Asbestos in the home
Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry until it was banned in 1999. As a result of its widespread use, which included 3,000 different products, asbestos is now found in more than 50% of all British homes. Asbestos can be extremely dangerous, and is linked to a number of fatal diseases. Asbestos in the home can be a serious issue, but this guide will help you understand everything you need to know.
What is asbestos?
The term asbestos refers to a set of six fibrous minerals – chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite. It is found naturally in the ground, and was mined for several decades. The use of asbestos dates back to ancient Egyptian and Roman times, where it was used in cloth.
Asbestos has high heat and chemical resistance, which made it a popular additive to building products. It was mixed with a range of different materials to create a number of products that were durable, strong and could resist high heats and chemical erosion. As a result of these properties, asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were widely used in both residential and commercial buildings.
Asbestos is linked to a number of respiratory diseases, and is no longer used. In the UK alone, asbestos results in the death of more than 5,000 people every year. Due to the dangerous nature of asbestos fibres, there are a number of asbestos testing, removal and disposal services available to consumers, and laws to protect workers in high risk industries.
What does asbestos look like?
One of the most important steps in identifying potential asbestos containing materials in your home is knowing what asbestos looks like. There are many different types of asbestos, and it was used in conjunction with other materials, which can make identifying asbestos difficult.
We have put together a gallery of different images to help you understand what asbestos may look like in your home. If you suspect asbestos in your home, we advise that you have a professional carry out an asbestos survey or sampling.
Where is asbestos normally found in the home?
In older homes, asbestos can be found in a many areas of the home, from roof tiles and decorative ceilings to wall insulation and vinyl floors. Below is a list of some of the most common asbestos containing materials.
- Vinyl Floor Tiles
- Asbestos Cement Sheets & Garage Roof Panels
- Textured Decorative Coatings (eg. Artex)
- Roof Tiles
- Storage Heaters
- Airing Cupboard Walls
- Cement Fireplace Surrounds
- Fuse Boxes
- Gutters and Drainage Pipes
- Pipe Lagging
- Central Heating Flues
- Cement Water Tanks
- Rope Seals and Gaskets
- Roofing Felt
- Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) Ceiling Tiles
- AIB Bath Panels
- Sprayed Insulation Coating
- AIB Partition Wall
- AIB Window Panels
- Loose Fill Insulation
How do I know if there is asbestos in my home?
If your home was built after 1999, it will not contain asbestos, as all asbestos containing materials were banned after this date. However, even if your home is new, it is important to consider external structures, such as sheds or garages, which may contain asbestos materials if older than the year 2000.
Asbestos in residential homes is commonly found in ACMs, rather than in its pure form. This makes it difficult to accurately determine the presence of asbestos from visual inspection alone, and a specialist laboratory will be required. If you are concerned about asbestos in your home, you can hire a professional asbestos contractor. Asbestos testing and surveys will allow you to determine what materials in your home contain asbestos (if any), and how it can be managed.
Types of Asbestos
There are a set of 6 fibrous minerals that are collectively known as asbestos. These include chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Asbestos is often also referred to by its colour, such as white, blue or brown asbestos. The different types of asbestos are:
- Chrysotile – The most commonly used type of asbestos, Chrysotile is also commonly referred to as white asbestos. It is the only asbestos in the serpentine family, and its fibres have a curly structure. It was used in a range of materials, including gaskets, brake pads, roofing materials, cement and insulation.
- Amosite – Like the remaining types asbestos, amosite is part of the amphibole family. It is also commonly referred to as brown asbestos. It was used in thermal, plumbing, chemical and electrical insulation, as well as cement sheets, lagging, tiles and insulation boards.
- Crocidolite – This asbestos has the thinnest fibres, which makes it readily airborne and easy to inhale. Crocidolite is also often referred to as blue asbestos, and was commonly used in ceiling tiles, fire protection, water encasement and spray on insulation. This form of asbestos is far more brittle than other types, which can result in decaying materials and the release of fibres.
- Tremolite – This type of asbestos is strong, flexible and heat resistant. It can be woven into cloth, where it was used to create fireproof clothing. It was also used in paints, sealants and roofing materials.
- Anthophyllite – This type of asbestos is one of the rarest, which has resulted in limited use. It has been used in products containing minerals, such as talcum powder. Whilst it has still been linked to asbestos related diseases, it is amongst the least hazardous of all the types.
- Actinolite – This type of asbestos was found in numerous forms, ranging from brittle to fibrous. It was used in fire proofing, gardening, insulation and concrete. It has also been found in drywall and children’s toys.
