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Homebuyers and building surveyors – a cautionary tale from the asbestos frontline

Proud new homeowner showing friend around

Recently, we were contacted by a homebuyer who requested us to carry out sampling and testing of some Artex within a home that they were close to completing on. Of course, we were happy to oblige. But, what do you know about the risk of asbestos in the rest of the house? we wondered.

Our concerns were raised on discovering that an extension had been built upon the garage during the 1970s or early 1980s. From our knowledge, it was common practice at that time to use asbestos materials as fireproofing. It was required under planning requirements at the time, so would have been likely included in the extension. That turned out to be the case.

Having been presented with the options, this homebuyer chose to have a full asbestos survey completed and became very glad that they did. Multiple asbestos-containing materials were found throughout the property, including within children’s bedrooms.

Doesn’t the Homebuyer Report cover this?

No, unfortunately. In our view, it should be covered for homes built or altered within the relevant timeframe, but no asbestos survey can be presumed to be included unless you specifically contract with an asbestos professional.

Of course, building surveyors can identify materials that they suspect to be asbestos. They had in this case flagged up the Artex for further investigation. But finding asbestos is not the purpose of their role. Their job is to identify defects of any kind. They can certainly not be expected to be comprehensive.

To give an idea of the complex job that an asbestos surveyor does, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) produced this handy guide to the main places that asbestos can be found:

(Image reproduced with permission of the HSE. Click to enlarge).

To complicate things, there are three different levels of Homebuyer Surveys that can go in your report. Even the full structural survey may not identify all asbestos, but the others certainly won’t.

Your conveyancing solicitor may identify the benefit of an asbestos survey in your circumstances, but, because it’s not a legal requirement, they may not. Having one could save you many thousands of pounds though.

What was the solution?

Frankly, the late-stage identification of asbestos, in this case, caused the homebuyer some significant additional stress at a time when they notoriously do not need it. We would wish to avoid this.

An unfortunate set of circumstances had arisen in which unbeknown to the buyer, a recent boiler installation in the garage had included the smashing of some Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB). Now, this is in the high-risk category of asbestos-containing materials. At first glance, I could see AIB debris spread across the floor, meaning not only contamination of the possessions that had been unloaded there but serious risk of inhalation of asbestos fibres.

So, everyone was advised not to go in the garage until a thorough asbestos removal and cleanup operation was undertaken. And the possessions had to remain in situ until then.

How can we help homeowners?

Well, other than the survey, we can recommend reputable removal contractors and analysts at no cost. We do have a full project management service that includes removal, but for simple jobs, you may wish to take this on directly. We know the companies that we recommend from our other work.

How can we help building surveyors?

We are always happy to be contacted for advice if anyone is unsure about potential asbestos. We work with some surveyors to provide guidance when they find items of concern. If we can reassure then we will, or if it needs a survey then we will say so.

Our Asbestos Awareness courses are useful to building professionals of all kinds. These will tell you what to look out for, when to seek specialist advice, and how to keep everyone safe.

How surveying and testing works

If you request sampling and lab testing of a particular item only then the onus is not on the provider to give any wider advice on the risk of asbestos within your property.
If you take a full survey, however, then the onus is on us or whoever you choose to carry this out. The surveyor is professionally responsible for finding all asbestos that is present within the area surveyed. Of course, there may be some materials that are out of reach, behind walls and ceilings etc, but these are not part of the surveyed area and are not a risk as long as they do not become exposed. But, within the areas inspected, a specialist asbestos surveyor can be held accountable for identifying all potential risks and then, with the building owner’s consent, taking as many samples as required and testing for the presence of asbestos.

From us, you’ll get a debrief as soon as the survey is complete. We’ll tell you exactly which materials, if any, we have concerns about. You will have to wait for the lab results to be certain, but at least you’ll know instantly what is completely safe and what may not be.

Quite simply, if you want full reassurance, get a full survey. This work cannot be presumed to be included in any other type of survey – only an asbestos survey carried out by a qualified asbestos surveyor will give you full peace of mind.

Ours begin at £295 for a house of up to 4 bedrooms and up to 5 samples included.

See our previous blog on the types of asbestos surveys and the limited circumstances in which they are legally required for residential property.

 

(Main image by PNW Production from Pexels)

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