Asbestos Awareness with Cherie Barber

So you’re thinking about renovating? Before you start planning your project, take RFP founder Cherie Barber’s advice and get to know how to deal with Asbestos in your home!

The reality is that if you are renovating an older property in Australia, there’s a good chance it will contain asbestos of some kind. Between 1945 and the mid-1980s in Australia, it was widely used in the construction industry, especially bonded (asbestos cement) AC sheeting, or “fibro” as we know it. Inside the home, by far the most common form used was internal wall sheeting, because of its great insulating properties. If it’s left alone, it’s rarely a problem, as the asbestos fibres are tightly compacted in the hard sheeting. It’s only when the sheeting is disturbed and the fibres become airborne, say if you were renovating and started cutting or drilling into it or – even worse, breaking it up with a sledgehammer – that the sheeting becomes a serious danger. This is particularly problematic in bathroom renovations, because the sheeting will often be hidden behind wall tiles or under floor tiles, so you may not detect it until the renovations begin. Other areas inside a home you might find it could be in the backing for old vinyl floor tiles or as carpet underlay. Outside, you’ll commonly see it under eaves (the dead giveaway is the battens that were used to cover the joins between the sheets), as roof guttering, corrugated sheeting for roofs or fencing, and as flat sheeting used on exteriors of old sheds, car ports and other outbuildings.

If you’re an experienced renovator like myself, and you’re used to dealing with older properties, there’s a good chance you’ll recognise the various forms of asbestos. However, the only way to know for sure if it’s asbestos is to have it tested by an accredited lab. My advice, when in doubt, is to always assume it’s asbestos, and take every precaution possible. Although legally you are allowed to remove small amounts of bonded asbestos yourself (the legal minimum differs between states) I always advise engaging professional asbestos removalists. It isn’t cheap to have asbestos safely disposed of, but what price to you put on your life? Always get three quotes, as my experience is that prices can differ enormously among asbestos removalists.

As long as it is left alone, it rarely poses a risk in the home. It’s only when it’s disturbed, and the deadly asbestos fibres are released into the air, that asbestos becomes hazardous. That’s why renovators need to educate themselves about where it is likely to be found in the home. That way they can make the assessment of whether they can leave the asbestos where it is – if it’s in good condition and in an area of the property that won’t be renovated – or whether it needs to be removed by licensed asbestos professionals.

*Cherie Barber is an official ambassador for the Asbestos Awareness campaign for more information head to:

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