Below are a few common terms relating to asbestos, with an explanation of what each term means.
- Asbestos Removal – This involves the safe removal of asbestos containing materials.
- Asbestos Survey – Surveys are conducted to determine whether a property contains any asbestos containing materials.
- Asbestos Testing – Testing of possible asbestos containing materials is required to accurately determine if asbestos is present, and the type.
- Asbestos Sampling – This involves the collection of samples for testing and examination.
- Asbestos Disposal – Throwing away of asbestos containing materials, using safe and correct procedures.
- Asbestos Management – If asbestos is found in a property, but removal is not the best option, a management plan will be implemented to monitor the asbestos and ensure it remains safe.
What should I do if I find asbestos in my home?
If asbestos is found in your home, you will normally be left with three possible options – removal, encapsulation or leaving the asbestos untouched.
Removal is a great option if you want to completely remove the potentially hazardous materials from your home. Removal is also often necessary during construction, demolition and refurbishment projects, or if the ACM is brittle or damaged.
Encapsulation is cheaper than removal, and involves coating the asbestos containing material in a resin, rather than removing it. This method encases the asbestos, ensuring the fibres are unable to become airborne.
Leaving asbestos in place may not seem like the best option, but in some cases asbestos does not pose a threat to humans, and can be left in place. Ongoing management will be required to ensure the asbestos materials are still in a good condition, and free from any damage or breakages that could release dangerous fibres.
What should I do if an asbestos containing material in my home is damaged?
If the asbestos containing materials in your home become damaged, they can release potentially dangerous fibres in to the air. In most cases, damaged asbestos materials will need to be safely removed and disposed by a professional. Your safety is important, so ensure you and your family do not inhale the dust and fibres of damaged ACMs. Contact a licensed asbestos contractor for assistance and removal.
Should I remove asbestos myself?
To ensure your safety, and the safety of others, we recommend using a professional asbestos removal contractor. However, if you decide to remove the asbestos yourself, it is important that you follow safety procedures and correctly dispose of the waste.
- Use disposable overalls and gloves
- Use an asbestos approved dust mask
- Wear safety glasses
- Ensure everyone else is safely away from the area
- Use plastic sheeting to collect any dust that falls under the work area
- Wet the asbestos containing material to prevent airborne dust
- Opt for hand tools, as power tools can spread the fibres
- Remove the asbestos as one piece, rather than breaking it up
- Use asbestos bags, or large strong plastic bags, and clearly label as ‘asbestos’ once sealed
- Seal overalls, gloves and other disposable items in a plastic bag
- Wash yourself thoroughly
- Correctly dispose of waste, use a professional asbestos disposal service or contact your council
- After removal, it is important that asbestos fibres are not present in the air
Asbestos in a rental property
If you rent your property, and suspect that an asbestos containing material has become damaged, you should report this to your landlord immediately. Your landlord is responsible for ensuring you are not at risk of asbestos exposure whilst in your home.
It is the responsibility of a landlord to manage the risk of exposure to asbestos. This often means labelling ACMs, sealing/encapsulating the asbestos and/or removing asbestos containing materials.
Why is Asbestos Dangerous?
- Asbestos kills thousands of people in the UK each year, and even more throughout the rest of the world.
- Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry, which has resulted in many homes and commercial premises still containing asbestos today.
- The diseases related to asbestos take several years (sometimes decades) to develop, and by the time symptoms develop, it is often too late.
- Improper disposal, such as burying in a garden, is dangerous, as asbestos does not quickly break down and it can be accidentally dug up in the future.
- Even today, asbestos continues to pose a risk for those who work in the construction industry, as maintenance and refurbishment work carried out on buildings built prior to the year 2000 can potentially disturb asbestos containing materials, releasing the dangerous fibres. This also poses a threat to DIY and home improvement enthusiasts.
- Asbestos causes a number of fatal diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening.
- Asbestos is not a problem of the past, as more than 50% of British homes and thousands of commercial buildings still contain asbestos. Asbestos can be disturbed in these buildings during demolition, refurbishment, renovation, DIY, etc. Also, asbestos related diseases can take more than 50 years before symptoms develop.
- Cures are not available for many of the asbestos related diseases, and in most cases, it is too late to help when symptoms begin to show.
How many people in the UK die as a result of asbestos each year?
Currently, around 5,000 people in the UK die as a result of asbestos related diseases each year, which is more than is killed on our roads. Even though asbestos is no longer used, the number of deaths is not likely to decrease any time soon.
