Is it illegal to sell a house with asbestos in the UK?
- By: Ashley Saunders
- July 2021
Many years ago, asbestos was heavily used in the construction industry. That said, most homeowners are unable to identify it. If you’re considering moving home and suspect there might be asbestos you might wonder is it illegal to sell a house with asbestos in the UK?
While you could be living with asbestos without releasing it, the good news is that it only becomes dangerous when disturbed. So, it’s worth reading up on the topic and being able to identify asbestos. Thankfully, no masks are required!
Our guide will help you to answer: is it illegal to sell a house with asbestos in the UK?
What is asbestos?
Simply put, asbestos is a highly heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that can be woven into fabrics, and is used in brake linings and in fire-resistant and insulating materials.
Regardless of its many excellent properties, it is absolutely deadly.
The Health and Safety Executive states that Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year, which is more than the number of people killed on the road.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
One of the biggest misconceptions about asbestos is that’s it dangerous regardless of its state. However, when left alone, asbestos is relatively safe. The issues start when it is disturbed.
Asbestos is made up of fibrous crystals, with each visible fibre composed of millions of microscopic “fibrils” that can be released by abrasion and other processes.
After inhaling these “fibrils”, your body has a negative reaction that has now been linked to several diseases including lung cancer and mesothelioma. You might also contract asbestosis, which is a long-term inflammation and scarring of the lungs caused by inhaling asbestos.
Sadly, symptoms for all of these diseases often only show several years after asbestos exposure. So it can take years to see the effect of inhaling even a tiny amount. Hence why the material was used for several years before being declared dangerous.
As asbestos has to be disturbed and inhaled to be harmful, if found in a building, it requires special attention to correctly remove any trace of it and make the site safe. Without the proper training or equipment, you shouldn’t remove it as you risk damaging your health long term.
How was asbestos used in residential properties?
You could have a house with asbestos in each room without realising it. For example, many textured Artex ceilings installed before the year 2000, contained asbestos as it strengthened the plaster.
You might find asbestos used in drainpipes, insulation, floor tiles, corrugated roofing, cold water tanks, and more.
The picture is quite bleak as it’s estimated that around 50% of homes in the UK contain some form of asbestos.
Again, it’s important to stress that providing the asbestos is left undisturbed, it is highly unlikely to cause any ill-health effects.
The potential health risks occur if you intend on moving, sanding, or drilling it.
When was asbestos widely used?
During the 1960s and 70s, asbestos usage in the UK hit record highs. And while we became aware of the health risks in the 1980s, it was still a very popular building material.
Thankfully, there was enough evidence of the dangers by the mid-80s when the first UK asbestos laws were introduced. When these laws passed in 1985, asbestos was in decline as a material.
However, a complete ban came into force in 1999, only five years ahead of an EU deadline. Sadly, asbestos was used in the UK for at least 40 years before being outlawed.
Is it easy to identify asbestos?
Sadly, it’s quite difficult to identify asbestos in your home. Most people are therefore surprised to learn that their home has some.
There are some signs to look for. Firstly, if your home was built in the 60s, 70s or early 80s, then it’s likely that your property has asbestos somewhere.
Certain materials are more likely to contain asbestos than others used in the construction of your property. These include:
- Asbestos Cement: A grey, brittle material that contains 10-15% asbestos fibres. Commonly found in cladding and roofing materials or guttering. Also, found in plumbing such as pipes and flues.
- Asbestos Boarding: Containing up to 40% asbestos, these boards can be pale grey and of varying thickness. While no longer used in the UK, they were used for creating walls, linings, partitions and ceiling tiles.
- Sprayed Asbestos: Consisting of up to 85% asbestos mixed in with a variety of other materials.
- Other Materials: Including types of textured coatings and asbestos paper used for insulating wooden boards and electrical equipment.
What makes detecting asbestos difficult is that it’s often coated or covered by another substance. For example, a painted Artex ceiling or a soffit under the roof.
Before you try and find asbestos yourself, as you could damage your health, consider having a property survey done. Surveyors are trained to look for signs of possible asbestos use. So, it’s worth employing a chartered surveyor to give their professional opinion.
While you can look for signs of asbestos, the only way to confirm your suspicions is by conducting a laboratory test.
Does your garage roof contain asbestos?
During the house-building boom of the late 60s and 70s, developers want to build larger properties with garages to meet customer expectations. As asbestos was cheap to source, it was widely used. it’s estimated that up to 70% of these new builds had asbestos garage roofs.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that these now old and degrading garage roofs are starting to cause issues. After years of use, asbestos panels will crack, chip and decay.
As asbestos is at its most dangerous when disturbed, you should try to identify it before your garage roof panels fall apart. Thankfully, there are a few signs to look for that could reveal if your garage roof has asbestos.
Imprints on the underside of the roof panels
One of the biggest signs your roof has asbestos is to look to see if there are the letters ‘AC’ printed onto the underside of the roof panels. If you find ‘AC’ on yours, it is very likely an asbestos panel.
Look for fungi growth
As asbestos is a cement-based product, when exposed to sunlight over the years it may experience the growth of fungi on top of the roof.
Cracking of Panels
After decades of weather exposure, asbestos will crack and erode. Watch for large cracks in the panels, as this is a sign of asbestos. In winter, these cracks will swell and could lead to water ingress. If this happens, you should consider replacing your garage roof.
If you suspect asbestos, hire an expert to survey it and confirm it before doing any work yourself.
What’s happened since asbestos was banned in 1999?
Firstly, it’s illegal to use asbestos in the construction of buildings in the UK. That said, it’s not illegal for properties to contain asbestos, as long as it was installed before the 1999 regulations took force.
The regulations have come a long way since the first UK asbestos laws were passed in 1985, banning the import and use of two types of asbestos (blue and brown).
During the 1990s several asbestos laws were passed, including banning the use of white asbestos, which had previously been considered lower risk. A major change in the law also in the 90s was the requirement for asbestos removal to be carried out by licensed professionals.
Far forward to 2012, the asbestos regulations to further improve safety.
So, is it illegal to sell a house with asbestos in the UK?
You can sell a property or house with asbestos. Doing so is perfectly legal. However, you must disclose any signs of asbestos to potential buyers.
Providing that the material containing asbestos appears to be in good condition, this is all you are legally obliged to do to comply with the asbestos disclosure requirements when selling a property.
If any of the materials are damaged and could threaten someone’s health, then the situation becomes tricky. While you are not legally obligated to have the materials removed, you could end up being sued for negligence.
The best course of action is to employ a specialist asbestos removal firm to correctly and safely remedy the situation. As a specialist service, asbestos removal is expensive.
Should I buy a property with asbestos?
It’s perfectly fine to buy a house with asbestos so long as you budget for any remedial work you may have to carry out. Again, if you’re unsure, hire a chartered surveyor as they will help you decide the magnitude of your issue and your next step.
If you need or want to remove asbestos, you should obtain a quote from a qualified asbestos removal firm prior to exchanging contracts. Remember, asbestos removal will be expensive but it’s the only way to guarantee your property is safe.
You could try and negotiate the purchase down by the amount of the quote to cover the cost or at least try to split the bill with the seller.
Can you remove asbestos yourself?
You can legally remove asbestos yourself as the law doesn’t prohibit you. However, you should use a licensed firm to remove any asbestos on your property.
Ignoring that advice and going it alone, you will need to check the asbestos disposal requirements in your local area on the Gov website. Also, you’ll need to ensure you wear the correct protective clothing.
The risks are too great for you as a homeowner to attempt to remove asbestos without damaging your health. So it’s worth paying a licensed firm.