Guide to Asbestos, Asbestos Surveys and Asbestos Removal

Recognising Asbestos

Asbestos was commonly used for insulation and fire proofing before the mid-1980s, means many premises may contain it, including:

  • Art galleries & museums
  • Beach huts, caravans, holiday flats and chalets
  • Concert halls, theatres and nightclubs
  • Factories and workshops
  • Hotels and guest houses
  • Halls of residence
  • Homes
  • Hospitals and care homes
  • Military barracks and homes
  • Offices
  • Public buildings
  • Retail units and shopping centres
  • Schools, universities and colleges

Asbestos is usually highlighted in asbestos surveys which may be available as part of a Home Information Pack when a property is sold. If you are buying or renting or staying in an older property, always ask about asbestos and whether an asbestos survey has been carried out.

Homeowners whose homes contain asbestos are responsible for its management and removal and that includes garages and outbuildings. Roofing materials often contained asbestos and outbuildings with a corrugated or felt roof should be inspected by a firm of qualified asbestos surveyors able to take an asbestos sample safely.

Because asbestos is composed of fibres in a hard material such as roofing felt or floor tiles, as the material ages and deteriorates or wears out, the fibres can be disseminated into the atmosphere and inhaled and when this happens the material may require urgent removal or encapsulation behind a board or layer of paint.

Where asbestos might be found

The areas in a property or outhouse where asbestos might be found include:

  • Ceilings, roofs, roof tiles and felt, and roof spaces
  • Linings of gutters, ducts, flues, casements
  • Pipe, water tank and boiler lagging
  • Materials next to fire doors and on fire escapes
  • Floor tiles, especially on fire escapes (look for old tiles with flecks in the surface)
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Airing cupboards
  • Ironing board surfaces
  • Insulation materials
  • Fire doors

Different types of asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral and there are six different types, some of which are considered less toxic than others:

  • Actinolite: inhaling this is considered especially dangerous, but it was not frequently used for industrial or commercial purposes
  • Amosite: known as brown asbestos this is usually found in pipework and concrete
  • Anthophyllite: like actinolite, this type of asbestos is not common in industrial or commercial applications
  • Chrysotile: also known as white asbestos, this is considered the safest type of asbestos as its fibres are the hardest to inhale
  • Crocidolite: also known as blue asbestos, this is considered the most dangerous
  • Tremolite: this used to be found in certain talcum powder products, but was not often used for commercial or industrial applications.

Asbestos surveyors are highly trained in recognising different types of asbestos materials and assessing the potential risks of leaving the material in place or whether it needs to be removed urgently.

DIY and asbestos removal or management

If you are uncertain as to whether a property might contain asbestos, do not take a sample yourself, or drill or cut into it in any way. Many homeowners and contractors inadvertently ripped out materials such as tiles or insulation containing asbestos before the extent of the health risks were known.

Asbestos in situ may already have been painted over or encased behind a board. It should be marked with a sticker showing the letter A or have a warning painted on it, but often this does not happen, so be especially careful when removing boards or fascia in a property.

Anyone refurbishing a property built before the 1980s and especially those built between the 1950s and 1980s should be especially cautious in case asbestos is present.

It is always best to obtain an asbestos removal quote and hire a surveyor specialising in the different types of asbestos survey to inspect a property; or ask the owner or building management for a copy of any asbestos survey or report.

Cheap asbestos surveys may be advertised online, but make sure the surveyor is fully qualified and licensed. Asbestos removal companies also need to be licensed for asbestos removal services.

Council tenants do not have liability for asbestos in their homes and the local housing department at the council is liable for removing or managing asbestos on any council-owned premises.

Employers are responsible to assessing and managing risks to workers and the public on their premises.

Dealing with asbestos

Asbestos potentially is a very dangerous material and needs to be removed if possible; or managed if removing it would be more likely to cause contamination than leaving it in place and encapsulating it by boarding it over or painting it and then marking it as asbestos.

If asbestos is removed a licensed asbestos contractor must be engaged to do the work and a sealed area around the site will be set up to make sure no contamination of the atmosphere takes place during the asbestos removal.

Encapsulated asbestos needs to be inspected regularly and monitored for signs of deterioration, as any crumbling of the material might lead to toxic particles being released into the atmosphere which can easily be inhaled and lodge in the lungs.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers asbestos advice to employers and workers, while local councils should be able to advise homeowners on asbestos in their homes and may hold on record licensed asbestos contractor or surveyors in the area.

Asbestos-related illness

Asbestos dust is the main hazard regarding asbestos as it contains tiny particles of the toxic material which can infiltrate the lungs and cause scarring of the lung membranes. This scarring is known as plural plaques. Asbestos in the lungs also causes mesothelioma, a chronic and debilitating lung cancer which usually proves fatal, as breathing becomes more and more difficult.

Many industrial workers and their families (e.g coal miners and building contractors) are now claiming against their former employers after developing asbestos-related lung disease. In some cases, the claims are being made after the death of the loved one affected. Asbestos-related diseases can take between 10 and 30 years to develop and so many workers affected are elderly and came into contact with asbestos during the course oft heir employment before the connection between lung disease and contact with asbestos at work was recognised.

Asbestos surveys

There are three types of asbestos survey known as Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3.

Type 1 asbestos survey is a visual survey and no samples are taken or analysed. The asbestos surveyor will make an assessment from inspecting the property and simply observing any suspicious materials which might be asbestos.

Type 2 asbestos survey is an asbestos survey with samples taken, which are then sent off to a laboratory for analysis, so a definite conclusion can be reached as to whether asbestos is present.

Type 3 asbestos survey is the same as Type 2 with samples taken and analysed in a laboratory, but the asbestos surveyor inspects the fabric of the building. The asbestos survey is therefore more intrusive, so asbestos not visible can be detected. This is the best type of asbestos survey, especially is a refurbishment is being planned.

A cheap asbestos survey or asbestos removal quotes are available online and online asbestos surveyors will usually offer discounts such as 10% or more.

Make sure you know exactly which services your asbestos survey will include before you agree to it, as if asbestos is found and you decide you would like samples analysed, negotiating for this may be done separately and laboratory analysis can be expensive.

Similarly, if you decide on the day you would like a more detailed or intrusive asbestos survey, renegotiating a fee on the spot for a cheap online asbestos survey might end up more expensive; or the asbestos surveyor might have to return on another day to carry this out.

If you live in a block of flats or a row of houses, it is also a good idea to contact neighbours about asbestos, as tackling the problem as a group could save you money on asbestos surveys and an asbestos removal quote.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) trains asbestos surveyors so look for the RICS logo on the website or on the advertising materials of asbestos surveyors.

Get a Quote in 3 simple steps!

Enter transaction details to get FREE no obligation quotes.

Let us know what you need

All quotes shown online and emailed to you.

Full quote breakdown provided

Choose your preferred firm to instruct from our panel

Get conveyancing started today