There is not much the British homeowner enjoys more than the prospect of a DIY project. We love the planning, the measuring, the working out of the cost, the trip to buy the materials, unpacking new tools and then the settling back with a cup of tea enjoying a job well done after all the work. If you want proof of how much we enjoy a good fixer-upper session, just visit a DIY store on any given weekend and you will see hordes of people selecting tools and materials.
Then we return home, start hammering and drilling away, and possibly expose ourselves to a long-term and potentially fatal toxic substance, because around 13 million homes in the UK contain materials that will release asbestos.
Asbestos is a mineral that has some very attractive properties. It is highly resistant to heat and fire, it is flexible, and it can be combined with other materials, including fabrics, to make them more durable and practically fireproof. Because of its attractive properties, it was included in many building materials that were used in houses built before 2000. Unfortunately, it can also release tiny fibres that are extremely hazardous to health. Once inhaled, these fibres can lodge in the lining of the lungs and cause a range of serious pulmonary diseases resulting in long-term illness and even death.
The dangerous fibres are only released when the material that contains them is broken or disturbed, so if they are in place and undamaged, or hidden away where people cannot get near them, they should be perfectly safe. The problem is that DIY projects often require the removal, disturbing or alteration of quite common items, such as textured coatings and pipe lagging that could contain asbestos.
Before you start any DIY project in your home it is worth reviewing these 5 tips.
How old is your home?
- Asbestos was not used in construction from the year 2000 onwards. If your home was built after this then it would be highly unlikely to contain asbestos. One point of caution – beware of reconstructions and renovations. Just because any extensions or even full renovations of older properties were done it does not mean that the original building was cleared of Asbestos Containing Materials.
Did it show up in the survey before you purchased?
- Remember, asbestos is only dangerous if it is broken or otherwise interfered, but even so your survey should have highlighted it if there was a risk, including where the asbestos was potentially located. However, this does not mean the material has been tested as safe, so assume any possible asbestos is asbestos if no test has been done.
Take an online Asbestos Awareness course if you are doing an extended project
- It will only cost a few pounds, so why not do a certified awareness course? If you are doing an extended project, then you are better to play safe.
Get the right safety wear
- Inhalation of asbestos fibre is to be avoided at all costs, so visit your local DIY or building suppliers and ask them for the correct mask, gloves, boots and overalls. Once used, treat your overalls and mask as if they are contaminated waste and bag them in sealed plastic for disposal.
Stop and get an expert
- If you think you are facing an asbestos problem, particularly if it is with some of the more dangerous materials such as Loose Fill Asbestos or Spray Asbestos, the best option is to get an expert in to deal with it. Professional asbestos removal is not cheap but it is the safest option.
Overall, the threat from asbestos will be about managing the situation. If it isn’t going to be disturbed or it is out of the way, then the best option is likely to be to just leave it alone. If you need to disturb it as part of your DIY work, then please ensure that you take the proper precautions so you can identify the danger as a minimum.