which could be much more expensive. After all, they need to look out for their health and that of their workers – it’s written into the law.

So, now you know what asbestos is, and how to deal with it, go-ahead and search for your perfect home, safe in knowledge you can handle any asbestos issues that come up.


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