Glossary:

Asbestos

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Important

During a HomeBuyer Report of Building Survey, the surveyor does not carry out an asbestos inspection and does not act as an asbestos inspector when inspecting properties that may fall within the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. With flats, the surveyor assumes that there is a 'dutyholder' (as defined in the regulations), and that in place are an asbestos register and an effective management plan which does not present a significant risk to health or need any immediate payment. The surveyor does not consult the dutyholder.

Asbestos is a fibrous material obtained from a number of silicate minerals (rocks formed out of silica). Because of their crystalline structure long strands of fibres can be drawn out from these minerals, which can be woven or incorporated into other materials.   Asbestos is naturally fire-resistant – the name derives from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘inextinguishable’ – and has excellent insulation properties. This made it a popular material for use in housing construction for a wide variety of purposes.

Unfortunately the inhalation of asbestos causes lung diseases (asbestosis) and cancer. This has now led to prohibition of the extraction, manufacture and use of asbestos and asbestos products in the UK and throughout Europe.

Asbestos was used in the construction of houses from the early nineteenth century through to the latter part of the twentieth century. It was often mixed with concrete and PVC to make tiles and roofing sheets. Uses included:

  • lagging boilers and pipes
  • water tanks 
  • boiler flues
  • roof tiles
  • corrugated roof sheets
  • thermoplastic and vinyl floor tiles
  • heat and sound insulation boards (AIB)
  • ceiling panels
  • electrical insulation
  • decorative finishes

The use of most types of asbestos in buildings was prohibited in 1985, but some types were not finally prohibited until 1999. Because of its wide range of uses it is likely that most homes constructed before 1985 will contain asbestos in some form, and it may also be found in properties built between 1985 and 1999. (see http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/gallery.htm for pictures.)

It is the inhalation of asbestos fibres which causes disease, so generally speaking the existence of asbestos in older properties does not create a health hazard unless there is any likelihood of fibres being released. This can happen when materials containing asbestos become damaged or are being removed. For this reason the removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials is now governed by strict regulations, with substantial penalties for failing to comply. (the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/632/contents/made )

A home survey report will indicate probable existence of asbestos where this is evident, e.g. roof tiles. However asbestos-containing materials will often be covered by decorative finishes, and their existence can only be discovered by a specialist survey.
Homebuyers may also consider requesting an environmental survey which could reveal the existence of former factories in the vicinity which processed asbestos.

Sound, undamaged and non-fibre-releasing asbestos should not be disturbed, and its condition should be regularly monitored. If the asbestos-containing material is in good condition and is unlikely to be damaged during normal use of the building, it is safer to leave it in place.
If refurbishment or alterations to a pre-21st century home are planned, an asbestos survey should be carried out before work commences. If necessary, asbestos removal and disposal must then be undertaken by specialist contractors.

The existence of asbestos can be a major problem in blocks of flats, especially those owned or originally built by local authorities. Its removal may necessitate occupiers being required to vacate their property while removal is carried out. Owners will also be required to contribute to removal cost in their service charges.

Asbestos was derived from a number of minerals, and there are several varieties found which include:

  • actinolite
  • amosite
  • anthophyllite 
  • chrysotile
  • crocidolite 
  • tremolite 

The different types were more commonly classified as ‘blue’, ‘brown’ and ‘white’ asbestos.

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