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The house next door to me was recently sold. Being an original 1970s home I knew it would be earmarked for renovation or demolition. Sure enough, the new owner demolished the kitchen, bathroom and laundry. They then left the debris in a pile out front. The new owner is about my age, and in my opinion, that creates a special problem about asbestos awareness.

I was born in 1987, so I grew up when asbestos was "in between worlds." By that I mean that when I was a child, asbestos had been phased out of building products, but it wasn’t banned yet. Asbestos wasn’t banned in Australia until December 2003, and by then I was a teenager and high school senior. I don't remember learning that asbestos was banned, but even if I did, would a 16 year old really care about something that wasn't used in my lifetime?

Is finding asbestos in old houses dangerous?

This is a problem because asbestos is still here, lurking in houses that my generation are now old enough to be buying. Like many of my friends, I bought a home that was built before I was born. A home that needed updating. A home that was built before 1990 almost certainly has asbestos in it. Enter the DIY renovation boom.

The trend amongst my friends has been one of two things. Either buy a new home off the plan in a new estate, or buy an older home closer to town with a plan to renovate. For the most part, my friends have chosen the latter, as did I. When I inspected my future home, in my head I was already planning a laundry renovation, calculating what it would cost on top of the purchase price. This way of thinking is common practice amongst my peers.

This is why our natural born ignorance about asbestos is dangerous. Don’t get me wrong, public awareness of the consequences of asbestos exposure is too low amongst the rest of the general public as well, but in my experience from conversations with family members and older people, there is more often than not a limited understanding of how frequently asbestos was used in homes, and why it is dangerous.

By contrast, most of my age group don’t know what to look for or where to go for information on asbestos. More alarmingly, many of them don’t know that they should be worrying about asbestos. As an asbestos compensation lawyer, this concerns me. I worry that without greater awareness, younger generations will unknowingly expose themselves and their children to asbestos and future cases of mesothelioma in particular, will be all but guaranteed.

Removing asbestos in old houses

What happens if you are exposed to asbestos?

The consequences of asbestos exposure can be deadly. Inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres can cause mesothelioma, an aggressive, terminal cancer for which there is no cure. Anyone who is exposed to asbestos is at risk, including the children of those persons who are trying to save a few bucks by doing those renovations themselves.

Where is asbestos commonly found in the home?

Asbestos was very commonly used as eaves or external cladding of homes. It was also standard practice to line bathrooms, kitchens and laundries. The lining could be below tiles or flooring. The diagram below shows  common places that asbestos can be found. 

How to stop worrying about asbestos while planning a renovation

If you are considering a renovation in a home that was built before 1990, you should factor in the cost of an asbestos inspection and possible removal. There is no way to determine just from looking whether asbestos was used in your home. The only way to stop worrying about asbestos is to be sure that asbestos is not present in your home by arranging for it to be tested. If asbestos is present, the safest option is to have it professionally removed by a licensed asbestos removalist.

There are some other excellent resources on the internet which provide more safety information and advice for professional asbestos removal during home renovations, such as the Asbestos Safety website

Related article: 
Is your home hiding a toxic secret? Why home buyers and DIYers need to think asbestos

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