A 7 point guide to working with builders in the clearing of asbestos

Asbestos is still a banned substance

1. What is asbestos

Asbestos is the collective term for a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals made up of microscopic fibrous crystal. Before the dangers of asbestos were really known, it was used as a common insulator in buildings; it was placed in the flooring and walls, as well as sprayed onto ceilings and walls. Asbestos is also an excellent electrical insulator and heat resistant material, meaning both its electrical, heating and insulating properties made it the perfect standard product for home insulation and fire proofing in the construction of buildings, it was also cheap and widely available.

2. When was asbestos banned and why

In the UK blue and brown asbestos was banned in 1985, while imports, use, sale and secondary application, were banned in 1999. This meant the manufacture, supply and distribution of all asbestos products was illegal by 1999. Asbestos is friable or easy to breakdown; however, when the fibres are disturbed into the air and inhaled into the human body, they get stuck in the lung and the body cannot break these fibres down. The fibres that are stuck in the lungs, cause aggravation, irritation and toxification, this is a progressively degenerative condition, that gets worse over time, and; is the cause of asbestos related diseases in the lung, asbestos related diseases are almost always fatal.

3. What is the extent of the asbestos problem

Every year over 5000 people, who have been exposed to asbestos, die. According to the health impact assessment of asbestos report, 2500 people die from Mesothelioma, (a type of cancer that develops in the thin layer of tissue that covers the internal organs known as the Mesothelium). 2500 from asbestos related lung cancer, As opposed to pleural mesothelioma, which develops in the lining of the lung, the cancer in this case develops in the lung itself. 460 people die from asbestosis, this can be described as when asbestos fibres are inhaled into the tiny sacs inside the lungs (used to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide in the blood,) they become irritated and over time develop scarring, this causes a stiffening of the lungs and respiratory difficulties. All these disease are the result of long term sustained direct exposure to asbestos, without any safety, use of asbestos protective equipment and preventative measures.

4. Why do cases of asbestos related diseases keep occuring

Homeowners, are also at risk to asbestos exposure, and should take caution also. Whilst homeowners are not likely to be working on/or with asbestos directly, leading to activities that can cause fibres to become dislodged and inhaled, they are advise to take caution for their families and themselves. In Wiltshire an asbestos survey can cost as little as £89, but can ensure that a certificate is issued at the end that the homeowners property is asbestos free. This may be on first inspection, it may be after an inspection, asbestos is identified, the asbestos is removed and safely disposed, the property Is inspected again, and assuming it passes the criteria can be certified as asbestos free. This is essential when looking to sell or rent a property out, as more and more buyers and renters, are looking for this kind of certification for peace of mind.

5. Where can asbestos be found

As a guide for homeowners, prior to the year 2000 in residential properties, asbestos can be commonly found in the following places.

Inside properties:

i. Asbestos cement water tank

ii. Pipe lagging

iii. Loose fill insulation

iv. Textured deorative coating e.g. (Trade names with) Artex

v. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) ceiling tiles

Vi. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) bath panels

vii. Toilet seats and cisterns

viii. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) behind the fuse box

ix. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) partition walls

x. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) interior window paneling

xi. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) around the boiler

xii. Vinyl floor tiles

xiii. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) behind fireplaces

Outside properties:

i. Gutters and asbestos cement downpipes

ii. Soffits AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) or asbestos based cement

iii. AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) exterior window panels

iv. Asbestos cement roofing

v. Asbestos cement panels

vi. Roofing felt

6. Dealing with asbestos

Firstly, if you think you may have an asbestos problem in your property contact your council first for guidance and information, they should be able to help. Never! remove asbestos yourself, unless you are qualified and have experience in dealing with, and the safe handling and disposal of asbestos. Always enlist the services of a professional, else you could be putting yourself, your family, friends, or anyone else who comes to the property at risk.

hire a certified asbestos surveyor, who can help manage the whole process. from surveying, identification, removal and cleaning. The Control of Asbestos Regulations states you should only hire fully qualified tradesmen. Check that your surveyor is qulified and registered with the (AIB) as well as the remover, They should all be able to demonstrate accreditation and the following:

- BOHS P402 standard

- HSE licensed (if removing or encapsulating asbestos)

- Hazardous Waste Carriers Licence (for asbestos transportation)

- Uses a UKAS accredited laboratory for sample assessment

7. Initial costs for a survey

In terms of genral guide for costs for a survey, a basic survey can cost upwards of £80, whilst an extensive survey can start at £200, costs can vary depending on the business providing the survey

If the survey identifies asbestos then one method of treatment is encapsulation, this can be a viable option. The procedure requires applying a protective adhesive coating which prevents the asbestos from releasing any harmful fibres. This procedure costs around £8+ per square metre.

If encapsulation is not an option, full removal by a licensed professional will be required This procedure costs around £50+ per square metre.

In the end you will not have to tiptoe around your property, worrying about asbestos, as your property will be safe as well as worth more at re-sale. Also, consider re-boarding, this is when the asbestos is removed and there are extensive cavities left, which require boarding up, finishing and decorating, basic re-boarding can cost around £400+. Do check out our other articles How to find a builder which supports how to select builders, as this is important as you may need to discuss asbestos with them, with your specific project.

About the Author

Tom Cakebread
Hi, I'm Tom I enjoy writing about the trades, and supporting tradespeople and customers where I can as an independent consultant.