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Home renovations and asbestos risk

If you’re renovating a home and believe it contains asbestos you must comply with health and safety laws, or you risk exposing yourself and others to long-term health risks. Whether you decide to leave the asbestos in place undisturbed, or remove it, will depend on the type of works being undertaken.

Where will I find asbestos in a home?

Is there asbestos in the house? If the home was built between 1950 and 1990 you will most likely find some materials that contain asbestos.

Materials that contain asbestos were used widely in house construction up to the 1990s. Some of the areas in the home where materials that contain asbestos can be found include:

  • internal and external wall sheeting (flat or a weatherboard style)
  • roof sheeting and capping
  • guttering
  • gables, eaves/soffits, water pipes and flues
  • imitation brick cladding
  • vinyl sheet flooring
  • carpet and tile underlays
  • backing boards to electrical switchboards
  • flexible building boards
  • fencing
  • carports and sheds
  • waterproof membranes
  • telecommunications pits
  • some window putty
  • expansion joints
  • packing under beams
  • concrete formwork.

In Australia the use of asbestos in fibro-cement products was phased out by 1987, but the use of asbestos in some products was not discontinued until 2003.

Asbestos is typically referred to as either friable or non-friable (sometimes referred to as bonded). This will determine whether or not it can be removed without a licence, the type of licence required and the safety provisions that apply for its removal.

  • Non-friable (or bonded) – includes material that contains asbestos in a form where the asbestos fibre is held within another material but does not include friable asbestos. An example of non-friable asbestos is where asbestos is ‘bonded’ within a matrix such as cement or resin/binders. Examples are vinyl floor tiles, fibro-cement flat or corrugated wall and roof sheeting and fibro-cement flue, conduit and drainage pipes.
  • Friable – is material that contains asbestos which is in a powder form or that can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry. Examples include sprayed asbestos coating or insulation, asbestos lagging, loose asbestos and asbestos in its raw form. This may include non-friable asbestos that ends up in this state because of weathering, physical damage or deterioration under its conditions of use.

Does asbestos pose a risk?

Asbestos poses a health risk when it is disturbed so that asbestos fibres are released into the air and breathed in. Both friable and non-friable asbestos can pose significant health risk if the materials are not properly maintained or removed carefully. 

Removing the asbestos

Although some state and territory laws allow limited amounts of asbestos to be removed by unlicensed persons, this does not mean that unlicensed persons are exempt from the asbestos regulations. They are only exempt from the requirement to be licensed.

Unlicensed removal of asbestos is subject to strict safety conditions similar to those imposed on licensed persons. This is because removing asbestos is a dangerous process that can expose those removing it and others nearby to serious risks to their health and safety if not properly carried out. For this reason you should consider hiring licensed professionals to do the work, even if the removal can be carried out without a licence.

Each state and territory also has regulations governing the safe removal and transportation of asbestos waste that you must adhere to. It is regulated by the local safety authority and/or the Environment Protection Agency and/or the local council. Therefore, you should contact each of these authorities to ascertain their specific requirements and approved waste disposal facilities.

Asbestos removal procedures

Asbestos removal practices must comply with the relevant state and territory health and safety legislation. All Australian states and territories have a code of practice for the safe removal of asbestos that provides advice and guidance on how to comply with the local requirements and other recommendations for safely removing asbestos.

Relevant and up-to-date legislation and codes of practice are freely available for downloading from the website of your local work health and safety authority:

To find out more, see the Asbestos Awareness website.

To find out more, contact HIA's Building Services team.

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