The use of asbestos in the creation of domestic building materials was banned in Australia in late 2003. As the dangers posed by asbestos were already known before the ban went into effect, however, use of the product in building materials ceased in the 1980s. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if your home or unit was built before the ban went into effect, it is highly likely that there is still asbestos in your home – especially if construction took place before 1990.
The problem with asbestos is that it is hard to detect using only the naked eye. A building inspector can assess building materials and determine that it likely contains asbestos. However, to be absolutely sure, the material should be sent to a laboratory for further analysis. The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) provides testing for asbestos, and you can find contact information laboratories in your area via the NATA website.
It is also important that you do not disturb materials which you suspect may contain asbestos. The same applies to entering tight spaces, such as lofts, where there exists the possibility that insulation materials contain loose asbestos fibres. Breathing asbestos in can have long term and often life threatening consequences. It is better to have the area inspected by a professional under controlled conditions which prevent exposure to those living in the home.
It is important to understand that there are two mains types of asbestos used in construction materials. The two types were described as bonded and loosely-bounded. The names pretty much describe how they were incorporated into the building material. You will normally find bonded asbestos in solid building materials such as hardened cement. As such, these materials present the lowest risk of exposure. However, the risk is increased if the material is damaged or starts to crumble. Loosely-bounded asbestos is the type which is found in insulation materials. As these fibres are not securely bound to the material, they can and do become airborne, increasing the chance of exposure.
There are various materials in the home which might contain asbestos. It must be reiterated, however, that it is highly unadvisable to start prodding around in the hopes of finding it. This guide is for information purposes only. If you are planning renovations it is vital that you have an inspection carried out before any work begins.
Areas of concern in the roof include chimney flues, roof sheeting materials, insulation, and lagging used in the construction of eaves. Roof spaces also present a higher risk of exposure, as this is where you will likely find loosely-bound asbestos fibres.
Both internal and external walls may contain asbestos. Ceilings and floors – especially those constructed using cement – are also areas which need inspection before renovation work can begin. Main structures may contain one or both types of the dangerous construction material.
Barns, garages, carports, dog kennels and other outbuildings also require inspection. Do not assume that because a building appears lightweight in construction that there are no materials which contain asbestos.
Ideally you should hire a building inspector to carry out an assessment of your home. A professional inspection is carried out to determine the likelihood that asbestos is present, before samples are safely taken and sent for analysis. If asbestos is discovered, you will need to have it removed before you can begin any demolition or renovations.