Asbestos is something most of us have heard of and are aware is bad – but we may not know exactly what it is, where it can be found, or what problems it can cause.

However, it’s vital to find out whether you have asbestos in your home and if it needs to be removed, in order to avoid potentially serious risks to your health.

In this article, we’ll explain what asbestos is, what risks it poses to your health, and how to find out if your home contains asbestos.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a general term that refers to several types of natural mineral that have crystallised and formed fibres. These can be divided into two sub-groups: serpentine (white asbestos) and amphiboles (including blue and brown asbestos).

Asbestos was commonly used in construction in the UK between the 1930s and the mid-1980s as insulation and fireproofing, due to being cheap, sturdy and heat resistant.

However, as understanding of the health risks of asbestos increased, amphiboles were banned in 1985, followed by a ban on serpentine in 1999, meaning asbestos can no longer be supplied or used in the UK in any form.

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Is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is not immediately harmful when left intact in large pieces. However, it can present a health hazard if it is damaged or disturbed, as this releases asbestos fibres into the air which can lead to long-term health problems if inhaled.

Breathing in a high quantity of asbestos over an extended period of time can cause you to develop asbestosis, a chronic lung condition that can severely impact your breathing and cause pain in various parts of the body. This in turn can also make you more susceptible to lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the lungs), and other forms of cancer.

Symptoms do not always develop immediately, and it can take years or even decades for signs of asbestosis to appear. Consult your GP if you are experiencing breathing problems, or any other symptoms such as:

  • A persistent dry cough
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Swelling fingertips or toes (also known as clubbing)
  • A dry, cracking sound when breathing in

According to the United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association (UKATA), asbestos plays a factor in over 5,000 deaths in the UK each year, with men who worked in the construction industry before asbestos was banned the most at risk of contracting mesothelioma.

How do I know if I have asbestos in my home?

Despite being fully banned over two decades ago, due to the fact it was so frequently used in construction prior to this, asbestos is still often found in UK homes to this day.

Asbestos can be found in many places in the home, integrated into any number of building materials, particularly cement. A material containing asbestos fibres is also known as an asbestos containing material (ACM). Some relatively common ACMs include:

  • Guttering and drain pipes
  • Wall panels
  • Shed or garage roofs
  • Insulation panels
  • Loose packing in between walls or floors
  • Bath panels

However, there is unfortunately no way of telling if something in your home contains asbestos just by looking at it, as the fibres are so small. The only way to test it is by having an asbestos expert perform a survey on your property – they can assess which materials, if any, are likely to contain asbestos and take samples to be tested if need be.

If you are buying a new home, you can opt to have an asbestos check done as part of the pre-purchase surveys. Asbestos removal can be quite costly, so if any is found in the property, this could be used as a way to negotiate down the price.

What should I do if I think I have asbestos?

Asbestos in cement and other solid materials is usually safe and does not tend to present a health risk, as the fibres are unlikely to be disturbed or inhaled in this form. You should only worry about removing asbestos if you think the material containing it is in poor condition, has been damaged, or could be damaged easily, as this is likely to cause the fibres to disperse.

If you think you might have asbestos in your home, do not attempt to get rid of it yourself. Attempting to do so could damage it and release asbestos fibres into the air, putting your health at risk.

Instead, you should seek out your local council’s guidance on asbestos. Should you need to get it professionally removed, be aware that the cost of this can vary dramatically depending on what exactly needs removing. According to Checkatrade, the average cost of asbestos removal is about £150 per metre squared, and you’ll also need to factor in the cost of replacing the material.

The main trade association for asbestos removal companies in the UK is the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA). You can find a local contractor using their website.

In the meantime, try to close off the area with asbestos in it by shutting the door or putting something in front of it.

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Will having asbestos impact the value of my home?

You can sell a home containing asbestos, and most lenders have no problem offering a mortgage on a property with asbestos in it.

However, if you are aware of the presence of asbestos in your home then you do have to declare it when selling the property.

Asbestos does not tend to directly impact property value, but it may turn off potential buyers who don’t want to deal with the associated risks. As mentioned before, buyers will sometimes use the cost of asbestos removal to negotiate a lower price.

Can I claim on my home insurance if I find asbestos in my property?

Your buildings insurance policy is unlikely to cover the cost of removing asbestos from your property. The main exception is if there is safe asbestos in your home is disturbed or damaged by something that isn’t your fault, such as a fire or flood, therefore causing it to become a health hazard. However, you should consult your policy or contact your provider to find out exactly what your insurance covers when it comes to asbestos.

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