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Asbestos & Listed Buildings

Prospective purchasers and inhabitants of listed buildings are often of the belief that there is likely to be no issue with regard to the potential for their building to contain asbestos products.

This belief is often based on the age of the building when compared with the date when asbestos was known to be a popular building product.

Many people believe asbestos was used during the 1960s onwards, and it is quite often considered by many only to be present within decorative finishes such as textured coatings and ceiling tiles. However,  asbestos was commercially mined from 1870 and was used for many different purposes within buildings.

Properties with listed status were typically constructed prior to a period when central heating systems were available. Consequently, solid fuel fires systems for burning wood or coal were commonplace. Quite often, only a limited number of rooms within the listed property would have had the benefit of a solid fuel fire system, the remaining rooms being somewhat cold and often damp.

With the introduction of domestically available oil and eventually gas central heating systems, the installation of such systems came about from around the 1920s, at a time when asbestos was a very popular product, and known to have a number of key strengths including the ability to withstand heat and water.

Amongst around 18,000 ultimate uses, asbestos was specified within boiler systems, heating cupboards, and pipe lagging. It was also used within attic areas to insulate the floor of the attics of some properties, quite often placed loosely between timbers.

When one is looking to purchase a property, whether for domestic or commercial use, a major consideration has to be the value of that property and whether in any respects there is potential for negative equity.

Second to this, when obtaining insurance cover for that property, the current Rebuilding Cost is determined from the information provided by a Chartered Surveyor.

Unfortunately, it is quite often the case that no one will have considered the potential for asbestos to be present.

Aside from an inability to undertake any form of alteration, adaptation, or upgrading/modernisation works without establishing whether asbestos could be present, there is secondly the issue as to whether the property is damaged by a storm, flood, or fire, would be able to be reinstated within the Rebuilding Cost when one considers the considerable cost of removing asbestos.

Several high-profile properties are known to contain asbestos including some of the Royal Palaces, numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, and a substantial number of listed buildings throughout many of our cities, to an extent that would surprise most people.

The reason for this, of course, is that asbestos was seen as a ‘wonder product’ and was specified by architects particularly prior to 1985. Secondly, asbestos was installed within older properties during periods of renovation, modernisation, or upgrading, up to and including the early 1980s and even during the early 1990s for textured coatings.

Specialist restorers of listed buildings, whether involved in domestic or commercial properties, should be challenged to obtain a Refurbishment Survey for asbestos, principally because there is a high potential that this type of restoration work will disturb asbestos.

The requirement for a Refurbishment Survey exists because of the death toll arising from historical exposure to asbestos, affecting a substantial number of tradespeople.

One must also consider the risks associated with asbestos disturbance, particularly if there are people residing in the property when the work is taking place.

Remember that asbestos is still the biggest industrial killer by far.

A good source of information for anyone looking to find out about asbestos would be the Health & Safety Executive website.

When engaging a contractor or specialist restorer to undertake works in their property, it is mandatory that the tradespersons involved have received formal Asbestos Awareness Training, and an annual Refresher Course, valid within the last 12 months.

Clearly, whether looking to purchase, adapt, modernise, or upgrade a listed building, one must consider the strong potential for asbestos to be present and take appropriate measures to prevent disturbance thereof.

At Ensafe Consultants, we have surveyed some of the most prestigious properties in the UK, including stately homes, castles, private estates, and city center locations with Listed status. Contact us to find out why we are the asbestos surveying company of choice when it comes to undertaking surveys of such properties.

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