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 conditions 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 exposure to asbestos.  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.

TOPIC: Asbestos

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Theodora Ahilas

Maurice Blackburn Sydney
Theodora Ahilas is head of Maurice Blackburn's asbestos and dust diseases national practice. She is a Principal Lawyer and Director in our Sydney office who has more than 25 years of experience in asbestos law, who is qualified to practice in Australia and New Zealand. This experience has been recognised by the prestigious Doyles Guide, which listed Theodora as one of only three leading lawyers in her field in 2016 and 2017. Theodora is a passionate champion for equality and access to justice regardless of age, race, gender and financial situation. Coming from a non-English speaking background and fluent in Greek, Theodora takes a particular interest in clients from similar circumstances. “I knew from a fairly young age, that I wanted to go into law and do the kind of law that helps people. Equally important is that our clients irrespective of where they come from and how much money they have in their back pocket, have access to the best possible legal advice and are treated with equal dignity by their legal team.” Theodora is a member of many organisations that help progress the interests of her clients. All of her associations are testament to Theodora’s compassion and empathy, and her commitment to fighting for fair. Being cross-culturally sensitive is also important to Theodora, and she understands the intricacies and subtleties involved in dealing with clients, their families, and their needs and wishes, often through interpreters. As well as a Bachelor of Laws with Honours, Theodora also has a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Social Work, allowing her to be more aware of the emotional issues that arise when dealing with a client’s situation. She treats her clients with respect and understands the need for clients and their families to make the most of every moment. Theodora finds working in asbestos law inspiring, and she finds strength in her clients, the personal stories they tell and their courageous and tenacious will to ensure the compensation they fight for will stand their loved ones in good stead. She admires the honesty and integrity of her clients. “In these trying circumstances, I witness the best of the human spirit and the lengths that people go to live. The thing that stays with me is the integrity with which they accept the end of life.” Theodora willingly shares her experiences of helping people with dust diseases. She is a co-author of the Cancer Council of NSW's Understanding Mesothelioma book, which is part of a series of more than 50 free resources for people with cancer, their families and friends. In 2012, Theodora was awarded the prestigious Law and Justice Foundation of NSW Justice Medal in recognition of her achievements in improving access to justice for clients and their families, as well as her extraordinary compassion and commitment. Memberships & accreditations Law Society of NSW Member Australian Lawyers Alliance Member Australian Commercial Disputes Centre Accredited Mediator Women's Lawyers Association Member Hellenic Chamber of Commerce Member The Lung Foundation of Australia Member Spastic Centre's McLeod Wheel of Friends Honourary Member Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand Executive Member Baird Institute of NSW Associate Cancer Council of NSW Associate Australian Association of Social Workers Member Awards Doyles Guide leading lawyer, 2016, 2017 Justice Medal, 2012 ...

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