This post title is not about the heart attack you may have when you reach the end of your build and are presented with the final invoice from your builder....I'm talking about Asbestos. I was emailed recently by the Mesothelioma Cancer Centre to ask if I would include information about where Asbestos is found in a home for my readers. I'm only too happy to talk about this, as it is SO important, and something that can easily be overlooked when renovating a house.

In both houses we have renovated, we have found Asbestos. Australia has a high rate of awareness of Asbestos, due to the extensive media coverage of the Litigation in the 1990's/ 2000's with James Hardie (major manufacturer of Asbestos products). For those not aware of what exactly Asbestos is, and how it was used in houses, it was used in building material fairly extensively in the 1950's - 1980's in Australia, as well as the rest of the world, in building products for both domestic and commercial use. After the 1980's in Australia it was banned for use in houses (the dates differed state to state). If your house was built or renovated prior to 1990, it is likely there could be asbestos in your home somewhere - it is estimated that 1/3 of homes in Australia contain Asbestos.

Our first home in Melbourne. The facade looked like it had been clad in Asbestos, but it hadn't.


Mesothelioma is the type of Lung Cancer that people exposed to Asbestos can get many, many years after their exposure. It is always fatal, and is not a pleasant way to die. It takes only one fibre of Asbestos in the lungs to lie dormant for decades and then to develop into Mesothelioma, so it can be hard to pick when and where exposure occurred. But Asbestos is a fairly random thing - some people that worked daily with Asbestos have never developed Mesothelioma, and others who had minor exposure were unlucky enough to get it. Australia has the second largest rates of death in the world from Mesothelioma (trailing the UK) due to the Asbestos mines, and the huge take up of asbestos products in the building industry during the post WW2 boom in building.

The first large wave of Mesothelioma deaths in Australia generally related to people who had worked with Asbestos - plumbers who had sawn up asbestos pipes, people who worked in the Asbestos mines, Builders who worked with Asbestos sheeting and insulation products - 75-80% of the deaths were male.

But there is talk about a second wave of deaths, mostly relating to DIY work that unwitting homeowners do on their properties, as the places built from the 1950's onward are renovated by a new generation.

If you are going to do work of any kind on your house, it is wise to find out if there is Asbestos in there. You can look up the Yellow pages in your city, and you'll find details of companies or consultants that are able to come out to your home and do an Asbestos audit. They'll visually check the house out to see if anything looks suspicious (people experienced with Asbestos know what to look for). Any material that they are suspicious about will have a sample taken away for testing, and you'll be advised on how to deal with it if you wish to remove it.

Asbestos is safe if left undisturbed. By this, I mean that it is not deteriorating or cracked, and is not broken up by drilling/ hammering a nail in, or making any attempt to remove it. If you wish to remove Asbestos, you should have it done professionally. When doing new construction, this can end up seeming like an expensive exercise if you're on a shoestring budget to get an audit and have Asbestos removed. But my attitude has always been that I'd be a fool to save $850 (the cost of removing the Asbestos in our house in Melbourne for instance) to wind up with Mesothelioma 30 years down the track.

So, here are the places that you might find Asbestos in your house, courtesy of the Mesothelioma Cancer Centre.



In our house in Melbourne, we had Asbestos lining the wall and exhaust behind the stove in the kitchen, and on the exterior kitchen wall.

The 1960's era sun room we demolished for our new extension. 


In our current house, our renovations commenced a year ago with the removal of the vinyl tiles on the floor, which contained low levels of compressed asbestos in the lean-to playroom/ sunroom on the back of our house. This always surprised people that I spoke to, as most people are unaware that vinyl tiles could contain asbestos. I had always been suspicious of them, and this was confirmed by a test prior to their removal.

 The vinyl floor tiles that contained compressed low grade asbestos (1960's era)


To remove Asbestos, have it done by an experienced contractor - they should wear protective suits and masks, and your property should be sealed off from the street with warning signs so that people can't unwittingly enter the property while the removal is under way. They use water spray (to keep asbestos from becoming airborne), and special vacuums, and the asbestos product and any debris is wrapped and taped up in special plastic sheeting before being placed in bins and taken to a contaminated fill dump. It is illegal to dump asbestos in general household or construction rubbish, and as a homeowner, it is in your interest to ensure that your contractor is licensed and follows correct procedure.


