Asbestos in the Home
Health Risks
What it looks like



The importance of Asbestos Inspections before commencing demolition or any building work:

Workcover requires that certain asbestos material only be removed by licensed asbestos removalists because of the risk of release of asbestos fibres.

Specialist expertise is required to identify the different types of materials, location and areas that can be removed by a builder.

Our experts are able to complete a register of the area and condition of asbestos to reduce the risk of asbestos contamination.


Asbestos in the Home  

The only way to be sure that your home or unit is free from asbestos is to have a professional inspection. If asbestos is found then you will know what precautions need to be taken to minimise your exposure to asbestos-related problems. Contact our office either by email or
phone 02 9418 7750.

Our report will provide you with the following important information:

  • if asbestos is present in the house/building
  • areas of asbestos that can be retained and maintenance recommendations
  • areas where deteriorated or harmful asbestos is found and should be left alone with recommendations for removal by licensed Workcover approved contractors.

A Guide to Well-being and Protection in the Home  


Asbestos may be defined as a group of fibrous silicate materials that occur naturally in the environment. Between the 1940s and late 1980s asbestos was commonly used in numerous building materials. The presence of asbestos in home building materials does not pose an immediate risk to health unless they are:

  • Broken;
  • In poor or deteriorated condition;
  • Distributed during activities that produce dust containing asbestos fibres, including removal of the sheets or material.

Exposure to Asbestos Causes Health Risks

Some people have developed asbestos-related lung disease, such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma, after inhaling asbestos fibres. Asbestos-related disease is generally associated with long-term exposure to asbestos in a work environment. As it is still difficult to determine the level of exposure that may cause health effects, exposure to asbestos fibres or dust containing asbestos fibres should always be kept to a minimum.

The initial and major risk was to workers, their families and surrounding areas of the mines due to working with raw materials. The second and less known is the building workers that worked with this material. All asbestos sheeting contained varying degrees of asbestos, but usually 7-12 % only. The rest of the material was sand and cement, or resins. There is now concern with the 'third wave', which is people who have undertaken substantial renovations of a house that contained asbestos. It is unknown the degree of exposure for a person to contract mesothelioma.

When asbestos is in good condition, it's not an immediate risk. Asbestos particles are dangerous when the sheets become 'friable', which is either broken pieces or when the material is deteriorated to a stage when it can be broken by hand. The microscopic particles become airborne and can enter the lungs. The sheets become more brittle with age and exposed surfaces will weather and allow loose fibres to be exposed. For these reasons an inspection should be undertaken, not only to identify the presence of asbestos but also its condition and risks. Deteriorated surfaces should never be hosed down or water pressure cleaned as it releases the fibres.

Identifying Asbestos in the Home

Asbestos fibres may be found either firmly or loosely bound in many products once used in the Australian building industry.

Firmly-bound asbestos ('non-friable' asbestos)

Fibre cement products contained asbestos fibres, firmly embedded in a hardened cement matrix. Cellulose fibres have since replaced asbestos in today's fibre-cement products.

Asbsestos-cement products that may be found around the home include:
  • Flat or corrugated sheeting (commonly called 'fibro' or 'AC sheeting'
  • including villaboard and tilux in the bathroom, laundry and kitchen)
  • Water or flue pipes
  • Hardiplank cladding
  • Imitation brick cladding which is fixed to AC sheets

Loosely-bound asbestos ('friable' asbestos)

The loose form of asbestos fibres may be found in a few older forms of insulation used in domestic heaters and stoves, and in ceiling insulation products. Old boilers left in the roof void of units (often built around 1930) can be coated with white asbestos, which is virtually raw asbestos. It should be noted, however, that ceiling insulation containing asbestos was generally used in commercial buildings and it is unlikely that the ceiling insulation in a domestic building will contain asbestos. In most cases, glass fibres have replaced asbestos in today's insulation products. Friable asbestos also includes weathered external sheeting and usually corrugated roof sheeting.

