Fibrolite cladding, also known as fibrous, asbestos cement sheet, and AC sheet is a cladding material that gained popularity during the 1940s. When the price of timber and bricks skyrocketed, fibrolite was marketed as an affordable alternative that would allow homeowners to save a significant sum of money.
These sheets of housing material were made of thin concrete with asbestos fibre reinforcing. They were advertised as being fireproof, versatile, safe, and affordable. This recipe for success would go on to make them ideal for roofing and imitation of wood siding, shingles, brick, slate, and stone. In every sense of the word, fibrolite was a product that made house renovation and construction far more affordable than homeowners ever thought it could be.
It was also effortless to make. The asbestos cement was moulded into piping or sheets that were either flat or corrugated. Essentially, they could form any shape that wet cement could be moulded into. Fibrolite was sold all around the world, but it gained traction more so in Australia and New Zealand. From 1940 until 1980, it would be the material of choice for many builders and home renovators.
However, in the early 1970s, it was found that asbestos fibres were carcinogenic and exceptionally hazardous for health. Thus, it fell out of favour with consumers. Fibre cement sheets are still available, but cellulose is the material of choice for reinforcing fibres, rather than asbestos.
What are the dangers of fibrolite cladding?
If erosion occurs in materials with asbestos, due to time and weather, the asbestos surface corrosion can cause airborne toxic fibres. These do not break down and are responsible for health risks and conditions such as asbestosis (lung inflammation and scarring), peritoneal mesothelioma (abdomen lining cancer), and pleural mesothelioma (lung lining cancer).
Asbestos is a natural product that has been in use for over 750,000 years, and it seems disease was prevalent even in ancient times. Greeks and Romans were particularly interested in the material and wrote about “sickness of the lungs” relating to the asbestos-woven cloth worn by slaves.
Even a small amount of asbestos dust can be harmful to those who inhale it. The fibres can irritate lung tissue and cause inflammation and scarring. It’s imperative that you never attempt to disrupt or remove asbestos products without appropriate safety equipment or expert assistance.
How do I know if my home has this type of asbestos-containing cladding?
It can be exceptionally challenging to identify asbestos due to the sheer number of materials it was used in. The best way to know for sure is by hiring a building inspector for the sole purpose of asbestos identification. Once you identify it, you must receive specialist advice to find out the risk it poses, how you can remove it, and how much that process will cost.
Fibrolite materials are commonly found in homes and structures built before 1985. They are dominant in ceilings, vinyl flooring, sheds, roofing, fences, both internal and external walls, gables, and eaves. Once you identify that you have fibrolite on your property, you must not disturb it. Under the Department of Labour’s Guidelines for the Management and Removal of Asbestos, any disturbance is prohibited. You can define disturbance as sanding, drilling, water blasting, or breaking the fibrolite sheets.
What can I do about it?
If your fibrolite cladding, or other asbestos materials, are in excellent condition, then they will not release asbestos fibres. Asbestos only becomes dangerous when your materials, such as fibrolite, are breaking down and wearing out.
You have a few options regarding removal or management of fibrolite and other asbestos products in your home. You can leave it as it is if it’s in good condition. You can seal, enclose, or encapsulate it, or you can remove it.
If your fibrolite sheets are breaking away or are not in good condition, then it’s imperative that you get in touch with a WorkSafe licensed asbestos removalist to take care of it. A list of licenced removalists is available on WorkSafe’s website.
What can replace fibrolite?
Fibrolite was commonly used for both interior and exterior walls, which means that if you need to remove your cement cladding, you’re going to need to put another material in its place. Some of the more common cladding options in today’s market include metal and steel, concrete and plaster, brick and stone, timber, and non-timber panels and weatherboards. Talk to your removal specialist to see which options they would recommend.
What to do next?
If your home was built around the years of 1940 and 1980, then there’s a high chance it features asbestos products such as fibrolite. Without disturbance, they may be quite safe. However, if you would like to be on the safe side, or some building materials are in disrepair, get in touch with a removal expert like Chemcare because they can identify any risks and determine whether you need to take action.