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I think there might be asbestos in my house. What should I do?

Asbestos is linked to serious health problems, so it’s definitely not something you want to find in your home. It can be a common problem in older properties though. We look into what you can do if you find asbestos in your house and whether your home insurance will cover asbestos removal.

Asbestos is linked to serious health problems, so it’s definitely not something you want to find in your home. It can be a common problem in older properties though. We look into what you can do if you find asbestos in your house and whether your home insurance will cover asbestos removal.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Last Updated
27 FEBRUARY 2023
6 min read
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What is asbestos? 

Asbestos is a collective name for minerals once widely used in the building trade. It was regularly used for fireproofing and cladding in houses built between 1930 and 1985 in the UK, especially in homes built from the 1960s and later.

You can recognise asbestos from its thin, hair-like strands – these help it to bond to other materials, and make it heat and chemical resistant. The problem with asbestos is that when it breaks up or deteriorates, the strands are released into the air. If you breathe them in, they can cause serious conditions like pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma – another type of cancer.

Many asbestos-related diseases take a long time to develop and, sadly, once they’re diagnosed, it’s often too late for treatment. Shockingly, although asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, there are still over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths a year in the UK, mostly of tradespeople who experienced long-term exposure. That’s over double the amount of people killed on UK roads every year. That’s why it’s so important to recognise any asbestos in your house and know what to do about it.

Could there be asbestos in my house?

There could be, if your home was built before 2000 (asbestos was fully banned in the UK in 1999).

Asbestos was commonly – and extensively – used in construction from the 1930s until 1985, when the UK banned the use of amosite (brown asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos), the two most dangerous forms of asbestos. Chrysotile or white asbestos continued to be used in homes until 1999, when it was added to the ban.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, asbestos can turn up both inside and outside the home. You can find it everywhere from pipe lagging in the loft to external window frames. Back in the sixties and seventies, it was often used for garage and shed roofs.

If you live in an older property, built before 1985, and you’re wondering if there could be asbestos in your home, as well as doing a visual inspection it’s worth asking your neighbours if they’ve found any in their homes. If you live in a council house or in a former right to buy council home, it’s worth contacting your local authority too. Your local council may have records detailing if asbestos was used to build your property and, if so, where it is.

Where am I likely to find asbestos in my house?

If you live in an older property, there’s quite a few places you might find asbestos, both inside and outside. These include:

  • Artex ceilings – textured ceilings that were popular back in the seventies and eighties
  • Ceiling or roof tiles
  • Thermal insulation or lagging on pipes and hot-water tanks
  • Loose-fill roof insulation
  • In the toilet seat or cistern
  • In bath panels
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Inside partition walls
  • In insulating board around your boiler
  • Interior and exterior window panels
  • Gutters and downpipes
  • In roofing felt
  • In asbestos cement roofs and panels.

Is asbestos always dangerous?

Asbestos isn’t dangerous if it’s in good condition. But when it ages or breaks down – during home renovations, for example, or if a building is demolished – it becomes extremely hazardous.

What does asbestos look like?

Asbestos used to come in three colours – blue, brown and white. However, the fibres are often too small to see with the naked eye. Blue and brown were used to strengthen building materials, like concrete. These two types of asbestos were also used as an adhesive, which is why you’ll sometimes find them under old floor tiles. Heat-resistant white asbestos was used to insulate boilers and heating pipes.

It can be hard to identify asbestos as it looks similar to other building materials, and it’s often mixed with other materials or even in some cases sprayed on. If you suspect that there may be asbestos in your house, don’t leave any room for doubt: call in a professional.

Does asbestos always need to be removed? 

If the asbestos is in good condition and in a place where it’s not likely to be damaged, it can be safer to leave it where it is. Sometimes a professional may recommend spraying the asbestos with a special coating or covering it to prevent it from getting damaged. Or you may just need to keep an eye on it periodically to make sure it’s not deteriorating.

If you have building or renovation work done, you’ll need to let the contractors know if asbestos is present – to protect your family and anyone working on your property. If you’re doing extensive repairs that are likely to disturb areas of asbestos, you may need the help of a specially trained and licensed contractor.

Public Health England recommends that you definitely don’t try to remove asbestos yourself. You should also be careful if you’re doing DIY work in older properties, as you may inadvertently come across asbestos and break it up without knowing.

Who do I contact to get rid of asbestos?  

You’ll need to contact a licensed contractor who can carry out a risk assessment and, if necessary, remove the asbestos safely. You can find a professional through the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association.

Alternatively, you can contact your local council. They can advise you on how to proceed safely.

If you rent your home, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to either secure any materials containing asbestos or have them safely removed and disposed of.

Is asbestos removal covered by home insurance?

Under normal circumstances, your home insurance isn’t likely to cover asbestos removal from your house or flat. However, it’s possible your buildings insurance may cover the safe removal of asbestos if it’s damaged or disturbed by an event your policy covers, such as a storm, fire or flood. Policies vary so you’ll need to check with your insurance provider.

Frequently asked questions

How can I dispose of asbestos?

Never throw asbestos in your household bin – it’s hazardous waste and legally needs to be disposed of as such. We strongly advise against trying to remove any asbestos by yourself – it’s dangerous stuff. But if you do happen to come across some loose material containing asbestos while DIYing, it will need to be disposed of in the correct way to protect your health and the health of others.

Contact your local council and see if you can arrange to have it collected. There may be a local facility where you can get rid of it.

My house has asbestos. Can I sell it?

It’s not against the law to sell a house with asbestos. But if you know about the asbestos and how much it would cost to remove, then it’s dishonest not to inform the buyer. If you don’t, you could be accused of withholding information from the buyer – and that is illegal.

You may find it’s less hassle to be open about it anyway. Chances are, it will show up in the survey, and you don’t want your buyer to pull out further down the line.

One solution could be to discount the sale price by the amount it will cost to have the asbestos removed.

Is asbestos still used today?

Asbestos is banned in the UK, as well as over 50 other countries, including all member states of the European Union, Australia and Japan. However, despite the proven links between asbestos and fatal diseases, asbestos is still mined elsewhere in the world, with Russia and China leading production.

Asbestos is still commonly used as a building material in China, India and Russia due to its affordability. And surprisingly, it’s even still used in a small number of products in the US, after a 1989 ban by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was overturned in 1991.

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