While our Asbestos vinyl floor tiles were being removed


I wanted to write this post to be informative, rather than alarming. If you have Asbestos in your home, and you don't intend to do construction works, it is perfectly safe if left undisturbed. Our lean-to sun room was the children's play room for 2 years. I had thought from the time we purchased the house it was likely the tiles contained Asbestos, but as it was low grade, the tiles were solid and the chance of loose fibres escaping were virtually impossible, I was comfortable leaving it down. In my former professional career I worked on several commercial developments where Asbestos was found - often due to cost the Asbestos would be prominently tagged with warning signs, and left in place - occasionally covered over by new building works, but easily visible should renovations take place in the future.

If you'd like more information on Asbestos in the home, the Australian government has a site relating to Asbestos Safety and free information booklets have also been produced.


This post is not a sponsored post, rather I was asked if I'd write about Asbestos in the home to spread awareness.

33 comments:

  1. It's a terrible disease Heidi, how good of you to write this post and bring it to folk's attention.

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    1. It is horrible, so many unwitting renovators are exposing themselves with no idea of the danger. x

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  2. excellent post, my street has a lot of asbestos removal going on…good for you for highlighting it xxxx

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  3. Such an informative post! I hope this helps spread the message. A friends father died from this...but he was in the boating industry and was exposed to it thru that but in London with so many renos people aren't even checking as half the builders aren't English speaking and from abroad so they don't look out for these things. Well done xx

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    1. This is happening in Australia too though - there was a case in Melbourne a few years ago where a developer of a large warehouse redevelopment in Collingswood was fined. He had used backpackers to remove the asbestos, with no protective gear etc. They were paid in cash, and there is no record of their names. By the time the EPA and work cover caught up with him the backpackers were long gone, completely unaware of the danger they are now in. Terrible xx

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  4. It's one of those things people should know about but don't, great post Heidi, very well-written and informative. You are truly doing a public service here and imagine this might save the life down the road of an enthusiastic renovator!
    We had some asbestos in our previous home and had to have it removed, I remember it well. That home was built in 1920 and people with older homes would do well to remember that many renos are done over the years with this and that added in... and Naomi makes a great point as I think with such a renovation culture happening in many cities things like Asbestos are maybe being ignored? It was certainly spoken about a bit more 15 years ago in my experience.

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    1. Agree with you Dani - I think when all the litigation was first going on it was up in people's minds, but it only takes a small generational shift and young people who have not heard/ are unaware and buying their first fixer upper for the problems to occur with safe removal or handling. xx

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  5. So glad you accepted the request to write a post on this. We are often horrified by DIYers tackling renovations oblivious to this very serious risk. As a builder, my husband always has professional asbestos removalists tackle any asbestos products on site and dispose of safetly. Mum and Dad have young neighbours who are doing some renos and are disposing of the asbestos in their neighbours bins little by little broken piece. We subtly highlighted the risk but they thought a basic 20c mask would protect them. Unbelievably ignorant and sad.

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    1. That's terrible about the neighbours!!! I would be furious!! Report them to the EPA, work cover whomever you can, they need to be stopped not just for the danger they pose to themselves, but to put it in neighbours bins and have a garbage truck crushing it up and trailing it down the street is awful. xx

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  6. You have presented the facts in a very careful and low-key way, provided further reference sources, and above all, you have sought not to alarm readers.

    Thank you for a constructive and informative post.

    Sue

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    1. Thank you Sue - I didn't want to alarm people unnecessarily, so I'm glad it hasn't come across like that x

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  7. My medical $0.02 - it's not just mesothelioma! If you are a smoker who has been exposed to asbestos your risk of lung cancer is much higher. Also there is the chronic scarring of the lungs that can occur, leading to breathlessness and respiratory failure.
    I remember having given a diagnosis of mesothelioma to somebody, and the look on their face I still remember. It's a right bloody bastard of a thing.

