What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral which was used extensively in building and other industries, right up until the late 1990s, when the government of the day banned its use in the UK. Although there are six types of it, in this country the three types of most commonly used asbestos fibres are blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile). All comprise long, thin fibrous crystals, with each fibre made up of many microscopic ‘fibrils’ which can be released into the atmosphere after abrasion or similar processes.
Buildings constructed before 2000 may still have asbestos in the ceiling, insulation, flooring, roofing, pipework and elsewhere. If asbestos remains intact, it’s unlikely to pose a significant threat to human life. But breathing in asbestos fibres can damage both your lungs and their lining, potentially leading to a number of critical or even fatal conditions, symptoms of which sometimes take decades to appear. (Occasionally, there may be no symptoms, leading the material to be dubbed the ‘silent killer’.)
In the last century, most domestic garages were constructed with asbestos roofs – after all, it was seen as a cost-effective and durable solution, plus the material was easy to install.
What does asbestos look like on a garage roof?
While it’s possible to do basic initial tests to check for asbestos, it’s always safer and more reliable to use a professional asbestos company to test a sample. It can be quite hard to know whether any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are present otherwise.
For a start, if your garage roof was constructed pre-2000, it should be safe. (The ban came in in November 1999.) If yours pre-dates this, here’s what you should do:
· In the first instance, check your garage roofing material. Those which have asbestos, including for example flat or corrugated cement sheets, show little dimples or craters on the surface.
· If the structure of your roof seems to be coming apart, or displays cracks or scaling, that’s another potential red flag. Panels containing asbestos are likely to snap (instead of crumbling) if any pressure is exerted on them. (We can’t stress enough that you should NOT try to do this, however.)
· Manufacturers previously commonly printed batch codes on the underside of roofing panels. So it may be worth checking to see whether you can notice any. The batch code identifying asbestos is AC, while for cement fibres it’s C or CE. But because not all producers added these, or the batch codes may have deteriorated, this isn’t always a reliable guide.
· Corrugated roof panels and those heavily overgrown with lichen and moss could also be asbestos – just because they are likely to have been there for longer.
But without expert help, it can be all but impossible to tell accurately whether your roof comprises asbestos or cement fibre, not least because ACMs can be mixed in with other materials. That’s why it’s a job best left to the experts, who are trained to identify and handle asbestos properly.
What are the dangers of an asbestos garage roof?
Asbestos fibres present within cement sheets are less hazardous to human health because they do not release fibres very easily. Nonetheless, the potential danger remains.
Problems can occur as the condition of the asbestos cement deteriorates over time, so that it grows increasingly brittle. This heightens the risk of the mineral fibres becoming loose, therefore upping the chances of asbestos exposure.
The dangers really occur when fibres are disturbed, for example through a fire or other damage, or if the roofing is being replaced. That means the fibrils can be inhaled, in the worst cases leading to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma or other deadly conditions.
And, apart from the health hazards, having an asbestos-riddled garage roof certainly won’t do the value of your home any favours.
How do I deal with a garage roof made from asbestos?
If professional testing confirms that your roof does indeed have ACMs, you have a few choices as to what you can do. What you decide will depend largely on factors such as your roofing panels’ condition and age. However, your choices boil down to three key options:
· Remove and replace the roof
A professional asbestos removal firm will have take the roof off and take it away in a way that doesn’t harm human health, leaving you to fit a new one. This is a good option if you’re planning refurbishment and demolition work, or if the roof has begun to leak or if it is otherwise damaged.
This is the way to go if removing the asbestos-affected roofing would be more dangerous than leaving it in place, or if the ACMs are in a good enough state to be left intact. It means that fibres won’t escape even if the roof’s condition worsens over time. Encapsulation essentially involves sealing the roof to contain the offending fibres.
· Leave in place with a management plan
If you’re not planning on working on the structure and the ACMs are in decent nick, they can be left where they are. However, you will need to manage the situation via an asbestos management plan, and should commission regular re-inspection surveys.
Why bring in professionals to deal with an asbestos garage roof?
Asbestos is dangerous stuff, so you really shouldn’t be handling it if you’re not trained and are not sure what you’re doing. A professional asbestos company is best placed to identify the presence of this material correctly, with proper inspection and testing. Equally, the pros will know how to remove the substance so that it poses no threat to your or your family, and will know how to do so safely.
Asbestos isn’t something you want to take any chances with. At Core Surveys, we specialise in asbestos management, all kinds of surveys and have our own in-house testing lab, meaning we do everything under a single roof. We cover south-east and south Wales – give us a call to discuss your garage roof, whether it has asbestos or you merely think it might.