Asbestos is an incredible material - it’s cheap to produce, non-biodegradable, strong, durable and conducts heat poorly. For that reason it was commonly used as wall insulator in New Zealand homes built between 1930 and 1950, and as heat insulation around boilers and pipes until the late ‘80s.
Unfortunately, after asbestos insulation was installed in countless commercial and residential properties around the country, overwhelming evidence came to light proving that it poses a serious health hazard. Exposure to the fibres within asbestos can greatly increase the risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
For that reason, if you’re living in an older home, it’s worth finding out what’s hiding behind your walls and in your hot water cupboard. Knowing more could help keep you and your family safe.
The risks of asbestos insulation
Asbestos insulation may be a lower risk than other forms of the fibre commonly used in homes, because asbestos is only harmful if disturbed or in bad condition. As insulation material is usually encased behind wall linings, or surrounding hot water cylinders and pipes, it’s unlikely to be broken and/or deteriorate through wear-and-tear.
Despite the fact that it may be safer than most forms of asbestos, it’s still surprisingly easy to disturb. In fact, all it could take to turn your insulation from innocuous to lethal is hanging new pictures, installing a new hot water cylinder, relining your walls, or other renovations.
These activities may not release much of the fibre into your home, but there is no safe level of asbestos contamination, and over time even the smallest amount could be dangerous.
Where can you find asbestos insulation in your home?
Asbestos insulation comes in many shapes, sizes and colours, so it can be difficult to identify. The most dangerous form is loose fill asbestos insulation, a grey material that has a texture similar to cotton and can be found underneath your home’s floors and behind wall linings. Under no circumstances should you disturb this material if you suspect it’s inside your home - instead, call an asbestos testing professional to identify how best to manage the issue.
Asbestos insulation materials are also common around hot water cylinders, pipes and joins. This material was usually wrapped around hot water pipes and cylinders to help them retain heat, and resembles rough grey cement. However, it may be difficult to identify as it was often coated in paint or protective covering.
Another type of asbestos-containing material commonly used in New Zealand homes is asbestos insulation board. This can often be found in walls, building façades, ceilings, fascias & soffits, lift shafts, and external cladding. Unfortunately, its appearance is unremarkable and often painted or covered, so the only way to know for certain is with a professional asbestos survey.
Asbestos testing and removing asbestos insulation
If your home was built between the 1930s and the late 1980s, it’s worth checking to try and find tell-tale signs of asbestos. It’s essential that you don’t disturb any of the material during your search, though.
If you’re unsure, or you suspect you’ve found asbestos containing material, the next step is to properly identify its extent. The only way to do this with certainty is to have an asbestos testing professional inspect your home, take samples and send them to an accredited laboratory for analysis.
Once the results are in you’ll either have peace of mind knowing that your home’s insulation is free of asbestos, or you’ll know the full extent of asbestos contamination so that you can manage and minimise the risk. Along with testing you’ll also receive an asbestos management report which will set out the best plan of action to either remove the asbestos or manage it, through a process such as encapsulation, to ensure that it doesn’t cause harm.
When it comes to asbestos it’s always best to be safe rather than sorry. Gain peace of mind and keep your family safe by getting in touch with Chemcare - Auckland’s leading asbestos removal and testing experts.