What should you do if you find or suspect asbestos in your home?

Although the ownership of an older property might offer certain charms over a newbuild property, there is also at least one major disadvantage that such buildings may present: the existence of asbestos on the site.

A now-notorious carcinogen, asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999. This naturally occurring mineral was, however, extremely widely used in the UK construction industry for much of the 20th century. It was incorporated into many different products in UK domestic, commercial, and public buildings – including roof tiles.

As the years went on, public awareness of the dangers of asbestos to health grew. This eventually led to all forms of asbestos being outlawed in the UK. The ban did not, however, include an automatic requirement for all asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) to be removed from buildings where they had already been installed; many of those remain in place in properties up and down the UK to this day.

So, if you suspect or believe that a property you own or manage has an asbestos roof, it is extremely important to know how to manage such a roof in a safe and responsible manner.

If loose asbestos fibres are released from the roof, those fibres could be breathed in or swallowed by someone nearby. So, you might understandably wish to know how you can remove your property’s asbestos roof.

how to remove an asbestos roof

Are asbestos roofs safe?

Let’s begin with one fundamental message: asbestos roofs definitely can be hazardous to health, which is likely to become more and more the case as the given asbestos roof deteriorates.

After all, more than a generation has now passed since asbestos was legal to use in the UK. Furthermore, many asbestos roofs that survive in the UK were installed much earlier than 1999 – asbestos cement sheets, for example, were an especially popular choice of product for garage roofing during the 1960s and ‘70s.

No roof lasts forever, and amid an asbestos roof’s ageing process, it could be more susceptible to deteriorating and sustaining damage that causes the release of potentially dangerous asbestos fibres. The inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibres heightens the risk of the exposed individual developing a potentially fatal asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer, many years later.

Understandably, then, many owners or managers of buildings with asbestos roofs conclude that simply maintaining their roof over time, or leaving it untouched, is merely delaying the inevitable. The roof will need to be replaced at some stage, so it may be best to remove it as soon as possible.

On the other hand, however, a given asbestos roof might pose minimal risk when it is undisturbed and properly maintained. So, any decision on how to deal with your asbestos roof will need to be made on the basis of the specific circumstances and risks for that roof.

How to identify an asbestos roof

It is impossible to confirm that a given roof contains asbestos through visual inspection alone. What visual inspection can do, though, is help you determine whether there is a relatively high likelihood of your property’s roof containing the now-banned substance.

Considering this factor alongside the building’s age, then, will help you decide whether to arrange for a professional asbestos company to sample and test materials from the roof. This will then enable you to get a definitive identification of any asbestos present.

Below are some of the classic indicators that a given roof could contain asbestos:

  • The building dates from before the year 2000. As we referenced above, a roof might be particularly likely to be an asbestos one if it was constructed during the 1960s or ‘70s.
  • The roof panels are corrugated. It isn’t automatically the case that a roofing panel being corrugated means it is made from asbestos. However, it is a factor that might make this likelier.
  • The roof panels have cracks and breaks. By contrast, if a given roofing material looks crumbly instead of being cracked, this is likelier to indicate that the panel is purely made from concrete and does not contain asbestos.
  • The roof has small surface dimples or craters. Again, this is not a certain indicator that asbestos is present. Nonetheless, if small dimples, craters, or similar patterns are evident in your corrugated roofing sheets, this is another good reason to reach out to an accredited asbestos surveying company as soon as possible.
  • Growth of moss or lichen. Many asbestos roofs that still exist today have accumulated a lot of moss or lichen – which shouldn’t be overly surprising, given how old they tend to be.

Consulting our guide to what asbestos looks like may further aid your efforts to determine whether your building’s roof is likely to contain asbestos.

Does my roof have to be removed?

As we referenced above, the mere fact of a given roof containing asbestos does not mean the roof definitely has to be removed. So, if – as a consequence of the aforementioned surveying process – you have discovered that asbestos is contained in the roof, you may have a number of options on how to deal with it, depending on factors such as the roof’s age and condition.

There are certain scenarios in which you might reasonably conclude that removal of the roof is the best course of action. These include if you intend to have refurbishment, renovation, and/or demolition work carried out at the site, or if the roof is damaged, is starting to leak, or shows signs of having been disturbed. You might also arrange to have an asbestos roof removed if you are looking to sell the given property, to help boost its attractiveness and sale price.

Other possible options for dealing with an asbestos roof include:

  • Leaving the roof in place, and implementing an asbestos management plan. If your asbestos roof is in good condition and there are no plans to have major works carried out on it, you might decide to leave the roof “in situ”, managing it over time with an asbestos management plan (AMP). In this situation, arranging regular reinspection surveys for your roof would enable you to monitor it over time.
  • Encapsulating the roof. It might be determined that the process of removing your asbestos roof would be more dangerous than leaving it in place. Alternatively, the ACMs might not have been disturbed, and may be judged to be in a sufficiently good condition to leave in situ. Situations like these may lead you to decide to “encapsulate” the roof. This entails sealing the roof to prevent asbestos fibres from being released in the event of the roof deteriorating or being disturbed or damaged in the future.

