Identifying Asbestos


Introduction To Spotting Asbestos On Your Property

Working in the asbestos removal industry we are often asked many questions regarding how you can identify asbestos in your property.

Both homeowners and business contractors alike are curious as to how you can tell if a building has asbestos in its make up.

Unfortunately there is no straightforward answer. No one answer that explains all.

Instead, perhaps a detailed blog post can outline some of the main telltale signs for you to look out for when trying to determine or identify asbestos in a building.

Read on for a brief fast track guide for the 101 to identify asbestos.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral that is both durable and fire resistant. It is cheap and has been used in  the manufacturing process of thousands of products, particularly those used as building materials. 

It has since been discovered that the use of asbestos can lead to adverse long term health effects in people who have been exposed to the airborne fibres that asbestos can produce, particularly when disturbed or damaged. 

This is one of the main reasons why it is important to identify asbestos in both domestic and commercial buildings, to ensure that it can be removed or safely encased, thus protecting the people that either live or work at the property.

Where Can Asbestos Be Found In Your Home?

Many properties that were built before the 1980s, could contain asbestos. To identify asbestos on your property you must first know where to look. There are a number of areas that would commonly contain or enclose asbestos, such as:

  • Cement
  • Ceiling or floor tiles
  • Spray on insulation in walls or roof spaces
  • Textured paint
  • Pipeworks
  • Roof shingles

There are more places around your property where you can spot these, with a more detailed explanation below.

Can I See Asbestos?

There are three main types of asbestos that you should be aware of. They are known as crocidolite, amosite and chrysolite. Or blue, brown and white to put it more simply.

“Ah perfect, that’s an easy job then” I hear you say.

This is where the bubble is burst. Sadly, it is not as simple as differentiating what the colour is. You cannot see asbestos fibres with the naked eye. The fibres are so tiny in fact, that they can float in the air for days. 

To spot these tiny fibres you are going to have to call in some help from a lab technician. But maybe one of your other senses can help?

Can You Smell Asbestos?

Well this is a valid question. For something that you cannot see, could it be smelt? 

Many harmful substances such as gases can be smelt, so you would be forgiven for thinking down this route. But alas you would be mistaken. Asbestos has no smell.

Even if you walked into a room filled to the rafters with asbestos, from wall cavities to roof tiles, you would not be able to distinguish it from any other room. Even if the asbestos fibres were airborne, it would just smell like your average dusty garage. So unfortunately smell cannot be used to help anyone distinguish the presence of asbestos.

How Would We Identify Asbestos Then?

You can’t properly see asbestos without using a microscope, and you cannot smell it in any capacity. So how would you go about identifying asbestos in a property?

If you suspect that part of your home contains asbestos then the only sure fire way to get confirmation is to send off a sample to a certified testing lab. This can be done by calling a professional or by conducting a DIY asbestos test.

We would always encourage the use of a professional due to the dangers posed by disturbing asbestos to gain a sample.

For commercial premises you can also have a professional undertake an asbestos survey.

What Does An Asbestos Survey Entail?

There are 2 types of asbestos surveys that you may need.

Management Survey – These are conducted on buildings such as offices, schools or factories. These surveys help businesses to comply with the need to manage asbestos in their properties.

This survey will identify areas of the building that have asbestos materials and may cause a risk to the use of the building. It can often consist of both a visual inspection and some small sampling to determine asbestos presence in particular areas of the premises.

Refurbishment & Demolition Survey – This will identify all material that may contain asbestos. It outlines what may be disturbed when construction takes place and is quite an intrusive survey.

It aims to uncover all aspects of asbestos that may be hidden in the walls or ceilings of the property before work is carried out. Therefore, the risk to workers is minimised and the appropriate measures can be taken.

How Does A Lab Identify The Asbestos?

Once a sample has been sent off to a laboratory, the technicians will use a form of transmission electron microscopy to see if any asbestos fibres are present within the sample.

This process usually takes around 1-2 weeks for a result to be established. This will confirm or deny the presence of asbestos in that particular area of the property, and appropriate action can then be devised, for the best way to proceed with the removal or safeguarding.

Things To Look For On Your Property

Age Of Building – If your building was built before 1985, there is a chance that asbestos may have been used in some capacity. 

Products Used In The Building – Asbestos can be used in a whole wide variety of day to day materials you see in your property. From artex on the ceiling to insulation or even cladding. See a more comprehensive list here.

So To Summarize, How Do We Identify Asbestos?

The only 100%, clear cut way to know if your building has asbestos is to test a sample of your material under a microscope. 

Conducting surveys can minimise any risk if construction is needed, but ultimately if you wish to know for sure, you need to contact a professional so that a test can be carried out.

Contact us at Smart Asbestos Removal for a more in depth discussion of your needs. We operate across Greater London, Essex and Kent for asbestos removal near you!

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