If you think you have asbestos in your home, don’t panic. Asbestos is usually only a problem if it’s disturbed.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural mineral found in rocks all over the world. Once it’s been mined, asbestos rock mineral is crushed, which produces a material made of long and short fibres.
You can’t identify asbestos by the colour as it is often mixed with other materials.
There are three types of asbestos used in the UK:
- crocidolite (blue asbestos)
- amosite (brown asbestos)
- chrysotile (white asbestos)
Asbestos is resistant to heat and chemicals. It is also strong and flexible. This means it’s used in a wide range of building materials and household products.
White asbestos was most commonly used in domestic appliances and buildings.
Brown asbestos was used in thermal insulation up to the late 1960s and in various sprayed applications and insulating boards until the late 1970s.
Blue asbestos which has not been used in this country since about 1972, was used for insulation lagging and sprayed coating.
When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or deteriorate with age, they can release tiny fibres into the air.
These fibres can penetrate deep into our lungs. They can stay there for a long time and can’t be coughed out.
Blue and brown asbestos are usually the most dangerous types.
Asbestos fibres can cause a cancer called mesothelioma, which is always fatal, and a crippling lung disease called asbestosis.
There are asbestos-containing materials in about 5.5 million buildings in the UK. Because asbestos has been so widely used, there are low levels of asbestos fibres in the air everywhere.
Even if there is asbestos in your home, it is usually not a serious problem. Asbestos only becomes dangerous when it gets damaged over time, or is disturbed during work on your home.
However, asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. It kills around 3,000 people a year.
"Asbestos can be potentially deadly and must be handled properly. The greatest risk occurs when asbestos is damaged, drilled, sawn, scrubbed or sanded."
DIY work can lead to brief but high levels of exposure. There is no ‘safe level’ of exposure to asbestos, so if you think a material might contain asbestos, don’t work on it – get expert advice.
Building materials containing asbestos were widely used from 1930 to the mid 1980s, but particularly from the 1960s onwards. Houses and flats built or refurbished during this time may contain asbestos.
Asbestos has also been used in some heat-resistant household products such as oven gloves and ironing boards.
The use of asbestos in these products dropped greatly in the 1980s. Since 1993, the use of asbestos in most products has been banned.
Asbestos is no longer used in goods (such as toasters, hair dryers, gas and solid fuel appliances) that conform to a British Standard. In fact, importing into the UK any goods containing asbestos is now banned.
New loft or cavity wall insulation does not contain asbestos, however, if it was fitted pre-early 1980s it may contain asbestos.
below you will find some of the asbestos-containing products that might be found in a home.
The external structure of your home:
- roofing felt made with bitumen
- corrugated roofing sheets – on sheds and garages
- durasteel panels – steel-framed sheets with an asbestos-containing core
- flat cladding sheets
- flat roof decking tiles – tiles used as a walking surface to spread the load on flat roofs
- profiled metal sheets coated with asbestos fibres in bitumen
- rainwater downpipes and guttering
- roof cladding, slates and tiles
- soil and vent pipes
- undercloak – board supporting roof tiles where they overhang beyond brickwork (usually found on the end of the house)
- wall cladding sheets
- soffit boards – horizontal boards beneath the roof overhang. They bridge the gap between brickwork and fascia board with the guttering attached
- window sills
The internal structure of your home:
- bath panels
- bituminous paper lining
- bituminous acoustic pads fitted beneath stainless steel sinks
- chimney breasts – cement panels used to form mock chimney breasts in timber-framed homes
- cold water tanks – in the loft space
- decorative ceiling tiles
- floor finish – cushion floor sheet vinyl
- floor tiles – rigid vinyl and thermoplastic vinyl
- fire surrounds – heat and fire proof
- flue pipes to heating systems
- insulation of warm air heating and central heating systems
- lagging – to pipes and boilers
- sprayed asbestos coatings – used for the fire protection of steel beams and other central services in system-built flats
- sprayed insulation coatings – rarely used in standard domestic homes, more likely to be found in large blocks of flats or steel-framed buildings
- textured decorative finish – to ceilings and occasionally walls. Artex is a well-known brand
- textured decorative paint
- wall boarding to internal partitions airing cupboard linings, shelving, duct and pipe covers
- catalytic heaters – heaters that produce heat without a visible flame. The flameless type up to 1988 normally contains an asbestos panel
- coals and fake ash – in early ‘coal effect’ gas fires
- coal bunker – lid and slider panel to coal hole
- electric storage heaters – up to 1976, used for the heat
- retention blocks
- filler ropes surrounding oven doors and solid fuel fires
- fire blankets – in kitchens
- portable heaters using liquid petroleum gas
You cannot tell whether a product contains asbestos simply by looking at it. Often asbestos is mixed with other materials or is dyed, which disguises its true colour. Usually, it is older products that contain asbestos. If your are in any doubt, get it checked out.
