DIY home renovations and asbestos – what would-be renovators need to know

In the era of Renovation Rescue, The Block, The Living Room and countless other home makeover TV shows, the DIY home renovation has never been more popular. In 2017’s March quarter alone, Australians spent $2.1 billion on alterations and additions to homes, and many of those renos would have started with the homeowner themselves wielding a sledgehammer through walls or knocking down old sheds.

Yes, homeowners are hurling themselves into renovations with enthusiastic abandon and while their intentions might be good, the results are often disastrous. And we’re not just talking about a wonky kitchen shelf or a badly tiled bathroom. Take a look in any city hospital emergency room for the array of DIY injuries that are on the rise – cuts at best, missing digits or limbs from inexpertly wielded tools and machinery at worst. Exposure to asbestos might be an invisible threat that doesn’t land you in emergency straight away like a severed finger will, but it can have even more sinister long-term effects. Which is why, as a homeowner, you need to be fully aware of what you’re getting into when it comes to renovating a home that contains asbestos so you can either get trained up yourself to remove asbestos safely, or make sure you know when it’s time to call the experts.

Asbestos in Australia – what every homeowner needs to know

Up until the mid-1980s, Australia had one of the highest uses per person of asbestos in the world. That’s right – we just couldn’t get enough of the stuff. So if your house was built before 1990, then chances are it has asbestos in it somewhere – in fact, around one third of all Australian houses contain asbestos. Asbestos was officially banned in Australia at the end of 2003.

As a homeowner looking at renovating your place, there are two types of asbestos containing materials (ACMS) that you need to be aware of:

  1. Non-friable asbestos is the type that has been mixed with other materials like cement. It is very common in buildings in Australia and if it gets damaged or broken i.e. if you take a jackhammer to it without proper preparation, it is likely to release asbestos fibres into the air. Not good.
  2. Friable asbestos is a substance that contains asbestos that crumbles or turns easily to powder, like insulation. Again, if you go ripping into the old insulation in your house without proper protection, those particles will come airborne. This is not only hazardous to you and anyone else working on your house, but irresponsible to the wider community.

Where is asbestos likely to be found in the home?

Asbestos was used extensively in building so there are lots of potential asbestos sites in your home. It might be found in any of the following:

  • Roofing and gutters
  • Gables and eaves
  • Walls
  • Vinyl, carpet and tile underlay
  • Lining behind wall tiles
  • Imitation brick cladding
  • Fencing
  • Sheds
  • Splashbacks
  • Telecommunication pits
  • Window putty
  • Expansion joints
  • Packing under beams
  • Concrete form

What you shouldn’t do

If you think you might have asbestos in your home (and it’s best to assume you do until an expert can give you a definitive answer), do not, under any circumstances, drill, sand, cut or saw it. In fact, don’t even scrub or scrape it. While it’s true that bonded asbestos material (the non-friable stuff) is often quite stable, once it’s damaged or messed with, it can become dangerous. And I think we’d all agree that a beautiful new kitchen or a shiny new bathroom is not worth the risk to your family’s health.

And another thing, don’t even think about trying to offload it on your nearest curb or a handy skip for a council pick up. Not unless you want to face thousands of dollars’ worth of fines and get run out of town by angry neighbours. Illegal dumping of asbestos is exactly that: illegal.

What you should do

Take a breath, put the sledgehammer down, and take a good look at your house. Click here for a useful guide to help you identify where ACMS might be found in your house. Then it’s time to contact a licensed asbestos assessor who can do a detailed analysis of your property so you can plan your next steps. If you are going to remove asbestos, your best option is to get a licensed asbestos removalist to do the job. Most states will allow you to remove small amounts of certain ACMs from your house but have very strict rules about how it’s done and where it’s disposed of. For example, in NSW you can remove 10sqm of bonded asbestos from your home but you must follow the EPA guidelines meticulously in order to do so.

If you’re keen to do the job yourself or plan on doing a lot of home renovating, then consider getting yourself properly trained up for asbestos removal. AlertForce offers a range of asbestos removal courses that, once completed, will allow you to get on with your renovating dreams safely and responsibly.

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