Asbestos fibres can cause serious health problems if they are inhaled. Although the use of new asbestos products has now been banned in the UK, thousands of homes and commercial properties in the United Kingdom contain building materials which include asbestos.
The use of asbestos-containing materials was legal in the United Kingdom up until the year 2000, so any building work or home refurbishment work that was conducted before that year may have been completed using materials that contained asbestos fibres.
In most cases, the asbestos fibres are locked up within the asbestos-containing building materials. As such, they do not pose any risk to members of the household. However, these fibres may be released if the building materials are damaged. Even low-level damage to these building materials can cause the release of harmful asbestos fibres. Being aware of where you might find asbestos-containing building materials in your home can help you to take steps to reduce the risk of
these materials being damaged. It will also allow you to monitor these materials so that you can take appropriate steps if these materials are damaged.
One of the reasons why asbestos is so prevalent is because asbestos does have a number of favourable qualities. It has a high tensile strength, it is malleable, it reacts infrequently with other chemical substances, it is insoluble in water and other organic solvents; it has great thermal stability, it is non-flammable and it has thermal and electrical resistance. Due to the favourable properties of asbestos, it can actually be found in hundreds of different places around the home. Some properties will contain asbestos in almost all of the places that are identified in this list, whereas other homes might only have asbestos hidden in one or two of the locations. Homes that were built after 1999 should not include any asbestos-containing materials at all.
Asbestos cement is a form of asbestos (usually white asbestos) which has been mixed with normal cement and then formed into moulded products. Common asbestos cement products include asbestos cement roofs, wall cladding, downpipes and gutters, sewer pipes,
water tanks, and cement flues. Asbestos cement products may only contain a low concentration of asbestos; however some cement products can contain a concentration which is as high as a third. Testing may be required to ascertain the concentration of asbestos in an asbestos cement product.
Lagging is normally situated around pipes to protect the pipe and to keep as much heat as possible in. It was often used on pipes that formed the heating or hot water system. It normally takes the form of a flaky or fibrous material which turns to powder easily if disturbed.
Non-asbestos lagging is now used to protect pipes, so the lagging around your pipes may not be harmful. If you are concerned about the lagging on your pipes, you should check with an asbestos specialist.
Loose fill insulation may be found in loft spaces, between cavity walls and under the floorboards. It looks like a light, fluffy material which is either whitish grey or blue in colour. Due to the extremely fibrous
nature of this type of asbestos, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous. Asbestos fibres from loose fill insulation can become airborne very easily if the product is disturbed.
Artex is a type of decorative coating which was regularly used on the walls or ceilings. The material could be formed into stiff peaks, so that decorative patterns could be created. These textured coatings tend
to have relatively low levels of asbestos, although specialist advice should still be sought if the coating starts to crumble or break down.
Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) was used regularly as a fireproofing material. It can be found in partition walls, soffits, ceiling tiles, panels in fire doors, and in fireproof cabinets. It can be very difficult to
identify AIB without sampling, because it looks very similar to other types of insulating board.
Asbestos floor tiles were a very popular choice for flooring, because they reduced fire risks and were waterproof. Composite materials were also used to make products such as toilet cisterns and bath
panels. Although these tend to contain low concentrations of asbestos, care should still be taken when working with them. They should also be disposed of as hazardous waste.
Sprayed on asbestos coatings were used as a fireproof insulator. They are often found on the undersides of roofs or on the sides of industrial buildings or warehouses. These coatings are brittle and liable to flaking. They contain high concentrations of asbestos
and should not be disturbed without personal protective equipment. You must contact a licensed professional if you think that you have this type of asbestos at your home.