Asbestos in older houses – what you need to know

The harmful effects of asbestos are well-known, and the presence of asbestos in older houses is a real concern for many people.

If you’re concerned about asbestos in your home, rental property, or a property you want to buy, read on. I’ve put together a short guide covering facts about asbestos, the risks involved and tips on what you should do if you discover asbestos in your home.

So, what is asbestos and what was it used for?

Asbestos refers to a group of 6 naturally occurring minerals which are found and mined in a number of places around the world, including here in NZ.

Asbestos was hugely popular and added to a range of building materials to give them fire protection, thermal properties and durability. In NZ, asbestos was most commonly added to insulation to make for warmer homes and to concrete to boost its durability. At the time, it was considered to be the best thing since sliced bread and was added to a whole range of everyday items such as children’s toys, crayons and even oven mits!

Asbestos and health hazards

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard about the serious health issues caused by exposure to asbestos. The NZ Ministry of Health states that: “Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen and all forms of asbestos can cause cancer.”

However, it’s important to note that asbestos is only harmful when it’s airborne and you breathe contaminated air. 

The mere presence of asbestos in your home is not enough to pose a health risk, so if you think your house contains asbestos, there’s no need to panic! Asbestos in older houses is only harmful when it’s disturbed in some way, so care must be taken with any building work, renovating or decorating.

How do I know if my house has asbestos?

If your house was built between 1940 and the early 1990’s, it’s highly likely that it will contain asbestos in some form, but the only sure way to know is to get specialist to examine your home for asbestos.

If you’re wanting to buy an older house and are worried about the presence of asbestos, you can ask the vendor to have a test carried out.

Where to find asbestos in older houses

In NZ, asbestos in older houses is most commonly found in these areas:

  • Soffits (lining under the eaves)
  • Roofing panels
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Insulation
  • Textured ceilings

However, the popularity of asbestos as a building material means that it can be found in many areas in and around the house, as illustrated in this graphic.

[This pic from Worksafe is a great visual guide to where to find asbestos in your home]

How do I remove asbestos safely?

Once the presence of asbestos has been confirmed in your house, the best course of action is to have it removed. In some cases, you can remove asbestos yourself, but great care must be taken to do this safely. A comprehensive guide to safely removing asbestos from your home can be found on the Ministry of Health website. [link below]

However, it’s a highly complicated process and I strongly recommend you avoid any risk to yourself and your family by employing the services of a specialist asbestos removal company. They will manage the whole process safely, giving you peace of mind that the job is carried out properly with all asbestos being removed and disposed of safely and professionally.

While the presence of asbestos in older houses is a cause for concern, it isn’t a reason to panic. By following the steps I have suggested, you’ll help identify whether or not your house contains asbestos and have peace of mind that it’s removed safely.

If you have any questions about asbestos in older houses or are looking to buy a house that you think may contain asbestos, contact me today. I’m happy to recommend licensed asbestos removal contractors who will ensure any asbestos in your house is removed correctly.

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