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.
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 such things as:
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
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 there is the potential with sufficient exposure to lead to a range of medical issues related to the lungs . Symptoms may not occur for years after breathing in the asbestos.
Asbestos is now banned in the UK, however it may still be present in houses built as recently as 2000.
Any domestic building which was built or refurbished before the year 2000 could contain asbestos. This is because the sale of asbestos containing materials was banned in the UK in 1999 and, therefore, houses built after this time should not contain asbestos.
It is difficult to identify potential asbestos just by looking at the material. If you suspect that a part of your home contains asbestos you should seek professional help.
The Health and Safety Executive(HSE) has produced an interactive diagram which illustrates where asbestos may be found.
If there is asbestos present in the home, you could be exposed to asbestos fibres if you are carrying out the work where asbestos is located. As a guide:
If you suspect that your home has some asbestos materials then it is often best to leave them where they are, especially if they are in good condition and unlikely to get damaged. You should check the condition of the materials, from time to time, to make sure they have not been damaged or started to deteriorate
If you intend to undertake building works that may disturb materials that you suspect could contain asbestos, such as textured coatings, then it’s advisable to have an asbestos survey carried out on any home built before the year 2000.
If you suspect that your home does have some asbestos materials do not try and repair or remove it yourself.
Seek further advice from an environmental health officer at your local authority or council who will be able to recommend asbestos specialists to undertake the required tests. If the results are positive, they should be able to recommend a company to help remove and dispose of the asbestos safely.
Most insurance policies are unlikely to cover asbestos removal, unless it is required as part of a valid claim, so it tends to fall to the homeowner.
Some insurers may consider covering removal costs if the asbestos is damaged as the result of a valid claim, 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, where required, the 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 the removal of asbestos unless it’s been damaged by a cause covered under the policy, for example wear and tear isn’t covered. 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.
If your home was built before 2000 it may contain asbestos, however if it was built after 2000 it should not.
If the ceiling has collapsed, leave the debris alone and stop people or pets entering the room, do not sweep up or vacuum up the debris caused by the ceiling collapse and speak to Admiral Home Claims Team, who will advise the best course of action.
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 or disturbed. 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.