It may not be the most exciting topic but asbestos can have a huge impact on your health, so it's important that anyone renovating their home understands what to look out for.

Dan Lowery, Director of Surveyors at Romans, provides a brief overview of the dangerous material, including its history, where it's found and most importantly what to do if you do come across it. If you're not trained in the removal of asbestos, or you're unsure whether you've found it or not, always seek expert help. Romans' experienced surveyors are on hand if you have any questions about asbestos.

Asbestos everything you need to know

Overview of asbestos in the UK

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material. It becomes a risk to your health when the fibres are released into the air and breathed in. If you breathe in high levels of these dangerous fibres you're at risk of getting an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. These diseases won't affect you immediately but later on in life. Anyone who uses your premises and disturbs asbestos releasing fibres can be at risk. This commonly occurs through drilling, sawing or cutting into the fabric.

"Mesothelioma is caused directly by the exposure of asbestos. Although banned in the UK, asbestos is still present in about 50% of residential properties and populates many commercial properties as well. When installed properly, asbestos is safe. However, homes and buildings wear down over time, and asbestos eventually becomes exposed. This allows the fibres of asbestos to become airbourne and breathed in. Being exposed to asbestos as little as one time could cause problems such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer down the road. With mesothelioma, the symptoms are sometimes not seen from anywhere from 20 to up to 40 years after exposure!"

Because of these health risks asbestos has been banned in new construction projects within the European Union. However, prior to the early 1990s asbestos was widely used in thousands of different materials, so it's still vital that you're aware of the risks if you own, occupy or have responsibilities for non-domestic premises which may contain asbestos. You also have a legal duty to manage the risks from this material if you're responsible for non-private domestic premises, such as lift areas and halls in flats.

Different types of asbestos to look out for

The three main types of asbestos still regularly found throughout the UK are chrysotile "white asbestos," crocidolite "blue asbestos," and amosite "brown asbestos." They are all carcinogens but the blue and brown asbestos are the most dangerous. Beware though, as you cannot correctly identify asbestos just by its colour.

Asbestos is found in numerous products, including; Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB), sprayed coatings, pipe insulation, vinyl floor tiles, window putty, cement roof sheeting, drywall joint filler compound and decorative coatings like Artex.

  • Chrysotile "white asbestos"

Chrysotile is more flexible than other types of asbestos and was used a lot more. It can be spun and woven into fabric but is more commonly used in corrugated asbestos cement roof sheets, used for garages, outbuildings and warehouses.

  • Crocidolite "blue asbestos"

Crocidolite is often found in soft friable fibres, meaning that when it becomes dislodged it easily breaks apart and is easy to breathe in. Crocidolite was used in cigarette filters in the 1950s.

  • Amosite "brown asbestos"

Amosite is frequently found acting as a fire retardant in thermal insulation products, such as ceiling tiles and AIB. These boards were regularly used in the UK from the 1930s-1980s because of their excellent heat insulation properties and fire resistance.

What should you do if you find asbestos?

It's nearly always mixed with another material so can be quite hard to identify. If you're working on a building built before the year 2000 you should be extra careful as it's likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.

Asbestos waste should always be transported in clearly labelled, double-bagged polythene bags and sent to licensed disposal sites. Your surveyor or local authority will have more information on licensed sites.

Romans Surveyors and Valuers was established in 1991 and is a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The team of experienced surveyors operates throughout the UK with offices in Wokingham, Twickenham and Southampton. Find out more about Romans' surveying services.