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Buying Property with an Asbestos Risk? How to Check & Take Action

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral fibre, which was used frequently in both residential and commercial buildings in Australia from the 1920s right up until the 1980s. In fact, Australia had one of the highest rates of asbestos use per person until the mid 1980s.

This was because as well as being highly affordable and abundant, asbestos was known for its many positive qualities, such as its fire-retardant properties and usefulness as a natural insulator.

Unfortunately, the history of asbestos isn’t pretty. It wasn’t known at the time, but prolonged exposure to asbestos was causing many people to be affected by serious and life-threatening illnesses such as lung cancer.

Asbestos was banned completely in Australia in December 2003, but some asbestos products can still be found in Australian homes, especially those built before the 1990s.

We get asked a lot of questions from our customers who are (understandably) concerned about asbestos.

In this blog, we’ll answer some of the most common asbestos questions and tell you what to do if you suspect your new property may have it.

What is asbestos? Why is asbestos harmful?

Asbestos is a group of naturally-occurring minerals. Unfortunately, asbestos is extremely fibrous. The tiny fibres in asbestos are very easy to breathe in and, once in the lungs, they can become trapped, causing cancers and other illnesses.

Those who are particularly at risk are tradespeople and home renovators.

Does my home have asbestos? What are the chances?

The age of your home is the best indicator that it may contain asbestos. Asbestos can be found in Australian homes, particularly those made up until 1987, but some may even be present in homes made from 1987 to the early 2000s.

This means any home that was renovated or built prior to 1987 is likely to contain asbestos, unless it has already been checked and removed.

There were hundreds of products containing asbestos that were manufactured during this time. Asbestos or materials containing asbestos can be found in a multitude of areas in and around the home, such as:

·         Roofing

·         Gutters

·         Ceiling insulation

·         Gables and eaves

·         Sheds

·         Fencing

·         Tile backing and adhesives

·         Splashbacks in the bathroom or kitchen

·         In or on walls

·         Floor underlays

·         Packing under beams

·         Some window putty

The good news? Asbestos is usually not harmful unless the product containing it is disturbed or badly deteriorating, with the exception of ceiling insulation. It is only when you come into close contact with it, or try to cut it or remove it, that the asbestos fibres are released into the air. But if you suspect you may have asbestos in your home, don’t leave it to chance.

Do I need to get an asbestos specialist?

DIY removal for asbestos is not an option. Sometimes asbestos is highly visible, but often it is hard to spot. That’s why we recommend calling a professional if you have purchased or are looking to purchase a home built or renovated before 1987.

Only a NATA accredited testing facility can definitively test for asbestos. It requires taking samples of building materials and testing it in a lab.

What should I look for in an asbestos specialist?

Your asbestos specialist should be a licensed specialist accredited by NATA. These professionals are trained in handling this hazardous material. 

They will conduct extensive testing for asbestos to find and identify if the fibre is present in the structure of a building.

Can I negotiate a cheaper house price if there’s asbestos present?

Just because asbestos is present, doesn’t mean that it presents any immediate danger. However, the existence of asbestos could scare off some buyers, so it may mean you’ll be able to ask for a reduction in a house price.

If you do get a reduction, however, you’ll need to consider how much asbestos is present, if it needs to be removed, and if so, at what cost. Otherwise any reduction in price you do get may be offset by the removal costs. If you are able to leave the asbestos in the building, keep in mind that it may affect the future re-sale value of the property.

Asbestos is a particular concern in office buildings, as, if occupants are exposed to asbestos through an accident or damage to the building, the owner would be liable.

How often does asbestos need to be checked?

Once an asbestos specialist has checked your home and identified and removed any asbestos, you won’t need to check again unless you have a particular concern.

There are two types of asbestos:

Friable: this is highly fibrous asbestos containing tiny particles which are easily released into the air.

Non-friable: this is compact asbestos, usually in small amounts, contained in materials such as cladding.

While friable asbestos will need to be removed, non-friable asbestos is not usually an immediate health concern unless it is damaged or deteriorating. If your asbestos specialist has identified non-friable asbestos in your home, you’ll need to monitor these materials over the months or years to ensure they don’t get damaged.

How much does it cost to get asbestos tested and removed?

Removal of asbestos can be expensive. Even a small job could start from $1,000- $5,000. Large removal projects can range anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

That’s why it pays (literally) to be informed about asbestos in your home or a new home you’re considering purchasing, and to take steps for removal if needed. Are you concerned about asbestos? To find out more, discover the history of asbestos here, or contact us for more information.

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