Currently, there are still hundreds of thousands of tonnes of asbestos containing materials in residential homes and commercial properties. If these asbestos containing materials are disturbed, they can be inhaled and cause a range of diseases. This puts a large number of people at risk, especially those likely to work on older houses, such as tradesmen and DIY enthusiasts.
Asbestos related diseases often take several years, or even decades, to develop after asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, it is often too late to intervene with asbestos related diseases by the time symptoms develop. The most heavily linked and fatal asbestos related diseases are mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects your lungs lining (known as pleura) and the lower digestive tract lining (peritoneum). Almost all cases of mesothelioma are directly related to asbestos exposure, and currently most cases are fatal.
Common Mesothelioma symptoms include: Dry cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, fever, pain in the abdomen or chest, pleural effusions, anemia and muscle weakness.
What is Asbestos-related Lung Cancer?
Asbestos-related lung cancer occurs when fibres lodge in lung tissue. The results of this type of cancer are often fatal. People who smoke and have been exposed to asbestos fibres are at an increased risk of this cancer.
Common Asbestos-related Lung Cancer symptoms include: Fatigue, persistent cough, trouble breathing, ongoing chest pain, coughing up blood, weight loss and regular lung infections.
What is Asbestosis?
Asbestosis is a condition that involves heavy scarring of the lungs as a result of prolonged exposure to asbestos. This condition causes shortness of breath and discomfort, and can also be fatal.
Common Asbestosis symptoms include: Swelling in the neck/face, difficulty swallowing, high blood pressure, blood in sputum, crackled breathing, shortness of breath, finger deformity and loss of weight.
What is Pleural Thickening?
Pleural thickening involves swelling and thickening of the lung’s lining. This can result in shortness and breath and chest discomfort. Pleural thickening normally occurs as a result of prolonged asbestos exposure.
Common Pleural Thickening symptoms include: Progressive shortness of breath, chest pains, tightness in chest, disability from impaired lung function, persistent cough and reduced chest wall movement.
Who is most at risk?
A large number of asbestos containing materials are still present in homes and commercial buildings throughout the UK, and in most cases these materials pose little risk to the property’s inhabitants. The people who are most at risk of developing asbestos related diseases are people who regularly work around asbestos containing materials, and have breathed in the dangerous asbestos fibres.
Those most at risk of asbestos diseases often work in asbestos or construction related professions, including:
- Construction Workers and Builders – Thousands of construction materials contained asbestos, which has and continues to expose many workers in the building industry to dangerous fibres.
- Firefighters – Fires can damage asbestos containing materials, and cause the fibres to become airborne.
- Industrial Workers – There were a number of asbestos containing materials used by industrial workers. Workers in this field include mechanics, labourers, machinery operators, etc.
- Power Plant Workers – Asbestos was used in a number of power plant materials, including fireproofing spray and pipe insulation.
- Shipyard Workers – The heat proofing capabilities of asbestos made it common in the boilers of ships. As a result, many ship builders were exposed to the harmful fibres.
- Insulators – Asbestos was commonly used in insulation, which exposed installers to the dangerous fibres.
- Asbestos Miners – As you might have guessed, asbestos miners are amongst the worst affected by asbestos related diseases. Many towns surrounding abandoned asbestos mines are no longer used due to the high presence of airborne asbestos.
Common misspellings of Asbestos:
Asbestos is commonly misspelled. Some of the most common alternative spellings used in the UK are; Espestice, Abestos and Aspestos. As you may have guessed, the correct spelling is Asbestos.
The Health and Safety Executive have a number of great resources relating to asbestos. The HSE asbestos website pages provide information on health and safety, as well as the best practices and procedures. If you cannot find the information you are looking for on our site, we recommend trying the HSE asbestos website – www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.
Asbestos in the Home Infographic
If you prefer a quick, fun and visual explanation of asbestos in your home, we have put together a helpful infographic. This information highlights some of the points from above, whilst also adding some additional facts and information. If you would like to use this infographic, please feel free – you will find the embedding code below.
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Asbestos Services Pricing
Many people believe that asbestos services are expensive, but there are a number of precautions and regulations that must be followed to ensure these services are carried out in a thorough and safe manner.
To ensure you receive a professional service for an affordable price, we recommend requesting quotes from numerous contractors. You do not have to use the cheapest company, but instead should choose your favourite, and use any lower quotes to negotiate a better deal. Find out more about asbestos removal costs.
This page contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence.