What you should know about asbestos before renovating your home

Asbestos is dangerous when you remove or disturb it, both of which you may do during a renovation. We talk you through managing a reno safely.

If you’re renovating or demolishing a home or investment property, you need to be very careful about disrupting asbestos building products. Asbestos building products may be present in different parts of your house, particularly if the house was built before 1985.   

Asbestos building products cannot cause harm when the product is intact and undamaged, however, there is a potential during renovations that asbestos building products can be disturbed, potentially causing the release of asbestos dust into the air. It is therefore important that you are very careful not to disturb any product that’s likely to contain asbestos. Breaking or cutting asbestos-containing material can create an airborne dust so fine that it’s often invisible to the naked eye. Inhaling asbestos dust can cause serious health problems such as mesothelioma, which is a terminal form of asbestos cancer.

Asbestos-related diseases are rare.  You will not necessarily develop an asbestos-related condition just because you have been exposed to asbestos. However, even though these conditions are rare, it is not worth taking the risk.

What to do if you suspect your house contains asbestos

Asbestos may be present in a number of places within your home. In the past, asbestos was commonly used as external cladding, for internal wall linings and for eaves and soffits.  Asbestos building products were also used in laundries and bathrooms in place of tiles, and corrugated asbestos fibro was used for roofs and fences.

There are no obvious ways to tell whether you have asbestos in your home; however, if you suspect this might be the case (due to your property’s age or the materials it contains), you should have a professional check your property. Accredited experts in asbestos testing can take and test a sample of a product to confirm whether or not it has any asbestos content, and they can advise you on how to proceed with the asbestos removal.

Removing asbestos

If any planned renovations require the removal or disturbance of any asbestos building products then you need to arrange for it to be removed properly. Asbestos removal requires a specific skill set, so you need to have professionals handle it for you. Be sure to hire a qualified expert who’s certified and accredited in the process. A licensed asbestos removalist will manage an asbestos-removal control plan to make this process as safe as possible.

Whilst you are not legally required to engage a professional asbestos removalist, or to notify your local council about the presence of asbestos, it is important that your health, and the health of those around you, is not affected by any asbestos exposure.  Although engaging a professional asbestos removalist can add an additional cost to your renovation, it is the safest way of ensuring the job gets done properly and safely.

Visit the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency website to familiarise yourself with the common locations of asbestos within homes. This website also provides information on recognising asbestos and registering asbestos exposure.

Theodora Ahilas is a Principal and Director in Maurice Blackburns Sydney office.

Asbestos and home renovations


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