Asbestos in the home - help and advice
Asbestos has been used in the construction and modernisation of housing for many years. This page looks at what you can do if you have asbestos in your home. Unless it is damaged or worn, your best course of action is often to leave it alone.
Asbestos in the home
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of small fibres. From the 1950s to mid 1980s, it was widely used in the construction of homes. Although asbestos is no longer used in building materials, it may be present in many kinds of older building materials found in your home, including:
- roof tiles
- floor tiles
- wall panels
- insulation panels in storage heaters
- packing between floors and partition walls
- bath panels
- airing cupboard walls
- central heating flues
- garage and shed roofs
- gutters and drainage pipes
- pipe lagging
- textured paint and plastering
- cement fireplace surrounds
- fuse boxes.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
When products made from asbestos become worn or damaged, they release dust fibres into the air, which can be inhaled or swallowed. Tiny fibres can lodge in the lungs and may cause fatal cancers, or lung diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. These conditions often do not develop for many years after exposure - sometimes up to 50 years.
What are the risks?
Due to the extensive use of asbestos in building materials, there are low levels of asbestos fibres in the air everywhere. However, these are not harmful. Asbestos fibres only become dangerous if you breathe in large quantities. If you don't work directly with asbestos, you're highly unlikely to be affected by it, even if your home does contain asbestos products.
How do I know if there's asbestos in my home?
If your home was built after 1986, it's unlikely that asbestos materials were used. The use of asbestos in building materials was banned in 1999, so if your home was built in 2000 or later, it won't contain any asbestos at all. However, if your home was built during the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, asbestos materials may well have been used during its construction.
You can't tell if something is made of asbestos just by looking at it. If you're concerned about building materials in your home, you can get further information and advice from an asbestos specialist - you can find a list at the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy (ATaC) website.
What should I do if there is asbestos in my home?
If asbestos material in your home is in good condition and isn't likely to be broken, chipped or damaged, it shouldn't be a danger to you or your family. Your best course of action is simply to leave it alone. Trying to remove it could result in an unnecessary release of fibres into the air.
DO seal it in with paint
You may wish to seal in the asbestos with paint - this will prevent any fibres escaping. Use emulsion paint on insulating board, and alkali resistant primer or coating on asbestos cement - your local DIY store may be able to recommend a suitable product.
DO keep an eye on it
Watch out for any damage to the asbestos products, or for any dust being released.
DON'T let it escape
If you're carrying out any repairs or improvements in your home, even minor works, you have to be very careful not to disturb any asbestos materials by drilling, sanding, sawing or otherwise creating dust. Make sure you tell any builders or other contractors working on your home if asbestos is present.
What if the asbestos material in my home is damaged?
If asbestos products in your home are damaged and giving off dust, you'll probably need to get them removed and disposed of safely.
Remember, asbestos is there for a reason, for example, to provide insulation or heat resistance or to hold something up, so you'll need to replace it with a suitable asbestos-free alternative.
You may be able to remove small amounts of asbestos yourself, although you must take safety precautions and dispose of it safely.
- Keep other people away from the working area.
- Wear disposable overalls and a dust mask approved for asbestos.
- Spread a plastic sheet under the work area to collect any dust.
- Wet the material you'll be removing with water and a small amount of washing up liquid (make sure the water doesn't come into contact with any electricity).
- Don't use power tools - use hand tools instead.
- If at all possible, don't break up the asbestos material, remove it in one piece.
- Place everything you remove in strong plastic bags, or wrap large materials in polythene.
- Use a damp cloth to clean up any dust, then seal the cloths in a plastic bag while still damp. Don't use a broom, or a vacuum cleaner, as asbestos dust may pass through the filter.
- Once the dust is cleared up and all materials are sealed in plastic bags, remove your overalls and mask carefully and seal them up too.
- Write 'asbestos' clearly on all the disposal bags.
- Wash yourself thoroughly.
- Don't put the bags in the rubbish bin. Contact your local council to find out where you need to take the materials to dispose of them safely. Some councils may arrange to collect them from you.
Don't attempt to remove asbestos products from gas or electrical systems yourself - call in a registered professional for advice.
The information for householders available at the ATaC website has more advice on removing asbestos yourself.
Calling in a contractor
For asbestos advice and help, you can call in an asbestos removal professional - you can find one in the Yellow Pages under 'asbestos removal', or at the ATaC website. Make sure any contractor you hire is licensed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to work with asbestos - you can find a list at the HSE website.
What if I rent my home?
If you rent your home and are concerned about damaged asbestos materials, you should report it to your landlord. Escaping asbestos fibres constitute disrepair, so it's up to your landlord to remedy the problem, either by sealing in the asbestos or by having it removed. You can find out more about getting repairs done if you rent from a private landlord or from the council or a housing association.
If you rent your home privately and your landlord is refusing to do anything about the problem, you may be able to get help from the council's environmental health department, as escaping asbestos fibres can be seen as a 'statutory nuisance', harmful to your health.