Can I remove asbestos roofing myself?

As we addressed in our previous article on DIY asbestos removal, it is physically possible for an “amateur” to remove asbestos from a property. However, here at Oracle Solutions, we strongly recommend – for both legal and safety reasons – that you do not attempt to remove an asbestos roof at your property.

The reality is that asbestos is simply not a “DIY” job in the UK. As someone with only an amateur’s level of knowledge and experience, you could easily inadvertently cause the release of asbestos fibres when attempting to remove your roof. This could put not only yourself, but also other people nearby at risk of breathing in or swallowing those fibres.

Furthermore, there are stringent legal requirements in relation to the removal of asbestos from a commercial building in the UK.

The removal of asbestos cement products, such as roof sheeting, doesn’t strictly require a licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) , unlike some forms of asbestos-related work. However, this is subject to the material being carefully handled and removed without breaking up, which is by no means guaranteed if an amateur is carrying out the work.

In practice, placing your trust in a licensed and reputable asbestos removal professional for such a sensitive and dangerous task as removing an asbestos roof, will give you the peace of mind of knowing the job will be carried out properly and in the safest possible way.

How much does it cost to remove an asbestos garage roof?

Asbestos cement garage roof removal typically costs around £50 per square metre on average. So, as a “rule of thumb”, in the year 2024, you might expect to pay around £945, plus VAT, for the removal of an asbestos roof from a single garage, and £1,400, plus VAT, to have an asbestos roof removed from a double garage.

These numbers should be considered minimum costs. They presume the garage roof is of a standard size with little or no pitch, and that the building does not contain any asbestos other than the roof.

Our guide to the costs of garage asbestos roof removal makes clear that the actual cost will depend on such factors as the size, pitch, and accessibility of the roof, as well as whether other asbestos is present, such as in the guttering or downpipes.

What is involved in the removal procedure?

The following is the step-by-step process that licensed asbestos professionals follow to safely remove an asbestos roof, including preparation, removal, and site cleanup.

  1. Risk assessment and planning – Professionals conduct a thorough site assessment, so that they can identify risks and plan the removal process. Such factors as the type, location, and condition of the asbestos could all impact on the decisions taken to minimise risk.
  1. Legal compliance and notification – In the UK, specific regulations require professionals to notify the HSE about planned asbestos removal work at least 14 days in advance.
  1. Setting up the work area – The work area is cordoned off to prevent unauthorised access. Warning signs are posted, and measures are taken to prevent asbestos fibres from escaping the work area.
  1. Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Workers wear appropriate PPE, including respirators with P3 filters, disposable overalls, and gloves, to protect against asbestos exposure.
  1. Wetting the asbestos – The asbestos roofing material is typically kept wet during removal, to minimise the scope for fibres to be released into the air. A surfactant can be added to the water to improve penetration and effectiveness.
  1. Careful removal of asbestos material – Asbestos roofing sheets are carefully removed intact to minimise fibre release. Tools that generate minimal dust, such as hand tools, are preferred to power tools.
  1. Waste packaging and labelling – Asbestos waste, including contaminated PPE, is double bagged in thick polythene bags, sealed, and clearly labelled as asbestos waste.
  1. Decontamination – A decontamination unit is used for workers to safely remove PPE and clean themselves before leaving the work area. Equipment used during the removal is also decontaminated.
  1. Air monitoring – Air testing is carried out to ensure that asbestos fibre concentrations remain below safe levels, both during the removal process and upon completion.
  1. Safe disposal of asbestos waste – Asbestos waste is transported to a licensed hazardous waste disposal site. Documentation of the waste’s journey and disposal is maintained for legal compliance.
  1. Post-removal inspection and clearance – Following a thorough visual inspection, air sampling is undertaken to ensure the area is free of asbestos contamination. If the area meets safety standards, a clearance certificate is issued.

Conclusion: Should you remove an asbestos roof?

It is hugely important to know how to deal with a roof that you suspect or have confirmed contains asbestos. Arranging to have your own roof professionally surveyed, followed by management, encapsulation, or removal, will greatly help ensure both safety and compliance with all applicable rules in relation to asbestos in the UK.

If you suspect that your own garage, shed, or other building has an asbestos roof, you shouldn’t hesitate to act. To learn more about our own asbestos removal services here at Oracle Solutions, please call us or send us an email.

How to remove an asbestos roof 1

Written by Callum McDonald

Callum McDonald is an expert in asbestos quality management, ensuring rigorous adherence to regulations and high-quality standards in removal projects. His focus on enhancing quality and client satisfaction makes him a crucial asset in safety and compliance within the field. Callum's expertise in technical support and oversight of licensed works underscores his commitment to excellence in asbestos management, providing invaluable guidance to clients in this specialised area.