Asbestos Containing Materials in Residential Properties.

Original Article
February 10th, 2018


How to avoid potential costly errors and omissions

Failing to spot and report a “visible” potential asbestos containing material on a survey is something that can be very difficult to defend later. Only if the material is genuinely ‘hidden’ and impossible to see without any invasive activity will be easily defendable. For the rest, if the asbestos containing material is present and the surveyor simply failed to note and mention it to the client, then any complaint or claim resulting from that omission is very likely to end in financial compensation to the client.

Read asbestos case studies here.

In construction, the use of asbestos was so pervasive that it has been estimated that about 50% of UK buildings still contain asbestos and asbestos is still the greatest cause of work-related deaths in the country. The Guardian Newspaper reported on the hidden use of Asbestos in 2011 when it quoted Peter Coling, the technical director at Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, who estimated “…that 30% of asbestos is found in ceiling coatings, 15% in boiler flue pipes and ducts, and 15% in floor tiles. A further 15% is found in areas such as cold water storage tanks, insulation materials, eaves, gutters and rainwater pipes, while 10% is in cement panel ceilings, 10% in outbuildings and 5% in fire protection materials, for example on the underside of integral garage roofs and in cupboards enclosing boilers.”

The dangers of exposure to Asbestos

It took nearly a century for the dangers of asbestos to be fully understood and acted upon.

As early as the beginning of the 20th Century a London doctor, Dr Hubert Montague Murray, reported on lung disease in an asbestos textile worker, with an autopsy confirming the presence of asbestos fibres in the workers lungs.

Later, in the 1920s, this condition was formally described as Asbestosis when studies identified that textile workers exposed to asbestos fibres were dying of lung disease at a very young age. From the 1930s and 40s the dangers of asbestos were beginning to be recognised by manufacturers, though the science was concealed from workers and the public in general. Only in the 1960s were the full dangers of asbestos finally documented and publicly recognised.

The final end for asbestos came in 1999 when The Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 came into force in November 1999, 5 years ahead of the European deadline. Amosite and Crocidolite (‘brown’ and ‘blue’ asbestos) were banned in 1985. ‘White’ Asbestos,Chrysotile, had been the only type permitted since 1985.

The regulations banned the new use of asbestos cement, boards, panels, tiles and other products, although it allowed for Chrysotile containing products to remain in place until they reach the end of their useful life, if installed prior to November 24th 1999.

Undertaking the Inspection

Because the use of Asbestos in construction was so prevalent, it seems sensible to adopt a few robust approaches to ensure you correctly identify the potential risk of asbestos being present.

  1. When undertaking any inspection, it is a good idea to work on the principle that an asbestos containing material (ACM) could be found in any dwelling built, extended or refurbished prior to the year 2000, although most manufacturers and constructers had stopped using them many years before that.
  2. Consider when the property was originally built and then consider it against the asbestos industry time line to assess the enhanced risk of an ACM being present (particularly as a fundamental part of the construction). For example, Eternit really came into its own during the 1920s and asbestos containing sheeting was sometimes used in the way that modern plasterboard is used today. But remember too that there was a massive use of semi compressed asbestos insulation board (trade name Asbestolux) right up to the mid 1980s. So if built, modernised or repaired anytime up until 1985 then it is prudent to expect ACMs of all types anywhere. From 1985 to 1990 there may still be ACMs used in the property but these are more likely to be “white” asbestos (Chrysotile). Although white asbestos could still have been used in the 1990s the likelihood is low, although you should still look out for the exceptions.
  3. While an older property constructed before asbestos became a common construction material is unlikely to have used an ACM in the original construction this does not mean that an ACM will not be present. For example, the material could have been introduced during extension or refurbishment (It is quite possible to have a Victorian cottage with an asbestos cement facia board if the roof was refurbished during the 20th century)

Victorian cottage – the plastic guttering at the rear of the property is attached to a potential ACM facia (not visible from this photograph). The roof covering is not original and it is probable that the original wooden facia was replaced when the roof covering was replaced.

Examples of ACM materials in dwellings

We believe that those ACMs that residential surveyors are most likely to encounter are asbestolux sheets, decorative textured coatings and asbestos cement products in all its forms.

  • Keep a look out for semi compressed asbestos insulation board or AIB (Asbestolux) typically used as ceilings, fire proofing on doors and partitions, panel panels and so on. Asbestolux can be recognised by
    • an ‘orange peel’ texture to its surface
    • surface that is harder than plaster/plasterboard (you can’t put holes in it with a damp meter) and where it is used as a ceiling board, timber battens were used to hide the joints because the material was never skimmed.

‘Orange peel texture’ of asbestos insulated board

  • Decorative ceiling and wall finished could be ACMs (often referred to generically as Artex although other products/brands were available)

Textured Ceiling/Wall coverings (‘Artex’)

Decorative ceiling tiles

Grid tiles

  • Are there acoustic tiles used anywhere in the property? When were these likely to have been installed and compare this to the asbestos industry time line

Acoustic asbestos tiles 

  • Guttering, facias and bargeboards can be made of an ACM – look out for this and take it into account when applying a condition rating (an ACM will cost more to remove and will affect the decision process if you use the SAVA protocol). Because ACM boards could not usually be nailed, look out for cupped and screwed fixings.
  • Be alert to ‘unusual’ forms of construction or finishes – particularly relating to properties dating from post WW1 and the increased use of Eternit board. Could these suggest the possible use of an ACM?

Asbestos cement corrugated panels?

  • Boiler flues, AIB in boiler cupboards, fireplace linings

Boiler cupboard lined with AIB and flues

  • Floor tiles were once a popular choice for flooring, and you will often find old asbestos floor tiles hidden under carpets, laminate or other modern floor coverings.

1960s vinyl floor tiles under modern floor covering

Asbestos and Boilers

Asbestos insulation board was often used to line boiler cupboards.

The example here is a particularly worrying example where there is evident powder in the cupboard and the door lining is crumbling at the corners.

As well as a serious health risk to any occupier (in this case the property was tenanted) such boilers will be very expensive to replace or repair with many gas engineers (including British Gas) refusing to even quote for a boiler in such a location.

This should be specifically pointed out to the customer since it will significantly increase the cost of and difficulty to arrange any repair or replacement.

Read more about the History of Asbestos