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Asbestos: A Building Surveyor’s Perspective

Here, our York building surveyor, Paul Cunniff, reflects on signs of asbestos he found during a recent building survey.

As a residential building surveyor you never really know what to expect at a property until you arrive at the door.  Take today for example. A seemingly average mid 20th century semi-detached house in suburbia. The house had not been updated for some time and had probably been occupied by the same family for a number of decades.

Suspected asbestos is still seen alarmingly often on home surveys, and this property contained plenty of materials that gave me cause for concern.  The most obvious area of suspected asbestos was in the single garage, where the wall panels were made of cementitious board. Asbestos was commonly included in cementitious boards in the mid-1900s to improve the strength of the cement, and these are commonly found in pre-fabricated garages of this type. Some of the boards were damaged and there were loose pieces on the floor. Rather worryingly, debris found on the floor suggested that original cement-based roof panels had been removed – they had been changed for corrugated bitumen and plastic, and the walls had been patched up with plywood. There was no documentation to show that testing had been carried out and the presence of debris suggests that specialist measures were not put in place prior to the roof being altered. I would therefore speculate that these works may have disturbed asbestos fibres without the correct safety procedures being put in place.

Asbestos was used in all kinds of domestic and building products, and my inspection inside the property revealed more suspect materials.  Vinyl floor tiles, produced in their millions, were visible in the kitchen. These were often installed using asbestos adhesives. In addition, the textured ceiling coatings I found in the house can contain asbestos.  Asbestos can also be found in Bakelite door handles, old fuse boxes, old electrical fittings, insulation, pipe lagging, and even the pads around plug holes under the kitchen sink.

Despite asbestos being banned over 20 years ago, asbestos hazards persist, and as surveyors we need to be wary and offer the correct advice to our clients.

Some examples are shown below: Cement Boarding, Vinyl Tiles, Bakelite Door Handles, Asbestos Soffits & Textured Ceiling Coatings and Old Electrical Fittings.

If you find any of these in your property, we would recommend testing by a licensed asbestos contractor before carrying out any works that would disturb the material. Stay safe!