When you think about the dangers of asbestos, the image of old, decrepit buildings from a bygone era or of illegal mines pops into your head. The danger is a little closer to home for some Australians. Like most countries in the world, the use of asbestos in home construction has long been banned, but the fact remains that one-third of all homes built in Australia contain asbestos products – unsurprising when you consider the fact that our country was one the highest users of the fibrous material well into the eighties. And while modern Melbourne home owners don’t have anything to worry about finding it in their homes, DIYers should sit up and take note if they are planning a building extension or renovation.

According to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Society of Australia, if your home was constructed in the mid-eighties or prior, there is a high chance that asbestos is present somewhere in your home. It has been used in roofing, gutters, window putties, floor underlays and many more areas. Now this is not a reason to panic. Homeowners should realise that there are two different types of asbestos – friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos is easily crumbled and becomes airborne quickly, which is how most people inhale it. Non-friable asbestos is bound within other materials, and will not become airborne unless the material is disturbed, cut or damaged. It’s this reason that DIY is a potentially hazardous affair if you undertake a building extension or renovation of an old home.

20% of all mesothelioma cases recorded in Australia in the past five years come from non-occupational exposure to asbestos, such as through DIY, and the numbers are estimated to rise in the coming years. If you are planning a home renovation or extension of a heritage home in Melbourne and suspect your home might have asbestos present, you will need to have it tested by a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory using a licensed occupational hygienist or asbestos removalist.

Once this is done and the hazardous material has been neutralised or removed (if it was there at all) you can get to work on your original plans. We recommend working with a renovator specialising in heritage extensions, who will be able to retain all the charm of your heritage home while adding a modern touch through an extension or renovation. They will also be able to work around any areas you may have needed to remove. A heritage home requires special care, so it’s something best left up to the experts for your peace of mind!

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