Asbestos. It’s an ugly-sounding word, isn’t it?
It’s remarkable to think that substance - so demonised today - was refined and installed in homes with the absolute best intentions.
Let’s back up a little bit to understand a little of the history and makeup of asbestos, since the background is at least a little important to comprehending how it may affect the sale of your home.
So, what is asbestos?
Many people have heard the term, but few people can really define what it actually is. Asbestos is simply a set of natural silicate minerals that has been mined and exported from locations around the world for centuries (going back over 4,000 years, in fact).
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, builders started integrating asbestos into their construction, attracted by its resistance to fire and heat, its strength, and its relative cheap nature. Asbestos was installed or applied to nearly everything in the home, from concrete, bricks and fireplaces to ceiling insulation, drywall, and roofing.
However, it wasn’t soon after that doctors around the world started noticing asbestos’ negative health impacts, particularly in towns marked by heavy asbestos production or installation (the United States shipbuilding town of Hampton Roads, Virginia, for example).
As it turned out, the fibres from asbestos dust were extremely damaging to the human lungs - causing lung cancers, specifically mesothelioma, asbestosis (the scarring of the lungs) and other medical diseases.
As a result, over the years, asbestos has been phased out of construction of homes and other buildings. However, there is a good chance that asbestos is still present in older homes - which, in addition to causing a health risk, can have a significant negative effect on the prospects for selling your house.
Are you selling a home with asbestos?
Signs of asbestos in the home
The only surefire way to determine if your home has asbestos is to get professionals involved.
That means to contact a reliable consulting firm, specialist or building inspector who will come in, take very small samples, and test them in a laboratory for the presence of asbestos. This is not something you can just look and spot with your own eye.
Depending on how extensive the search is - and where the inspectors or services need to look - it can cost anywhere from £100 all the way to £1000.
The most likely places they’ll look for asbestos include:
- Roof shingles and flashing
- Pipe cement
- Joint compound of sheetrock
- Attic insulation
There are a few things you can spot when it comes to searching for areas in the house that may have possibly contained asbestos.
Look for floor tiles that are in 9x9 patterns - that classic style was commonly made with the element - or uninsulated pipes with white or grey installation.
Asbestos in the walls, ceilings and Artex
There are three very common places you may find asbestos in the home. Familiarise yourself with these locales on how to recognise asbestos:
- In the walls - For many years, asbestos was used in constructing walls of homes - in plaster, for example, in insulation and in many other materials
- In the ceilings - For some styles of ceilings popular throughout the 20th century - those types of ceilings called “stucco” or “popcorn” ceilings - asbestos was a must-add to the construction formula.
- In Artex - Artex is a style of coating added to ceilings that was extremely popular throughout the United Kingdom in the 1980s; most of those era’s coatings contained asbestos in its construction. You can recognise Artex ceilings from their distinctive “swirled” pattern.
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Years asbestos was used in the home
A good rule of thumb is that if a house was built before the past two decades, there’s a good risk of asbestos being present.
Generally, the older the house is, the more likely it will be that asbestos is in the household. However, that is absolutely not a hard-and-fast rule. There’s always the option that a house built in the 1990s contains at least some asbestos somewhere. Be prepared to check the house thoroughly, no matter what the age.
When asbestos becomes dangerous in the home
Asbestos-covered materials, on their own, undamaged and undisturbed, do not need to be touched - they are usually in good condition.
In fact, if there is asbestos in the home that isn’t in danger of being rattled, damaged or disturbed, you can leave them alone. The only time that asbestos becomes a hazard is when the asbestos fibres contained within are damaged and enter the air, and then travel into human lungs.
That type of asbestos is generally contained in material referred to “friable” - easily damaged or disrupted.
When asbestos goes into that state, the fibres in the material are released where they can do their damage. Unfortunately, since asbestos is oftentimes installed in places that are susceptible to encountering this state, there’s a good chance that this material will escape into the air.
Here are some common situations where asbestos can turn harmful:
- When asbestos around heat sources (boilers, furnaces, flue pipes, chimneys) deteriorates due to the temperature
- Water pipes containing asbestos may start to break down over time
- Drilling or patching into walls or ceilings with asbestos could release the fibres
- Continued deterioration of insulation containing asbestos
If any of those situations occur - or if asbestos anywhere else in the house starts to break down - there’s a good chance that these harmful asbestos elements could be released into the air.
How to safely remove asbestos
The way to safely remove asbestos is to engage the professionals.
If you think you need to replace materials with asbestos in the house, it’s best to engage a licensed contractor or specialist first. These people will be able to recommend the best course of action - whether it is better to leave the material alone, repair it by sealing the potential problem, or (in the most extreme occasion) removing it themselves.
Again, don’t attempt removal of suspected asbestos on your own. Engage a licensed local contractor, or talk to your local environmental health contractor for the best advice in the process.
Disclosure of asbestos to buyers
It’s absolutely essential that you get your house properly asbestos surveyed from a health and safety executive to discover all the potential sources of asbestos in the home. Once that’s done, either get the problem fixed (if necessary) or be sure to inform the buyer of its presence.
If you don’t disclose that there is asbestos within the household, you could be held liable for the omission and the cost to repair the problem.
If you are planning to sell your house yourself then check out: The Ultimate House Viewing Checklist
Problems with asbestos and selling
As just stated, the presence of asbestos brings up some naturally-scary thoughts when it comes to the selling process - nobody likes the word.
However, it may not be as massive of a problem, and it’s really not that uncommon. A great chunk of properties contain it, it may not even harm the asking price (in the end), and may not need to be removed at all.
So don’t panic!
Evaluate what you have to do, keep the buyer in the loop, and you’ll probably be a-okay when it comes time to sell.