It’s something homeowners dread finding - asbestos within the fabric of the building. But how dangerous is it? And to what extent does home insurance cover asbestos removal?
Asbestos is comparatively widespread in buildings in the UK, and there’s a reasonable risk of it showing up in properties built pre-2000. Although often benign, it can be dangerous in certain circumstances, and may require professional removal.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a collective name for a set of six naturally occurring minerals, made up of certain microfibres which can be pulled into a fluffy material. It was once used extensively in construction. Asbestos was used in:
- Ceilings - in artex, for example.
It was often the building material of choice due to its resistance to fire, water and electricity. It’s also good for absorbing sound, and it’s inexpensive. Or, at least, it was.
There were three main types of asbestos used in construction:
- Brown asbestos (amosite) - banned in 1985
- Blue asbestos (crocidolite) - banned in 1985
- White asbestos (chrysotile) - banned in 1999
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos isn’t dangerous unless it’s damaged or disturbed. But it can be damaged by being broken, drilled into, scrubbed, sanded or even just by allowing it to deteriorate. The brown and blue types pose a greater risk.
If it’s damaged or disturbed, the tiny fibres can be easily breathed in. This is potentially carcinogenic and could lead to lung disease. Symptoms may not occur for years after breathing in the asbestos.
Asbestos is now banned in the UK, but may be present in houses built as recently as 2000.
Does home insurance cover asbestos removal?
Most insurance policies are unlikely to cover asbestos removal, so it tends to fall to the homeowner. As removal costs are so high and asbestos is so widespread, it would be excessively burdensome for insurance companies to cover the cost of all removal in all instances.
Some insurers may consider covering removal costs if the asbestos is damaged, and as such poses a health threat. This will vary between companies and policies, however.
In the case of Admiral Buildings Insurance, we would rebuild, repair or replace parts of the buildings damaged by the causes covered under the policy - and this could potentially include parts consisting of asbestos, among other building materials.
If a claim is made involving potential asbestos damage, we appoint a specialist licensed expert to test the damaged area and authorise removal of any damaged asbestos. This could entail sealing off the affected area, or even in some cases arranging alternative accommodation for the occupants until the area is cleared.
Do bear in mind we don’t cover removal of asbestos unless it’s been damaged by a cause covered under the policy. Wear and tear isn’t covered, for instance. Nor is removal covered in the case of boiler repair or a home emergency call-out - if, for example, you need emergency repairs on your roof due to storm damage.
What can I do about asbestos?
If you’re in the market for a new home, the best thing you can do is check for asbestos when viewing the property before committing to buy. This can be tricky, as it’s usually not immediately visible - it may be present in insulation, partition walls or ceiling tiles in otherwise standard houses with brick walls and tiled roofs.
That said, if a surveyor suspects that the building contains asbestos, it should feature in their report. Any instances discovered will be reported as asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
Asbestos doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and tends to be safe if it isn’t damaged. So it’s not necessarily a red flag if you’re buying a property. But it’s worth getting a quote for removal from an accredited professional who’s licensed to dispose of it properly. Whatever you do, don’t try to remove it yourself.
Likewise, as a seller, if you become aware of asbestos, the usual advice is not to remove it unless it’s damaged. However, you might choose to get it removed if you decide that – on balance – this may make the property more desirable. This is not usually cheap, but may be ultimately worthwhile.
Again, be sure to seek out a trained professional if you go down this route.
For peace of mind protection, it’s always a good idea to consider a comprehensive buildings insurance policy.