ASBESTOS - BLOG : Asbestos in Old Buildings
Asbestos can commonly be found in old or listed buildings

Asbestos in Old Buildings

Posted by John Toms

Prospective purchasers and inhabitants of older properties and listed buildings are often of the belief that there is likely to be no issue with regard to the potential for their building to contain asbestos products.

This belief is often based on the age of the building when compared with the date when asbestos was known to be a popular building product.

When Was Asbestos First Used

A lot of people believe asbestos was first used from the 1960’s onwards, and is quite often considered by many only to be present within decorative finishes such as textured coatings and ceiling tiles. However asbestos was commercially mined from 1870, and was used for many different purposes within buildings.

Older properties with listed status were typically constructed prior to a period when central heating systems were available. Consequently, solid fuel fires systems for burning wood or coal were commonplace. Quite often, only a limited number of rooms within the listed property would have had the benefit of a solid fuel fire system, the remaining rooms being somewhat cold and often damp.

What Was Asbestos Used For

With the introduction of domestically available oil and eventually gas central heating systems, the installation of such systems came about from around 1920’s, at a time when asbestos was a very popular product, and known to have a number of key strengths including the ability to withstand heat and water.

Amongst around 3,000 ultimate uses, asbestos was specified within boiler systems, heating cupboards and pipe lagging. It was also used within attic areas to insulate the floor of the attics of some properties, quite often placed loosely between timbers.

Renovating a Listed Building

When one is looking to purchase an older property, whether for domestic or commercial use, a major consideration has to be the value of that property and whether in any respects there is potential for negative equity.

Second to this, when obtaining insurance cover for that property, the current Rebuilding Cost is determined from the information provided by a Chartered Surveyor.

Risk of Asbestos

Unfortunately, it is quite often the case that no one will have considered the potential risk of asbestos being present.

Aside from an inability to undertake any form of alteration, adaptation or upgrading/modernisation works without establishing whether asbestos could be present, there is secondly the issue as to whether the property, if damaged by storm, flood or fire, would be able to be reinstated when one considers the considerable cost of removing asbestos.

Several high profile properties are known to contain asbestos including some of the Royal Palaces, numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, and a substantial number of listed buildings throughout many of our cities, to an extent that would surprise most people.

The reason for this, of course, is that asbestos was seen as a ‘golden product’ and was specified by architects particularly prior to 1985. Secondly, asbestos was installed within older properties during periods of renovation, modernisation or upgrading, up to and including the early 1980’s and during 1990 for textured coatings.

Asbestos Disturbance

Specialist restorers of listed buildings, whether involved in domestic or commercial properties, should be challenged to obtain a Refurbishment Survey for asbestos, principally because there is a high potential that this type of restoration work will disturb asbestos.

The requirement for a Refurbishment Survey exists because of the death toll arising from historical exposure to asbestos, affecting a substantial number of tradesmen, particularly electricians and plumbers.

However one must also consider the risks associated with asbestos disturbance, particularly if there are people residing in the property when the work is taking place.

Aesbestos Health and Safety

Remember that asbestos is still the biggest industrial killer by far.

A good source of information for anyone looking to find out about the dangers of asbestos would be the Health & Safety Executive website.

When one is engaging a contractor or specialist restorer to undertake works in their property, it is mandatory (a legal requirement) that the trades persons involved have received formal Asbestos Awareness Training, or a refresher course, valid within the last 12 months.

Clearly, whether looking to purchase, adapt, modernise or upgrade a listed building, one must consider the strong potential for asbestos to be present and take appropriate measures to prevent disturbance thereof.

John Toms
Director, Asbestos Division
IOM Consulting Ltd
Direct Dial: 0131 449 8000

Footnotes: Information about IOM is available via Wikipedia.

< View all articles