Buying a house containing asbestos? Here's what you must know.
Buying a house that you suspect contains asbestos isn’t necessarily a bad idea. If you fully understand the risks and the potential costs, the fibre’s presence in the home needn’t be a deal breaker. To make sure you’re fully equipped to make the right decision, below we’ve run through everything you need to know before you buy a house containing asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre, commonly used as a building material in homes in New Zealand from the 1940s through to the late 90s. Its use in construction was particularly prevalent during the 60s and 70s. If you’re buying a house that was built during that period, it’s worth investigating whether it contains asbestos - the material can be a health risk, as well as scaring off future buyers and hurting the home’s resale value.
If asbestos or asbestos-containing materials remain undisturbed and in good condition, it’s usually not considered to be hazardous. However, if you disturb the fibre, it can release into the air and can be breathed in by the home’s occupants. Prolonged exposure to disturbed asbestos fibres can lead to serious respiratory illnesses, including asbestosis (scarring of the lung) and cancers such as mesothelioma. These illnesses can take years - or decades - to develop, so you may not notice the hazards while living in a contaminated space.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to spot asbestos yourself. It was often used throughout the home in combination with other materials, and as such requires a cautious approach.
Understanding the extent of contamination with asbestos testing
The best way to protect yourself is to evaluate the extent of asbestos in the home, its condition, and develop a plan to manage it. First, you have to assess the level of asbestos in the home:
Inspect the home carefully, and during viewings look out for the telltale signs of asbestos containing materials
Ask the real estate agent whether the home contains asbestos, or whether the vendor is aware of its presence in the building materials.
Unless the real estate agent unequivocally states that the property is free of the fibre, full professional asbestos testing is worthwhile before buying the home.
If you’re considering buying a house containing asbestos, a testing professional can make you aware of the full extent of asbestos on the property. They may also be able to give you a quote for the removal or management of the fibre. Once you know these details, you can use them to your advantage and either avoid the house completely, or negotiate to bring the sale price down.
Managing asbestos in the home
If you decide to buy a home containing asbestos, it’s a good idea to hire an experienced professional to provide you with an asbestos management plan. This is a written document that provides information about:
Where the asbestos in your home is located.
The best course of action to manage the asbestos risks.
What to do if you have to undertake work that may disturb the asbestos.
How you will record incidents or emergencies involving asbestos.
A full schedule for managing the risks, including dates for removal.
Procedures and a timetable for reviewing and revising the plan.
An asbestos management plan will set out the best course of action to keep you, your family, and any tradesmen working in your home safe. It’s a necessity if you’re buying a house that you know contains the fibre.
Managing the risk of asbestos in your home
Generally speaking, you have three options when it comes to minimising the risk of living with asbestos. These include:
Leaving the fibre alone: if the asbestos is in good condition it may be perfectly safe to live with as long as it remains undisturbed.
Encapsulation: covering the asbestos with another non-hazardous building material. This could include laying linoleum tiles over asbestos tiling, or installing a false ceiling underneath areas containing asbestos above.
Removal: if the condition of the asbestos in your home is poor, or if it’s in an area that needs to be disturbed by renovations or additions, the only way to remediate the risk may be complete asbestos removal.
Friable asbestos, or asbestos that is crumbling, cracked, or in poor condition is dangerous to a home’s occupants. On the other hand, non-friable asbestos is in good condition and may not be as much of a hazard.
As an unlicensed person, you are permitted to remove asbestos from the home yourself, provided that it is non-friable, and less than 10 sqm in area. If you suspect the asbestos is friable, or you’re not sure, you’ll need to use the services of a licensed asbestos removalist to safely remove and dispose of all the fibre in your home.
The team at Chemcare are qualified and experienced asbestos testers and removalists. Our technicians have Class A removal licenses and are therefore able to dispose of any amount of friable asbestos from your home.
If you’re buying a property to use for rent - be sure to download our free ebook guide with plenty of information on what can be done for a rental with asbestos.