  • Roof shingles and corrugated roof sheeting
  • Vermiculite ceiling spray in units

What does asbestos look like?

It is very difficult to identify the presence of asbestos by eye. As a general rule, certain building materials installed before the late 1980s may contain asbestos. The only way to be certain, however, is to have a site inspection. If there is doubt, then samples will be taken for laboratory testing. This should be conducted prior to any maintenance, renovation, or demolition activities proceed. If you do not want to go to the expense of testing to determine if asbestos is present, then the material should be treated as though if contains asbestos.

What Should I do if I find Asbestos?

In most cases the presence of bonded or firmly bound asbestos-containing building materials in the home is no case for alarm and these materials can be left in place. For example, internal asbestos-cement sheet walls or ceilings that are in good condition and coated with paint do not pose a risk to health. The surface should not be sanded with an orbital sander prior to repainting. Also, external asbestos-cement roofs and wall cladding do not need to be replaced unless they are broken or the surfaces have deteriorated excessively.

Can I remove asbestos from my home myself?

A householder may legally remove some asbestos from their property. The maximum amount of bonded material is 10 square metres. As asbestos poses a health risk during removal, packaging, transport and disposal, it is important that it is handled safety during these operations. It is a requirement that loosely-bound asbestos (friable) only be removed by a licensed professional, as the health risks associated with handling this type of material are far greater than for firmly-bound asbestos.

What Should I do if I need to disturb any asbestos?

Asbestos-cement (bonded) building products can be maintained, removed or disposed of safety, as long as certain precautions are taken. It should be noted that if these precautions cannot be followed then you should call in a licensed asbestos removalist to do the work. It is not advisable to do any work yourself with materials that contain loosely-bound asbestos (friable) due to the increased potential health risks in handling such material. In this case, always consult a licensed asbestos removalist.

Consider your neighbours

When deciding how to work with, remove or dispose of asbestos-containing materials do not forget your neighbours. Under the nuisance provisions of the Health Act 1958, any nuisances which are, or are liable to be, offensive or dangerous to health could be investigated by an environmental health officer of your local council. Consequently any asbestos work carried out without appropriate precautions may be investigated.

When Handling (Bonded) Asbestos-Cement Products:

  • Work with asbestos-cement products in well-ventilated areas, and where possible, in the open air (but not on windy days).
  • Thoroughly wet down the material before you start work by lightly spraying it with water or coat with a spray on solution that provides a film to the surface. Keep it wet while working to reduce the release of fibres and dust. Do not use high-pressure water jets as this may increase the spread of any loose fibres or dust. Also, do not wet down sheets if it creates a high risk of slipping from a roof.
  • Only use non-powered hand tools as these generate a smaller quantity of predominantly coarser dust and waste chips.
  • If removing asbestos-cement sheeting, pull out any nails first and remove the sheeting with minimum breakage. Carefully lower, but not drop, the sheets to the ground and stack them on two layers of polythene sheeting, approximately 0.2mm thick (for example heavy duty builders plastic). Avoid skidding one asbestos-cement sheet over the surface of another as this may abrade the surface of the materials and increase the likelihood of the release of fibres and dust.
  • Minimise cutting or breaking up of the asbestos-cement products.

As soon as practicable after the work is complete:

Clean up any asbestos-cement residues remaining in the work area using either a wet mop or a vacuum cleaner filter with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. Mops should be cleaned by thorough washing in a sink connected to the sewer or septic tank system. Vacuum cleaners should comply with Australian Standard 3544. It is unsafe to use a domestic vacuum cleaner due to the poor containment of asbestos fibres and dust. Keep all asbestos waste wet until it is wrapped in plastic and sealed. You will need to notify your skip bin suppliers that you are removing asbestos sheets, as the material must be disposed of in an approved manner.

Copyright 2005 David Hall Building Appraisals. All rights reserved