Remember, products that contain asbestos can look identical to those that don’t.
Since 1976, British asbestos manufacturers have put labels on their products to show if they contain asbestos.
Unfortunately, these labels are sometimes removed or hidden when products are put in position. The supplier or manufacturer of a product may be able to tell you if it contains asbestos.
Often, homes built at the same time contain similar building materials, so your neighbours may know if surveys for asbestos have been done.
Asbestos-containing materials will stay in social housing for about the next 25-30 years. This is because landlords will never have enough resources to remove all the asbestos in one go.
This is fully in line with the law and with central government policy. The way we deal with asbestos found in our homes is shown in the table below.
If you are planning home improvements or maintenance, and think you have asbestos in your home, always contact us first.
We can check our records and tell you if there is any asbestos present, or arrange for a hazardous materials survey to be carried out.
All asbestos must be removed, sealed or repaired by contractors who have a special licence, issued by the government.
These licensed contractors have to follow strict regulations to make sure asbestos is safely handled
Below are the type of health risks and the actions we will take against each:
The type of asbestos, its location, or its condition is a high health risk: We will remove the asbestos immediately.
The type of asbestos has a much lower health risk, but it would be practical to remove it: We will remove the asbestos as part of a maintenance plan.
The asbestos materials are used in their bare state, but sealing and bonding will reduce or stop the release of fibres: We will seal or bond the fibres, record what we have done, and manage the asbestos.
The asbestos materials are generally in good condition, and they are sealed: We will record and manage the asbestos.
Rooftop, and any relevant consultants or contractors we are working with, undertake asbestos surveys and re-checks from time to time.
Properties may be selected at random, or when works are due. These checks are nothing to worry about and are part of normal asbestos management process. All checks will only be made after appointments have been made.
If you think that your home has any material that contains asbestos, or damaged asbestos, don’t try to deal with it yourself. Instead, call us for advice on 0800 0421 800.
Make regular checks of any material that you think contains asbestos. Don’t touch it, but look for signs of wear and damage such as tears, abrasions or water damage.
Damaged material may release asbestos fibres, especially if you disturb it by hitting or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or airflow.
If its condition has changed a lot since your last inspection, please contact us on our freephone number 0800 0421 800.
- Do keep activities to an absolute minimum in areas where damaged material may contain asbestos
- Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material
- If you own part of your home, do have the removal and repair of asbestos-containing material done by qualified asbestos companies. We also recommend that you use qualified and established companies to carry out sampling and condition reports for you.
- Don’t dust, sweep or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos
- Don’t saw, sand, scrape or drill holes in asbestos materials
- Don’t trample dust or mess from materials that may contain asbestos through the house. Other furnishings may become contaminated and put more people at risk.
Please remember that changes to the structure or the fabric of your home are not allowed under your tenancy agreement, without getting our approval in writing. If you carry out work to your home without our written approval, you will be responsible for the cost of dealing with any asbestos incidents.
DIY work can result in brief but high levels of exposure to asbestos fibres.
If you think a material might contain asbestos:
- Don’t take risks
- Don’t carry out work on it
- Call us for advice free on 0800 0421 800
In your garden, there may be an old shed that you inherited or built many years ago. If this is not part of the original property, this belongs to you and you have responsibility for its condition and maintenance. Some sheds contain asbestos sheeting on the roof or walls.
Soft asbestos, asbestos insulating board (similar to plasterboard), sprayed asbestos coatings and Artex (a decorative textured coating to ceilings and walls) must be removed by a professional stripping company licensed by the Health and Safety Executive.
The work must be carried out in accordance with a strict code of practice involving specialised equipment and protective clothing.
Irresponsible or inappropriate work (commercial or DIY) on asbestos materials in the home can lead to:
- people’s health being put at risk
- contamination of your home
- asbestos materials being put in the dustbin
Carrying out any work to asbestos without the knowledge, expertise and the appropriate protection will put people’s health at risk.
Fly-tipping puts everyone at serious risk especially children. Your local dustbin lorry squashes and grinds up the waste, so the dustbin men will be at risk too.
If you think some of your old household items (such as ironing board rests, oven gloves and fire blankets) contain asbestos, get rid of them as soon as possible.
Dampen them down with water, and put them in a tightly sealed plastic bag labelled ‘asbestos,’
Don’t try to unfasten the ironing board heat pad, or remove the fire blanket from its holder, as this will increase the risk of asbestos dust and debris.
To find out where you can then dispose of these products safely, call your local council’s Environmental Health Department.
When you become a home owner, you are responsible for the asbestos-containing materials in your house (subject to the restrictions of your type of purchase).
If you don’t take the precautions given on this site, you could be putting the lives of you, your family and the contractor at risk.
For more information, phone your local council and ask for the Environmental Health Department.
If you think you have seen asbestos that has been dumped anywhere in the area, phone your council’s Environmental Health Department. They will arrange to have the material inspected and will take the appropriate action.