Despite campaigns to encourage homeowners to be aware of the dangers of asbestos in older homes, many of us still could not identify it if we came across it when doing some DIY work. While experts may be able to say what it looks like and how to deal with it, homeowners in the UK are very unlikely to even recognise it let alone know what to do. So what are the dangers, how do we work out if we might be exposed to it and how do we get rid of it safely?
Asbestos is a mineral which has been used in the past to build rigid walls and for use in situations where fire resistant materials were required. It was used in the UK between the 1950's and the 1980's, when it was discovered to cause a number of lung conditions which can lead to early death.If high concentrations of asbestos dust are inhaled, it can lead to complications which may not show up for as long as 30 years. A condition known as mesothelioma is usually caused by exposure to asbestos.
If your home was built during this period of time then asbestos may be present in your guttering system, garage and shed roofs, in your walls, ceilings and doors, as insulation around storage heaters and bath panels, within the central heating system and as floor tiles. It was even used as loose packing insulation between floors and walls.
Before undertaking any DIY work in a home which might be at risk, it is worthwhile getting an expert in to assess the risk of there being asbestos present. Asbestos is a safe product as long as it is not disturbed, but if you intend on undertaking any work where the present asbestos might be drilled into, sanded or removed, then an expert should undertake this work. Clearly this can be costly and should be taken into account.
It is not illegal to remove asbestos from your home yourself, but you must be aware of the implications and take all precautions to protect yourself and others. The following is recommended if you are planning a DIY asbestos removal job:
- Use a dust mask which is approved for asbestos removal
- Dispose of any clothes or overalls worn during the job
- Wet the asbestos well before removing to keep dust levels down
- Where possible remove whole sheets and place smaller pieces into plastic bags which should then be sealed
- Do not use a domestic vacuum cleaner as the dust could be spread to other parts of the house. Use a damp cloth to collect the dust and seal this in a bag also.
- Asbestos dust must be disposed of separately from normal waste. The local council will be able to arrange to have it collected as hazardous waste.
- Don't take shortcuts and keep family members and animals well away from the area.
If you would rather not tackle this yourself, the best thing to do is to talk to your council about their approved removal specialists. They will also be able to advise on whether your home is at risk. In addition to all this, the council can arrange for an asbestos inspector to visit your home and assess it for asbestos contamination.