If you are renovating an older house, there is a possibility that asbestos was used. It was not until the 1980s that asbestos usage was halted in housing in Australia. If your house was built prior to this, it is likely that the suspicious fibro wall you want removed will contain asbestos. The only way to be certain is to have it tested. Consider the asbestos safety guidelines given in this article before undertaking DIY asbestos removal, even if you aren’t certain it is asbestos.
If you like to get hands on with your house, you are probably wondering if you can actually remove the hazardous material yourself. The properties of asbestos fibro that made it so useful are also what make it so painstakingly difficult to remove and dispose of. It is hard, solid and fireproof, but also fibrous/friable and brittle. Some of the most common questions that arise when considering DIY asbestos removal are as follows:
Am I allowed to remove asbestos myself?
Most state governments have different regulations and laws when it comes to asbestos removal. in NSW, DIY asbestos removal for under 10 square meters of asbestos is legal. WorkCover recommends that you hire a licensed contractor to carry out your asbestos removal. You are allowed to remove asbestos yourself if you understand the risks involved and are ready to abide by the requirements enforced by WorkCover.
What risks are involved in removing the asbestos myself?
It is common knowledge that asbestos is something to be afraid of. Is this fear warranted? There are many precautions that you can take to greatly minimise the chance of contracting an asbestos related illness. We strongly suggest that you take every precaution possible, as we cannot guarantee that you will completely avoid exposure. Here is a quick 10 point list that you can read through before performing asbestos removal:
- Purchase the appropriate disposal materials. This includes black plastic, tape, safety equipment and de-nailing utensils
- Decide upon your disposal method. An asbestos skip bin can be hired, or you can transport the wrapped asbestos on a Ute to your local tip.
- Have any family member/residents vacate the premises for the day if possible
- Inform adjacent neighbours that you will be legally and safely removing under 10m2 of asbestos yourself
- Ensure you are clothed in proper safety and hazardous material equipment. This ideally includes a hazmat suit/coveralls, half/full face mask, goggles, rubber gloves and boots
- Wet down any asbestos you plan to remove before touching it
- Utilise proper equipment ande methods to remove all fixings from the asbestos sheets
- Do not intentionally crack the sheets, as tempting as it may be. Be gentle and patient. If all fixings are removed the sheet will come off fairly easily
- Be sure to have your black plastic laid out ready for wrapping. Note that asbestos has to be double wrapped for disposal. Lay down the sheets gently and stack the asbestos sheets in reasonably sized packages
- Do not sweep the leftover asbestos. Use a vacuum instead. Go over the area as much as possible and wrap the vacuum bag in black plastic as well.
What sort of equipment is needed for DIY asbestos removal?
- Avoid fabrics, as asebstos fibres become trapped. You have probably heard how it wasn’t always the asbestos miners who became exposed to the asbestos dust, but the wives who washed their clothes each day. Rubber and plastic disposable materials are best. You can even use plain old dish-washing gloves and gum boots.
- Do not use a standard dust mask that you would use for dealing with timbers. You want a P2 or P3 filter, which filters 95%+ of airborne particles. You are removing scary stuff right? You want to look the part with one of those freaky looking face masks. Basically these have a much better face seal, and often have a double filter.
- There are numerous methods when it comes to removing nails from asbestos sheeting. The most common methods are:
- using a chisel to knock the head off
- nail pullers to pull the whole nail out
- a nail punch to push the nail in
These three methods are listed in order from quickest to slowest. Keep in mind though that the slower methods reduce the chance of cracking the sheet and/or releasing fibres.
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of removing the asbestos myself?
Advantages of DIY asbestos removal:
The primary reason anyone would want to remove asbestos sheeting themselves is to minimise costs. Note that the actual disposal of the asbestos makes up for a significant portion of the cost. You may still be up for a decent cost.
Job satisfaction – We all know us DIYers get a kick out of completing home projects ourselves. The odd hammer down on the thumb, splinters and callouses are all worth it right? Some say we are stubborn and would be better off paying someone to do it while we stick to what we are good at. But hey, it makes for some good conversation. Do remember that you are not the only one at risk when it comes to DIY asbestos removal, though.
Disadvantages of DIY asbestos removal:
You are handling potentially life threatening materials. Airborne particles put anyone nearby at risk.
Asbestos is heavy, and you may need a second person to ensure the sheets can be transported and laid down carefully. Make sure you take any safeguards and employ proper lifting techniques so that you do not fall from a roof or hurt your back lifting.
Asbestos removal yourself is time consuming. You could be painstakingly removing 50+ nails, manually and carefully. It is certainly not as cathartic as demolishing a brick wall with a sledge hammer.
So, should I hire a licensed professional to remove my asbestos?
Chances are that if you are wanting to remove asbestos, you have a home that was built pre 1980. You probably have much more than 10m². Although asbestos is considered safe if it is left untouched, you may want to remove some or all of it. Licensed asbestos contractors do this every day.
“When I hired About The House asbestos removalists, there were 8 guys. They were geared up and hardened to this sort of thing. They absolutely tore through it (not literally). It was all done in half a day. These guys understand the risks, have all the equipment ready to go, and even spray a glue solution over the sheets and remaining framework to hold any remaining fibres in place.”
The contractor will inform WorkCover to lock in a date in advance. They will also provide your neighbours with an official notice. When the asbestos removal has been completed they organise for a certifier to inspect the job. The certifier will assess whether the job was completely properly and in its entirety. You are issued a formal clearance certificate so that you can be at peace.
Please consider that this is not an exhaustive study. We aim to provide an insightful and short guide to inform curious renovators on minimising the risks involved in DIY asbestos removal. Some extra reading: