For many years we have issued a warning to building owners thinking of renovating their properties – say a home, beach house, garage, or aging commercial premises – to be aware of the dangers of ASBESTOS.

Our architects – when carrying out property assessments or renovation sketch designs – come across many applications where original asbestos cement sheet material or hot water pipe friable lagging is in place, or where previous renovations that have involved the use of the material are evident.

Large numbers of buildings including houses throughout Australia were constructed using asbestos-cement products as external wall cladding, internal wall & ceiling linings and roofing. Due to its inert make up it was commonly used as a backing to ceramic tiles in bathrooms. Similarly, its stable properties made it ideal for eaves soffit lining. Asbestos was used in flat sheet fibre-cement building products until 1982 and in corrugated fibre-cement roofing material until 1986 because of its cost effectiveness and ease of installation. While these applications are most commonly experienced, there are a range of other instances where asbestos was used such as an insulative backing to vinyl floor tiles/sheet flooring and around loosely woven hot water pipe insulation.

It is vital for everyone to understand that once you disturb asbestos fibres there are extreme health risks involved for home owners and their families in relation to the diseases which can be caused by the material. These include asbestosis (a progressive, fibrotic lung disease causing increasing breathlessness), lung cancer and mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer affecting the lining of the chest cavity and the covering of the lungs or, less often, the lining of the abdominal cavity and the covering of abdominal organs).

These diseases can occur many years after the exposure to asbestos fibre has ceased, but the likelihood of a person contracting an asbestos-related disease increases as the intensity and duration of the exposure increases. The real risk of exposure to asbestos fibres occurs with the demolition, drilling or cutting of products containing asbestos.

Anyone undertaking renovations and living in their home at the same time needs to be well informed about the dangers and extremely careful about how asbestos is managed by contractors who may be carrying out the renovation works. It is noteworthy that only registered contractors can assess asbestos – the process requiring laboratory testing to determine the type and appropriate means of removal.  In pre-purchase situations, the potential purchaser will not have authority to perform this process – so the ability to identify the product will be limited to cursory visual assessment.

Asbestos sheeting or other materials containing asbestos should always be removed by a specialist contractor who will also arrange for its proper disposal.