Identifying Asbestos In Older Homes & The Dangers When Renovating
It’s a word that strikes fear into the hearts of homeowners and home builders in Victoria and across Australia, and for good reason too.
With mounting knowledge and research into the hugely dangerous and potentially deadly health effects of exposure to the substance, asbestos has emerged as one of the biggest black marks against the manufacturing industry over the past century, and it’s still causing grief for countless thousands of homeowners and property developers the world over.
The use of all forms of asbestos has been banned in Australia since the end of 2003, and unfortunately, its dangerous legacy still lives on in the walls and structures of thousands of homes around the country. But with proper preparation and strict safety precautions, asbestos can be safely removed and disposed of before it has a chance to put the health and lives of homeowners and their families at risk.
We’ve dedicated this week’s blog post to explaining a little more about what asbestos is, the risks involved in exposure to the substance, and how to go about organising for its safe removal if you’re renovating, rebuilding or considering buying an older property.
A brief history of asbestos and its usage
Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally-occurring silicate minerals, and was mined in various mining hubs throughout Australia for decades.
At the time, it was seen as something of a miracle product – it was fire proof, water proof, and had excellent insulating properties, making it a popular choice for building components of homes.
Asbestos was also used to manufacture almost everything from fire-proof blankets and the walls of buildings, to tiles, cement roof sheeting, and even fake decorative Christmas snow.
Loose-fill asbestos was also used inside the walls and roofs of homes as insulation in the 60’s and 70’s, and many will recall the Mr Fluffy crisis in the ACT, which is still ongoing today.
Experts report that from the 1950s to the 1970s, Australia had the highest per capita rate of asbestos use in the world.
The ongoing dangers of asbestos
It is now widely known that exposure to airborne asbestos particles is a leading cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer which affects the membrane lining of the internal organs. Other asbestos related diseases include asbestosis (scarring and thickening of the lung tissue), and lung cancer.
According to the US-based Mesothelioma Center, Australia has the second-highest rate of mesothelioma deaths in the world, trailing only that of the United Kingdom, due to the country’s extensive history of asbestos use.
Those most at risk are those who were employed to mine, manufacture, and install asbestos products, but there have been thousands of recorded illnesses and deaths related to living in homes in which asbestos particles have become airborne.
Removing asbestos when renovating or re-building your home
Many homes built pre-1980 likely contain materials manufactured with asbestos, so if you’re not building a new home and thinking about buying or renovating an older property, it’s important to have a professional inspection done by someone who is licensed to identify asbestos-containing structures.
This will help minimise any dangerous surprises once components of the house start being removed or demolished to make way for the renovations.
It’s important to remember that removal of asbestos can be expensive, so if you’re thinking about purchasing a home made with asbestos-containing materials, it’s important to consider whether you’re willing to foot the cost of removing it down the line.
Other than areas mentioned above, other sneaky places to look out for asbestos in the home include:
- Inside brick cladding – Many homes made from fibro walls have had brick cladding added on at a later date to improve the appearance of the home. However, the original fibro walls still remain, which means that special precautions need to be taken during the demolition process.
- Inside your switch-box – In the 60’s and 70’s, asbestos was a popular material to place inside switch-boxes because of its fire-proof properties. Even in a recently renovated home, the switch-box can still contain this original asbestos, so ask your electrician to inspect your switch-box thoroughly for any asbestos, and organise for its removal if necessary.
Choosing the right professional asbestos removalist
When it comes to asbestos removal, be sure to choose your builder wisely – Many builders say that they “can remove asbestos no problem”, only to come in swinging wildly with hammers and bulldozers, throwing not only care to the wind, but a whole bunch of toxic asbestos dust as well.
When hiring someone to remove asbestos from your home, ask to see their asbestos removal license, which is a legal requirement in Australia for anyone removing asbestos from a building.
Details can be found on the Worksafe Victoria website, and for those in other states, be sure to check your local state’s government website for information on asbestos licensing requirements.
More info on asbestos and its removal in Victoria can be found on the asbestos.vic.gov.au website.
Of course if you build a new home, this is something you will never have to worry about! *hint hint*
You’re trusted Melbourne Home Builder – Dennis Family Homes – A Family Building Homes For Families