It’s likely that many New Zealanders have asbestos in their homes and don’t even know it. The material was used in residential construction between the 1950s and 1980s, and there are still many houses from that time being lived in today.
Because it’s often discovered by chance, the asbestos removal price can be an unexpected cost that many people can’t afford immediately. In these situations, they may need to find a workaround themselves.
How can you manage asbestos in your home if you don’t have the budget for a professional solution? It starts with understanding exactly what asbestos is and what makes it dangerous.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was commonly used in construction for a good portion of the mid-twentieth century.
However, it’s rare for asbestos to be found in residential homes in its pure form. Most commonly, the mineral was used as a substrate in building materials like roofing tiles or textured ceiling paint to make them more fireproof and insulated.
These kinds of products are collectively known as asbestos containing materials (ACMs).
Asbestos containing materials like roofing tiles are where the mineral is most commonly found in NZ homes.
What makes asbestos dangerous?
The harm from asbestos comes from the tiny fibres being inhaled into the lungs when the material sheds or breaks. Often the result is cancer, with little to no opportunity for recovery—once the fibres make their way inside your body, they’re more or less impossible to remove.
That’s why removing or treating ACMs that are at risk of shedding fibres is so important. But not all asbestos is the same, or at least.
There are two kinds:
Friable asbestos is any ACM that can be reduced to powder or will crumble with the strength of an ordinary human hand.
Non-friable asbestos, on the other hand, are materials where the asbestos is more baked in and is ‘trapped’ to a certain extent within the material. So long as the ACM is in good condition, non-friable asbestos can be relatively safe, as the fibres are unable to easily make their way into the breathable air.
What can I do to manage asbestos on a budget?
If you discover a suspected ACM on your property, the first step is to get it tested. Even if you don’t have the budget to have asbestos removed professionally, it’s a good idea to at least make sure you know if you’re dealing with it—and what kind.
Contacting experts like the team at Chemcare to have the material tested isn’t prohibitively expensive and is a vital first step in the management process.
If the test comes back positive but you can’t yet afford the asbestos removal, you have several courses of action.
1. If it’s non-friable and small, remove it yourself
Workplace health and safety law requires that a licensed professional remove any friable asbestos from a site, or any non-friable asbestos that’s larger than 10 metres square. This legislation, however, does not apply to your home if you do the removal yourself.
Even though it’s not required by law, for your safety it’s recommended that you only tackle asbestos removal when it’s both non-friable and less than 10 metres squared in size. Doing so will minimise the risks to your health as well as the chances of accidentally spreading contaminating fibres.
If you do remove any ACMs on your own, be sure to wear a respirator as well as gloves, protective glasses and disposable overalls. Line the area with plastic sheeting and stick it down securely with tape. Make sure everyone who isn’t helping with the job is away from the area and minimise airflow by closing all doors or windows and sealing them with tape.
If you’re removing things like asbestos sheets, wet them first to minimise the release of dust when they move. They should always be removed intact where possible, to minimise the chances of fibres escaping.
Another common ACM you might remove is a “popcorn” or textured ceiling. As this involves scraping the material off, it’s very important in this instance for the surface to be wet to minimise the amount of dust that may get into the air. Scrape the material off and bag it up as you go.
2. Encapsulate the material
Many instances of non-friable asbestos like popcorn ceilings can be encapsulated instead of removed. This is the process of adding another layer of material on top like paint or sealant to better trap the asbestos within.
Start by preparing the area and yourself in the same way as described above. Clean the surface you’re sealing with a vacuum cleaner before sealing. The Ministry of Health recommends water-based PVA paints as the best coatings for asbestos-cement surfaces.
If you’re dealing with an asbestos ceiling, you can encapsulate it after you’ve scraped off the textured part.
3. Keep a record of the material and its condition
If you’re not confident in removing or encapsulating the material yourself and are planning to save for its professional removal, it’s important to be aware of the condition its in. ACMs really only become hazardous when they’re in bad condition and fibres have the chance to escape.
Taking photos periodically can be an effective way to see if deterioration is taking place that otherwise might be hard to notice. You can then decide when the timing is right from both a financial and hazard perspective.
4. Make sure everyone is aware of the risks
You also need to ensure that everyone who will be around the ACM is both aware of what it is and what they need to watch for. All should be on the lookout for signs of deterioration and take extra caution not to bump or disturb it if it's in an area where it can potentially take unnecessary damage.
If you have children, it can also be a good idea to tell them not to play with anything that falls off a roof with asbestos tiles and to talk to an adult straight away.
Deteriorating ACMs pose the most risk - keep a track of the condition they’re in with photos
What are the professional asbestos solutions?
For peace of mind, seek a professional solution to asbestos management.
Even if you can’t afford for removal or encapsulation to be done right away, at the very least you need to get any suspected asbestos materials tested. That way you can be sure they’re really what you think they are, and you can get some professional advice at the same time.
Ideally, if you can’t afford to have the asbestos dealt with professionally immediately, a short-term management solution should be adopted while you save to have the material dealt with properly.
Chemcare are experts in both asbestos testing and management. We’re licensed to remove and encapsulate all forms of asbestos. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help manage the asbestos in your home.