If you’re thinking about starting a bathroom renovation in a house built before 1990, there’s an important safety factor to consider: asbestos.
Asbestos products were used a lot in construction prior to the mid-1980s, when they were phased out after the dangers of asbestos came to light. Prior to this, asbestos products were widely used because they were extremely strong, fire proof, non-corrosive and insulating.
One of the main areas asbestos can be found is in the bathroom: it was used in fibro cement sheeting in walls, ceilings, and floors and the lagging on hot water pipes.
If they’re intact, the asbestos materials in your bathroom don’t pose a health risk to you and your family or tenants. But if the materials become friable—either because of deterioration, or because of the drilling, cutting, breaking or sanding that goes on in demolition when you’re renovating—you’ll be at risk of asbestos exposure and the serious health problems that it’s associated with.
That’s why it’s important to identify asbestos products in your bathroom before you start renovating and have them removed safely to reduce the risk of anybody coming into contact with them.
How do you identify asbestos in bathrooms?
Some asbestos-containing products used in the construction of bathrooms of older homes are relatively easy to identify.
One of the well-known asbestos products used in bathrooms was sold under the trade name of ‘Tilux’ by the supplier James Hardie. Tilux was a wet-area fibrous asbestos cement sheet, a moulded product used in place of ceramic tiles in bathrooms, kitchens and laundries.
The sheets were attached to walls in these areas and used as splashbacks, commonly in shower recesses in bathrooms. One of the main indicators of Tilux products is a stainless steel strip between the sheets.
Other identifying features are the floral, geometric and speckled patterns and the pastel shades of pink, blue, grey and green that is was sold in. The surface of these products could be either matte or glossy.
Other common asbestos-containing bathroom products from the same manufacturer were sold under the trade names ‘Versilux’ and ‘Villaboard’. These products were wet-area sheeting products with recessed edges, which were plastered over and tiled.
The Australian Government’s department of Health and Ageing (2005) released this list of trade names of asbestos-containing products that can still be found in bathrooms of older houses, and the year they ceased to be manufactured:
- Hardiflex 1981
- Hardiplank 1981
- Villaboard 1981
- Versilux 1982
- Harditherm 1984
- Compressed 1984
- Drain Pipe 1984
- Super Six 1985
- Highline 1985
- Shadowline 1985
- Coverline 1985
- Roofing Accessories 1985
- Pressure Pipe 1987
- Tilux 1987
While most of these products are relatively easy to recognise, there are many other products that are more difficult to identify and they can be found hiding inconspicuously in bathroom cement, as backing for floor and wall tiles and in hot water pipes and attachments.
To be sure that you’re safe from exposure, it’s best to rely on an asbestos removal professional to look over your bathroom before you start any renovation work.
Who needs to test for asbestos?
If your house was built before the mid-1980s, it’s highly likely that there will be asbestos products in your bathroom. But what many people don’t know is that homes built between the mid-1980s and the 1990s are still likely to have asbestos products in them as well—so if your house was built before 1990, the safest option is to have your bathroom tested and cleared by an asbestos professional before you start demolishing and renovating, regardless if you’re using professional tradespeople or not.
IIf you’re unsure whether your bathroom was constructed with asbestos-containing products, but there’s evidence of deterioration—including crumbling concrete, broken tiles, or corroded pipes—you could be at risk of exposure to friable asbestos. This is extremely dangerous, so if you don’t know for sure that it’s not asbestos, contact an asbestos expert immediately.
Another important thing to remember is that while many asbestos-containing products were being phased out from the mid-1980s, there were still many products still being manufactured with a lower asbestos content, around 3-5%.
These products carry a lower risk than earlier products, but the risk is still there, so if there is any chance at all of exposure to asbestos, it’s advisable to hire a trained professional to identify and remove any questionable products before you commence your bathroom renovation.
How do you remove asbestos bathroom products?
There are strict rules about removing and disposing of asbestos. Workers must wear the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent inhalation of asbestos fibres while they’re working, and there are restrictions on how much asbestos can be removed in a certain timeframe from any one place to protect neighbouring homes and people from exposure.
If you’re a homeowner and you’re doing your bathroom renovation yourself, you are entitled to remove asbestos products yourself. But they must not be friable, the area of product must not exceed 10m2 and it should take no longer than one hour in any 1-week period to remove them.
You must also dispose of them in thick, double-wrapped, labelled plastic bags at an approved waste disposal facility. If you can’t meet any of these regulations, you’re obliged to hire an approved asbestos removal company—or put yourself at risk of hefty fines and legal liability.
While you’re technically allowed to remove asbestos from your bathroom while you’re renovating, neither the government or any asbestos expert will recommend that you do it yourself.
There’s only one way to guarantee your safety and it’s with approved asbestos testing techniques and professional asbestos removal. Brisbane residents don’t need to worry about dealing with dangerous asbestos waste or the complicated regulations of waste facilities: