It’s likely that you’ve heard of asbestos and know it’s something to avoid, but do you know what it actually is and whether you should even consider buying a house that’s got it? As experienced house surveyors, we can help determine whether a property may contain asbestos and your best course of action following the results.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring material made of long, thin, fibrous crystals. It can be found in a range of building materials which, when broken or damaged, can cause the release of microscopic fibres. If these are breathed in, they can cause serious medical conditions to the respiratory system.
What was asbestos used for?
Asbestos was used due to it being cheap, strong, fire-resistant and an effective electrical insulator, making it an effective building material used in many countries. The most likely places to find asbestos in UK properties are:
- Roofs (corrugated or felt lining)
- Pipe lagging
- Ceiling tiles
- Around water tanks and in sanitaryware
- Around boilers
- Airing cupboards
- Behind / inside fuse boxes
- Behind fireplaces
If a house was built pre-2000, it’s certainly asking an asbestos surveyor to find out if asbestos is hiding somewhere in the property. Interestingly (and worryingly), although it’s been banned in the UK since 1999, some countries still mine and use it today.
Why was asbestos outlawed?
It gradually became clear that asbestos fibres were extremely dangerous to health when released from damaged materials and breathed in. It was recognised that it can lead to Mesothelioma, a form of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart. Another asbestos-related medical condition is Asbestosis, which causes sufferers an increased susceptibility to cancer and has been classified as carcinogenic. Although it still took a little while, a full ban on the use of asbestos eventually came into effect in 1999 but its use had been so widespread that many properties to this day still contain it.
Does Artex contain asbestos?
Artex is a surface coating used inside properties for decoration. It creates a textured surface and was extremely popular in the 1970s. Unfortunately, when asbestos was common it was mixed into Artex. Although usually in small quantities of around 1-4%, the asbestos content of Artex can still pose a serious health risk is the material is disturbed in a way that releases fibres.
It’s worth noting that not all Artex contains asbestos as manufacturers stopped including it after the ban.
How can you tell if Artex contains asbestos?
There’s no way to tell if Artex contains asbestos just by looking at it. This is where an asbestos surveyor comes in.
A sample will be safely taken and tested in a laboratory. There, the tiny fibres will be identified and alert you to the presence of asbestos and the need to proceed with extreme caution if disturbing / removing the remaining Artex in the property.
If you’re aware of asbestos in a property and it is intact, it doesn’t mean that the asbestos has to be removed. Don’t disturb it and it shouldn’t cause problems. You can even plaster over Artex that contains asbestos if you want. Just remember that the asbestos remains concealed underneath and care must be taken to ensure that the concealed material is not disturbed in future.
Many homeowners prefer to eradicate the risk by having the material removed. If you’re interested in asbestos removal then you must not attempt this yourself. You should note that the removal and disposal of asbestos waste is controlled by legislation; as such any work of this nature will need to be carried out by licenced professionals under controlled conditions, and this may imply higher than average costs.
Selling a house with asbestos
If you’re selling a property and know there is asbestos present, then you are legally obliged to tell the buyer. That said, it’s perfectly fine and legal to put your house on the market and continue with a sale.
Buying a house with asbestos
You should always get a house survey completed on any property you’re thinking of buying. However, if it indicates the presence of asbestos, you don’t necessarily need to walk away from the purchase.
Think about the following:
- You could buy the house anyway, and manage the risk of undisturbed asbestos materials
- You could ask the seller to reduce the price to cover the cost of asbestos removal
Although it’s not ideal, the presence of asbestos is common and certainly doesn’t have to spell doom for your purchase plans.
Get in touch
As Chartered Surveyors, our team has years of experience surveying properties and looking for signs of asbestos. We’d recommend a RICS Home Survey Level 2 or RICS Home Survey Level 3 for peace of mind that you’ve thoroughly uncovered a property’s secrets before proceeding with a purchase. Your mortgage lender may also request a specialised asbestos survey based on findings.
If you’d like to arrange or survey or have any questions, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.