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

While it was once a prevalent material in the construction industry, the major and life-threatening side effects of asbestos are now widely known. Asbestos exposure can lead to cancers and other diseases decades in the future, often requiring aggressive treatments.

Discovering asbestos in your home, especially if the asbestos material is worn down or broken into pieces, is cause for alarm. Once asbestos fibres are breathed in or swallowed, they can be impossible to detect or remove from the lungs.

Never ignore a potential asbestos exposure incident. Get professional help right away to keep you and everyone on the premises safe.

asbestos in your home

What is asbestos? Where is it found in homes?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has powerful fireproofing and insulation properties. Before its negative health effects were well-known and understood, it was used in the construction of commercial and residential buildings, as well as in other industries.

Since asbestos was readily available, inexpensive, and able to be combined with practically any construction material, its use was abundant. While it was banned in the UK in 2000, any buildings from 1999 or earlier are still likely to have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) today.

Common locations where asbestos is found in homes include:

  • Bathroom appliances
  • Beams and columns
  • Boilers and radiators
  • Bricks
  • Ceilings, flooring, and voids
  • Cupboards
  • Doors and windows
  • Electrical installations
  • Gutters and roofing
  • Piping
  • Stairs
  • Venting

Asbestos could be used in so many different ways that it’s difficult to recognise it unless you understand how it was used in construction. Some types of ACMs are easy to spot, like textured walls, while others are more difficult to identify.

How can you identify asbestos in your home?

While you don’t want to take asbestos testing into your own hands, there are a few ways you can start to figure out where asbestos is in your home:

  • Building Records: Building records or other types of construction documentation might include information about where ACMs were used.
  • Check Labels: Not all materials are going to have labels, but if any of them do, they should say whether or not asbestos is present.
  • Visual Inspection: Comparing your home materials to images of common ACMs may give you an idea of where asbestos is likely located.

Since it can be difficult to visually identify the presence of asbestos, the best option is to hire a professional who can test materials and determine if they contain asbestos. An asbestos expert will first conduct a visual inspection to identify the areas that are likely to contain asbestos.

Next, the inspector will carefully collect samples of the materials to be analysed in a laboratory. The lab will then analyse the samples to determine if asbestos is present and, depending on the type of testing, the asbestos fibre concentration.

Some types of testing are more thorough than others. For example, phase contrast microscopy (PCM) identifies the presence of asbestos but not necessarily the type of asbestos or the fibre concentration. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM), on the other hand, takes high-resolution images so the fibres can be accurately identified and measured.

What immediate actions should you take if you suspect asbestos exposure?

If you suspect or know for certain that there’s damage or disturbed asbestos in your home, follow these steps right away:

  • Do not disturb the ACMs any more than they already are. Doing so could release more dangerous asbestos fibres into the air.
  • Seal off the area and prevent access to it so nobody risks inhaling or ingesting the fibres.
  • Document details about the exposure event, including the date, location, state of the ACM, and any actions you took.
  • Contact an asbestos professional who can assess the situation and create a plan of action.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor to speak with them about the asbestos exposure event. They may recommend additional health screenings or a monitoring regime.

There’s no such thing as a safe asbestos exposure event. Make sure to act quickly to keep yourself and everyone else safe.

Who should you contact for asbestos testing and removal?

Never try to work with ACMs on your own. For sampling and removal of ACMs, always hire a licensed professional instead of trying a DIY solution.

Working with asbestos without the proper training can further disturb the asbestos, releasing dangerous fibres that can pose major health risks if they’re inhaled or swallowed. Even if the ACM is currently undamaged, attempting to remove it could cause it to break apart, which is when it’s the most dangerous.

Here are a few tips for hiring an asbestos company:

  • Look for an asbestos management company that has UKAS accreditation.
  • Hire a company that’s familiar with residential buildings, as ACMs can differ between commercial and residential structures.
  • Read online reviews to see the repeat experiences customers have had with the company.
  • Ask about the company’s insurance coverage.
  • Avoid hiring the cheapest company just to save money — companies that are able to price their services very low may not have adequate insurance coverage, if any.

Learn more about choosing the right asbestos experts here.

How is asbestos safely removed from homes?

As mentioned, asbestos removal should only be handled by a trained professional. This is the only way to minimise exposure risk and keep everyone safe, both during and after the removal project.

Here’s an overview of the standard process of removing asbestos from a home:

  • The work area is sealed off to prevent the spread of fibres. HVAC systems are shut off for the same reason.
  • Asbestos workers get dressed in the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
  • ACMs are wetted to minimise fibre release as they’re being worked with. The wetting method suppresses asbestos dust, preventing the fibres from flying away.
  • The ACMs are carefully removed, preventing further damage whenever possible. Specialty techniques and tools are used.
  • Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters are used to clean up dust and debris.
  • The ACMs are properly packaged for disposal, then transported to pre-approved disposal sites.
  • The work area is completely cleaned to get rid of any lingering asbestos fibres. Workers follow a decontamination procedure, too.
  • A final inspection tests the air for the presence of fibres, determining if the area can be reoccupied.
  • The homeowner receives documentation from the asbestos management company, which includes test results and a certification that the area is safe for normal activities to resume.

Reliable asbestos management companies will strictly adhere to The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and best practices laid out by the Health and Safety Executive.

What should you do after asbestos removal in your home?

After the asbestos team has removed the ACMs and determined that the space can be used once again, there are certain tasks you should perform for ongoing asbestos monitoring and management.

Verify the Area Is Clean: While the workers will have already done this, it pays to do a once-over to ensure that nothing was overlooked. Check that the area is clean and that there aren’t any signs of contamination.

Restore Damaged Areas: You may need to repair areas where ACMs were removed. Whether you take a DIY approach or hire contractors, repair ceilings, floors, walls, and other areas so they’re structurally sound.

Speak With the Members of Your Household: Talk to the people you live with about the dangers of asbestos, how to avoid damaging the ACMs in your home, and the warning signs of asbestos exposure.

Conduct Regular Inspections: Frequently check the different areas of your home to see if any ACMs are deteriorating. If you notice that materials are damaged in some way, contact an asbestos management team right away.

Keep Records: You should keep records of anything and everything that has to do with the asbestos in your home.

Ventilate the Home: Proper ventilation keeps air circulating and minimises pollutants. Exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens will help, and it’s also smart to open windows when the weather is nice to get fresh air into the house.

Monitor Everyone’s Health: Warnings signs of asbestos-related diseases include coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. If you feel that anyone has symptoms of asbestos exposure, get in touch with a health professional ASAP.

Additionally, once the immediate risk has been taken care of, consider working with an asbestos management company to remove other ACMs so you can have them replaced with more modern, non-asbestos materials.

Wrapping Up

It can be extremely worrying to discover asbestos in your home, especially if you suspect that you or a family member has breathed in the air in the area. It’s important to deal with the situation immediately.

First, minimise exposure. Then, contact a professional who can assess the situation, test the materials in question, and create a plan of action to get rid of any ACMs that are posing a problem.

Acting fast and following the right steps is the only way to responsibly deal with exposed asbestos. Prioritise safety above everything else.

Mark Carter

Written by Mark Carter

Mark Carter is a renowned expert in asbestos management, offering clients vital guidance on compliance and safety. His expertise is invaluable for navigating asbestos regulations, ensuring both safety and legal adherence. Mark's role is central in providing effective asbestos-related solutions, helping clients achieve their business objectives with an emphasis on regulatory compliance and safety in asbestos management.