Asbestos in the house spells danger for home DIY enthusiasts


The recent rise in popularity of DIY home improvements is thought to have increased the frequency of diagnoses for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos Removal

This aggressive and usually fatal cancer has long been associated with the presence in older buildings of asbestos, whose fire-retardant and insulation properties made it ideal for use in construction from the mid-19th century on.

However, as buildings aged and began to need renovation or demolition, trades-people and site workers found themselves inadvertently inhaling asbestos fibres loosened by the work, thus putting themselves at grave risk of contracting mesothelioma.

Although asbestos was officially banned entirely in 1999, and some types of asbestos were banned or restricted as early as the 1970s, the material remains a hazard in a significant proportion of our residential property and public buildings which date to before 1970. Yet this is a fact of which comparatively few householders are aware, despite asbestos turning up in all manner of places.

For example, until the mid-1980s Artex, the rough-textured coating once popular for decorating ceilings, contained asbestos as a strengthening agent. Yet very often the use of asbestos was justified for no other reason than its frequent availability.

"We find asbestos products used in the strangest places," Joe Oakins, a surveyor at Vintec Environmental Management, said. "Often builders used whatever they had lying around, so you often find off-cuts of asbestos boards used as packing and filler."

According to the chartered surveyor Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, around 1 third of asbestos present in old buildings resides in ceiling coatings, with 15% each in floor tiles and in boiler flue pipes and ducts. Another 15% could be present in cold water storage tanks, insulation materials, gutters, eaves and rainwater pipes, with 10% in cement panel ceilings, 10% in outbuildings and 5% in fire protection materials.

Given how often householders now pull up their own carpets and underlays, renovate bathrooms and undertake new insulation work, either from choice or to save contractors' fees, a new wave of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases is unsurprising.

But owing to the potential for old properties to have asbestos throughout, specialists should be hired to conduct comprehensive and expert inspections prior to any extensive renovation work, while any samples found have to be analysed at a laboratory approved by the UK Accreditation Service.

Asbestos First, 1 of Britain's 450 licensed removal, says that textured coatings require sampling from different areas. "It can be free of asbestos in one part and not in the next because of the way it was manufactured," director Debbie Hales said, adding that a sampling visit would cost about £150 (plus VAT), with another £20 payable per extra sample.

Removing altogether an area of textured coating containing asbestos is high: around £1,200 plus VAT for up to 20sqm, with air-quality tests and the material's disposal included.

It should be noted that, according to the Association of British Insurers, a policy will cover asbestos removal only within a householder's damage claim, and not merely because of the basic identification of asbestos.

Although asbestos is only likely to be dangerous if its fibres are disturbed and inhaled, specialists believe risks are relatively slight provided the material is left alone and kept in an enclosed area.

However, its presence has to be recorded and it has to be examined regularly for any signs of deterioration. And if home improvement or remedial work is undertaken, great care must be taken not to disturb any residual material.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a helpful webpage for more information on where in the home asbestos might be present. This can be found at

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