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    1. I would hate to have to tell someone that. I didn't realise that about smokers, but it makes sense. xx

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  8. Great article, Heidi!! It's so good of you to write about this topic. Home renovation is so popular, but asbestos is an issue that I think is often forgotten about by renovators. Asbestos was also a major industry in Canada, and up until recently, it was supported by the government for political reasons.

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    1. Wow - had no idea that Canada was still mining Asbestos until very recently? Then again, Asbestos wasn't fully banned for use in Australia until the early 2000's (banned for most things before that, but it's fairly recent that it's been completely banned from use). xx

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  9. awful stuff .. do you know of Wittenoon in WA, where much of our asbestos was mined ..it is now a ghost town

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    1. Yes, just awful, like Australia's Chernobyl. xx

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  10. You're right, I thought you were going to tell of the trials of a house reno ...
    Thank you for the informative post. Well done.

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  11. Hi Heidi, we have started renovating a 30 year old house and the number of people that assume there would be no asbestos is so suprising. we have so far had our internal wet area and laundry walls checked and they were just cement sheet, but even though the plans that we found through council say AC sheeting to several outside areas people still seem to think asbestos wasnt used in the 1980s. Even more worrying was the fact that several people we were discussing this with were licensed builders.

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    1. Oh wow - that's really bad. Although having said that, the vinyl floor tiles at our place did not raise anyones suspicions. I mentioned it to our builder, so he had it checked out after agreeing with me that the age of them suggested they would have asbestos. I was personally quite surprised that the government advice was any houe pre 1990 - I had assumed it was banned or not used as it was known to be problematic after the late 70's/ early 80's...so to have it used well into the 80's was a surprise for me personally. Hope the renovation continues uneventfully anon! x

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  12. Great post Heidi. My Dad died from asbestosis after contracting it through mining. It was a terrible way to die, so raising awareness re risk sites is so important.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear that L - that must have been a terrible time for your family when the diagnosis was made, knowing what was ahead. Asbestos has caused so much heartache for so many, and sadly for many more to come xx

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  13. Congratulations Heidi on bringing this to people's attention. Very informative and helpful. Also v scary. But everyone needs to know. Someone from my old department died a few years ago from mesoth. - her father had been a builder and his wife and older family used to wash and iron his clothes. Dreadful. Pammie xx

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    1. That's so sad Pammie, it's amazing we still have situations like the Telstra pit debacle and the NBN that occurred last year, given the sad stories in the media like this. xx

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  14. Great post! We had our asbestos removed about 4 weeks ago by professionals. They told me that shows like the block have encouraged a whole new wave of DIY and lots of young people are being exposed to it without realising. Very worrying. Xx b.

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    1. So true - DIY shows are so popular, but they don't mention things like this on them... glad you had yours removed properly! xx

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  15. Amazing that anyone got through those years with all that paint and asbestos - also the spray over crops they used in NZ and here in the US.

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    1. are they still doing spray over crops then? There are so many things that are still allowed in Australia that are banned elsewhere in the world - all that treated pine (with arsenic) used for kids playgrounds in the 80's/90's... now not allowed, but we definitely lagged behind on that one. xx

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  16. Asbestos is terrible stuff and they suspect my friend might have mesothelioma. He lived in a house while the renovations were being done about a decade and a half ago. Now he is suffering the consequences - it is awful. He is undergoing tests and we are hoping for the best.

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    1. That's just awful about your friend. I really, really hope he doesn't have Mesothelioma. Fingers crossed the tests are fine - sadly so many people have no idea where their exposure occurred. And frankly, we're all exposed to it in some form or another every day. xx

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  17. An informative post. Over the last few years in the UK there has been much publicity about asbestos and certainly work has been carried out in schools and many other buildings built in the 50s and 60s in particular where asbestos was present. Well done for raising awareness!

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    1. Oh yes - it's all through schools here too. All public buildings have had asbestos audits done. I instigated one at the community kindergarten my oldest went to in Melbourne (I was on the volunteer committee as the maintenance coordinator). xx

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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