We all know that asbestos is harmful, but most of us would be surprised to know how much of it there still is in homes in the UK. It has been claimed that as many as 70% of homes may contain it in some form. Left alone, this is not a problem, but if it is disturbed, it can cause fibres to be released and inhaled, which can be fatal.
Your HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey) from a Chartered Surveyor should be able to assess the risk and point you in the right direction to get this sorted.
If inhaled, asbestos fibres can enter the lungs and cause serious diseases, which according to the government, are responsible for around 4000 deaths a year. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal).
How is asbestos released?
Any asbestos in properties today has been there for a long time: it has been largely prohibited for new use since 1985 with further legislation meaning that by 2000 it was effectively outlawed. Homes and offices built before that time could very well have asbestos in them, which has mostly proved harmless. However, if a material containing asbestos is disturbed (e.g. by removal, drilling, sanding or sawing) its fibres are released into the air. This is why refurbishment or demolition work on older properties can cause problems.
Where is asbestos found?
Unfortunately asbestos can be lurking in a great many places in the home. A Building Surveyor carrying out a standard property survey should be able to spot asbestos and will refer you to a specialist asbestos consultant.
It is often found in the following places:
- Stud walls and partitions
- Thermal and acoustic insulation
- Flue pipes & chimneys
- Cement roofing, drainpipes
- Soffit boards
- Ceiling tiles
- Decorative coatings such as artex
- Thermo plastic floor tiles
- Electrical fuse boards & switch gear
- Toilet cisterns & water tanks
The danger is that you will not necessarily know it is there when you move into your new home.
Removal of asbestos is very strictly controlled by the Health and Safety Executive, meaning it's a legal requirement that the work be carried out by licensed Specialist Contractors, which can work out expensive.
Buying a new home
Increasingly, buyers are being advised by their mortgage lenders and solicitors to seek an Asbestos Survey prior to exchange of contracts. Apart from the health implications, this can also help establish whether the value of the property is affected by finding asbestos, given the cost and hassle of removing it.
If you are buying to let, you are under a legal obligation to assess the risk and manage potential exposure.
There are different types of Asbestos Survey, depending on whether you will simply be managing Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) during the normal occupation and use of premises, or whether you are planning on upgrading, refurbishment or demolition. It is important that you take advice from a surveyor.
Selecting a surveyor
If you want an Asbestos Survey, you will need a competent surveyor. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accredits organisations. Your surveyor should be able to help you find an asbestos consultant.
Updated January 2023 by Andi Forsythe