Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used in building materials due to its fire-resistant properties. Popular from the 1940s to the 1970s, it can be found in many older homes. However, asbestos is now known to be hazardous, with prolonged exposure causing serious health issues such as lung disease and cancer.

It wasn’t fully banned until 1999, so asbestos containing materials were used extensively in the construction and maintenance of buildings in Great Britain from the the second half of the 20th century.

To ensure that you don’t put yourself and others at risk, it’s crucial that you deal with asbestos containing materials in the appropriate manner. From knowing what to look out for, to having the area tested for contaminants. And crucially, the importance of professional handling and removal to prevent health risks. Removing this yourself is not a possibility, it’s not just unsafe, it’s a legal requirement in the UK.

This article will guide you on how to identify and safely manage asbestos in your home.

Asbestos on pipes

Know what signs to look out for

The first step to identifying asbestos in your home is to know what general signs to watch out for. First, it can be helpful to know when your house was built, and when any additional work was done on it. 

Asbestos was most commonly used from the mid to late 20th century, and as a result, it’s likely that any work done during this time span will include asbestos containing materials. Common materials that might contain asbestos from this time period include insulation materials, floor tiling, certain paints, and roofing materials.

Again I must stress, visual inspection is just a preliminary step and should be done wearing protective equipment, and very carefully to avoid disturbing potential ACMs.

Identifying Asbestos in Your Home

Common Locations of Asbestos

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) can be found in various parts of a home, especially those built before the 1980s. Common locations include:

  • Insulation around pipes and boilers
  • Vinyl floor tiles and the adhesive used
  • Roofing materials and shingles
  • Siding
  • Plaster and some types of textured paints and coatings
  • HVAC duct insulation
  • Window caulking and glazing​

Visual and Physical Indicators

While it can be challenging to identify asbestos just by looking, there are some indicators:

  • Check for materials that are worn, frayed, or damaged.
  • Asbestos insulation typically looks like a white or greyish fibrous material.
  • Older vinyl tiles and linoleum may also contain asbestos​

Please note, you cannot rely solely on visual identification due to the microscopic nature of asbestos fibres, only professional testing should be relied on.

constructional material with asbestos fibres

Get materials tested

While it’s important to know what kinds of general signs to watch out for, even the experts won’t rely on visual clues alone. If you believe that you might have an asbestos-containing material in your house, it’s imperative that you get that material tested so that you can be certain about what you’re dealing with.

Initial Inspection

Begin with a visual inspection, looking for any suspicious materials, especially in areas prone to wear and tear or water damage.

DIY testing

For those confident DIYers and builders only, you can pick up easy-to-use asbestos testing kits which include protective gear and very affordable at £40. You just take a small sample and put it in a bag. You then send this sample off to a testing centre, and receive the results shortly after.

Please only do this with the HSE approved protective equipment provided to reduce exposure to asbestos fibres during the process, and ensure the provider uses a UKAS-accredited testing laboratory.

Professional Testing

If you are not confident of handling this yourself, you can get a certified professional to collect and analyse samples. A professional inspection involves a thorough visual examination and careful collection of samples for lab analysis​. Checkatrade estimate this cost to average £250, although this will vary with location and company.

professional Asbestos removal

Getting it professionally removed

If your tests confirm that there is in fact asbestos present in your home, then it’s imperative that you don’t attempt to remove it yourself. Asbestos needs to be removed using certain techniques, to ensure that it doesn’t break up into smaller pieces and contaminate the rest of the space.

In the UK, any work involving high-risk asbestos materials, such as asbestos insulation or asbestos insulating board (AIB), requires a licensed contractor and work must be notified to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 14 days before commencing. Any reputable builder won’t touch this job, it has to be an expert.

Which techniques will need to be used depends on the kind of asbestos containing material that’s present in your property. In some cases, it will necessitate the use of some kind of wetting process, to ensure that any dust that’s produced isn’t able to enter the air and spread around.

Test for contaminants

Once you’ve had the asbestos removed, it’s important that you also test the area for contamination. In some cases, you’ll need to get an official certification to show that you’ve gone about getting the materials removed using the appropriate procedures. This can be important for other processes, such as selling the house at a later date.

Asbestos absolutely isn’t something to mess around with. It can have incredibly damaging long-term health effects, and it’s imperative that you take the appropriate steps to identify and remove any potentially toxic materials. By following the basic procedures listed above, you should be on track to making sure that everything runs smoothly.

UK Regulations for Asbestos Removal

In the UK, the management and removal of asbestos are governed by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. These regulations provide a framework to ensure the safety of individuals and the environment when dealing with asbestos.

These regulations mandate comprehensive management plans, professional training, and meticulous record-keeping to protect both the occupants and workers. By adhering to these guidelines and seeking professional assistance, homeowners can effectively manage asbestos risks, ensuring a safe and healthy living environment.

For more detailed information and resources, visit the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website. Following these procedures will help ensure that your home is free from the dangers of asbestos and that you are fully compliant with all legal and safety standards.

As an aside, if you have bought an older property as a project and have found asbestos, I recommend you check for lead paint which was only banned in 1992 and can also cause health issues.