A safe home means a safe family and a safe community, which is why it is important that home renovators in the Hunter find out what they are dealing with before they start building and renovating.

One of the things to be on the lookout for is asbestos, particularly if you are about to launch into home improvements and your home was built or renovated before the mid 1980's. Up to that time, it is very likely that your home will have some building materials that contain asbestos.

It is dangerous when people renovate and start cutting, sanding, drilling, grinding or pulling up materials that contain asbestos. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

You should seek out the right information via or asbestos:guide for householders before you reach for the power tools and disturb old building materials, potentially releasing harmful dust.

Asbestos is often found in building materials such as fibro sheeting or flooring and it was also used for roofing, eaves and shingles, which generally do not pose a risk if left alone. It's when the sheets start to weather or break that harmful fibres can be released.

It's also important to understand that, due to its durability and insulating properties, asbestos can often be found around the pipes behind radiators or wood burning stoves, and in electricity meter boxes.

Spring and the summer holidays are traditionally the times when people choose to finish off some of those lingering home projects and it is usually the time when people turn their minds to home renovation. If you're thinking renovation, you must think asbestos.

So what is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a generic term for a number of fibrous silicate rock-forming minerals. As a naturally occurring rock fibre, asbestos is mined then broken down from mineral clumps into groups of loose fibres.

Airborne asbestos fibres are small, odourless and tasteless. It presents a health risk when it crumbles and the fine fibres are breathed into the lungs.

Where is it found?

Buildings, houses and flats erected before the mid 1980s may contain asbestos. Examples of where asbestos can be commonly found in buildings include:

  • Fibro sheeting (commonly found in older garages, bathrooms, kitchens, laundries and external walls)
  • Roofs (including eaves and gables)
  • Vinyl tiles and backing
  • Guttering
  • Drainage and flue pipes.

Hazardous substances

A number of other substances may be present particularly in older buildings that may present health risks if disturbed during renovation or demolition work including but not limited to:

  • Lead paint (often in paints used in houses built prior to 1970)
  • Synthetic Mineral Fibres (used for thermal and acoustic insulation, and reinforcing agents)
  • PCB’s(found in older fluorescent light fittings, transformers and capacitors).

Removal and handling of asbestos as part of a development application

Council normally requires a licensed asbestos removal contractor be used for the removal of asbestos in all building work that requires development approval and encourages home owners to use licensed contractors in all other circumstances.

Note: To be licensed an asbestos removal contractor must hold an AS1, AS2 or appropriate demolition licence issued by WorkCover for the removal of asbestos. A certificate obtained from a one or two day TAFE course is not the same as an asbestos removal license.

Council normally requires a Hazardous Substances Audit (and if hazardous substances are present a Hazardous Substances Management Plan) be prepared for all development applications that involve the demolition of a building.

Demolition means the defacing, destruction, pulling down or removal of that building in whole or in part.

This requirement is in accordance with Australian Standard AS2601:2001 – The Demolition of Structures

The hazardous substances audit and any associated management plan may be required up front as part of the assessment process prior to Council issuing consent for the development. Alternatively they may be required to be completed as part of the conditions of a development consent.

Removal and handling of asbestos that is not part of a development application

It is important to get advice about how to identify, remove and handle asbestos and hazardous substances properly.

Special care and management is needed even for small renovation jobs that don’t require a development application.

Council recommends you:

  • Treat all fibro sheets as if they contain asbestos unless tested
  • Use a licensed asbestos removal contractor to remove all materials containing asbestos.

These recommendations are enforced on all development approvals issued by Council.

Notifying neighbours of proposed asbestos removal works

Prior to undertaking any asbestos removal works, Council recommends that you notify your neighbours of the commencement and duration of those works.

Whilst proper asbestos removal practices should ensure neighbours are not placed at any significant risk neighbours should still be notified of the works as they may wish to take extra precautions such as:

  • Minimising outdoor activities
  • Not hang washing on outdoor lines
  • Closing external doors and windows
  • Avoiding air conditioners that introduce air from outside into the home.

Other specific Council and WorkCover requirements may apply to developments involving asbestos removal that are subject to consent or licence conditions.

Disposing of asbestos

Summerhill Waste Management Centre must be contacted before asbestos products are taken there for the protection of workers. Call 02 4985 6600 for more information.

You can also find information about Summerhill's asbestos acceptance conditions and asbestos soil conditions..

What do you do if you find asbestos in your home?

If asbestos containing material is in sound condition and left undisturbed it generally will not present a significant health risk. If asbestos fibres remain firmly bound in a solid cement sheet or structure such as in ‘fibro’ sheeting, you do not usually need to remove the fibro or even coat it.

If you have materials in your home you suspect may contain asbestos and are concerned with potential health risks Council recommends you contact an Occupational Hygienist or other qualified consultant to sample and analyse the material.

If the material does contain asbestos these qualified persons can also provide advice on how to manage the risks associated with the material.

Resources and Fact Sheets

The following educational DVD’s are also available from Council Libraries

  • Removing asbestos cement the dangers and safety procedures. Produced by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electricity Union, 2005
  • Our lives on the line - occupational health and safety standards in the asbestos removal industry. Produced by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electricity Union, 2005.

Further information

If you would like to talk to a Council Officer about asbestos please ring 02 4974 2000 or contact WorkCover.