Asbestos and home renovations

Renovating an area of the house is often top of the ‘to do’ list for many homeowners, and many of us are keen to muck in and do much of the work ourselves. However, it’s important to know that if your home was built between the 1940s and 1990 there’s a high chance some of the building materials used will contain asbestos.

Asbestos is only harmful when it’s disturbed and becomes broken down into particles that are small enough to be inhaled into our lungs, increasing our risk of developing certain types of lung cancer. Although most asbestos-related cancer occurs in people who’ve been exposed to asbestos long term, it’s still best to play it safe.

If you’re about to get started on a home renovation, here are our top tips for minimising asbestos exposure risk:

1. Call in an expert

If you’re removing material that contains asbestos, new regulations from 2016 may mean the work needs to be carried out by a licensed professional. Even if the work you’re doing doesn’t require a licence, it’s still recommended to talk with an expert before getting started.

2. Know where asbestos could be

Asbestos can be found in many places in your home, including textured ceilings, around fireplaces, cement, cladding, insulation and floor coverings. If you’re not sure whether materials in your home contain asbestos, arrange for an asbestos testing professional to visit before you start work.

3. Work safely

If the work you’re carrying out doesn’t require a licence, and you decide to remove asbestos-related materials yourself, you must make sure you follow these steps:

  • Wear the correct personal protective equipment – These should include disposable overalls (including a hood), gloves, shoe coverings and a P1 or P2 respiratory mask.
  • Prepare your work area properly – Remove furniture, cover surfaces with polyethylene film, close doors and windows and secure with tape. Make sure you cover any ventilation outlets and electricity plugs and turn the electricity off.
  • Dispose of asbestos correctly  Use specific heavy-duty polyethylene bags that have been specifically designed for asbestos waste, not regular rubbish bags. Vacuum cleaners should be fitted with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. Asbestos needs to be disposed of safely, and only certain landfill sites will accept asbestos waste. Asbestos waste needs to be transported safely and it’s advisable to use an asbestos removal company. Find a site which accepts asbestos waste here

4. Don't take risks

If in doubt seek advice. It is far safer to use a certified asbestos remover to remove asbestos-containing material from your home, as they are fully trained and fully equipped to do this work safely. Don’t take risks with asbestos. 

Learn more

For further information about asbestos, its identification, its safe handling and removal, protective equipment and disposal procedures from health protection officers contact your local public health unit or read the New Zealand Guidelines for the Management and Removal of Asbestos

References

  1. Removing asbestos from the home Ministry of Health
  2. Certificate of Competence Holders WorkSafe New Zealand
  3. Asbestos WorkSafe New Zealand
  4. Asbestos advice for householders Ministry of Health
  5. Asbestos Removal New Zealand
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.