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Retrofitting Homes Built pre-sixties and managing the risk from asbestos exposure.

Posted on Tuesday, 7th March 2023

Retrofitting Homes Built pre-sixties and managing the risk from asbestos exposure.

This month we look at Retrofitting Homes Built pre-60s and managing the risk from asbestos exposure. 

Traditional buildings built before and or around the 1920s make up around 25% of the UK’s occupied homes.

A primary focus of a whole house retrofit is to reduce heat losses through the buildings fabric this would include walls, floors, roof, ceilings, windows, and doors. Structurally, many of these homes were built with solid walls or built with a solid timber frame meaning, they do not have cavity walls, they heat-up and cool down more slowly, and you’ll find that they also deal with moisture differently, relying on the environment i.e., sunshine, wind, and ventilation to move through the building in a controlled way.

The challenge is to understand the building you are going to be upgrading to the PAS 2035 whole house standard.

Over the years new building materials and methods of construction, have constantly changed, with many of homes that date pre 60s having had alterations, or some form of modification work to adapt and upgrade them. Unfortunately, for over five decades the use of asbestos in the production of construction products is now a major public health and environmental problem.     

Asbestos first began to be used in the manufacturing of construction products in the 1880s with usage peeking in the 1960s where asbestos found its way into more, and more building applications.

Asbestos has been banned from use in residential buildings materials since 1980s and OSHA enforces strict safety regulations for construction and manufacturing workers that have a level of asbestos exposure.  

Nevertheless, homes built before asbestos was banned (from the 1920s through to the 1970s) could still contain building products that have been produced using all forms of asbestos, these include but not limited to.

  • Asbestos cement roofs, garages, and sheds. 
  • Asbestos wall cladding sheets.
  • Asbestos Flat sheets for partitions, cladding and door facings.
  • Asbestos downpipes and gutters.
  • Asbestos cement flues pipes.
  • Asbestos cement and pitch fibre water storage cisterns, tanks, and sewer pipes

Before undertaking a whole house retrofit there are several areas of risk that needs to be thoroughly understood.

Asbestos minerals have a sinister side to them. The tiny fibres are deadly, breathing them in can cause permanent damage to the inner cells and outer lining of your lungs and chest wall. The fibres are so sharp they cannot be broken down by the human body. It is a slow, creeping disease - Most asbestos diseases taking around 20 to 30 years to develop following exposure, with scar tissue gradually building up around the asbestos fibres lodged in the lungs, damaged cells develop into Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer, and or Asbestosis.

It is quite literary the biggest health hazard in the construction industry, slowly killing around 5,000 people in the UK each year.

In July 2020 a UK study successfully identifies different types of asbestos in mesothelioma samples using a type of mass spectrometry, which identifies compounds by measuring their molecular weight. This information can now be used in diagnosing mesothelioma to prove the cancer was caused by asbestos exposure. (You can read the Research Article here)   

There are six types of asbestos minerals. (Information supplied by  classified as the asbestiform varieties including:

1. Chrysotile (AKA white asbestos) is the most commonly used form of asbestos.

2. Amosite (brown asbestos) was used most frequently in cement sheets and pipe insulation.

3. Crocidolite (blue asbestos) was commonly used in some spray-on coatings, pipe insulation, plastics and cement products.

4. Anthophyllite was used in limited quantities for insulation products and construction materials.

5. Tremolite and 6. Actinolite are not used commercially, but they can be found as contaminants in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite, and talc. These two chemically similar minerals can be brown, white, green, grey, or transparent.

Although it is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, many tonnes of it were used in the past.

To manage the risk from asbestos, assessments must be conducted as to whether asbestos is liable to be in the premises.  This presents many challenges as asbestos construction materials could look like todays normal concrete products, plasterboard, insulation or even sprayed coatings…   

Asbestos cement was also used in:

  • Corrugated roofing
  • Cladding sheets and Flat sheets
  • Guttering and downpipes
  • Flue pipes
  • Water storage cisterns and tanks

Asbestos Roofing products including:

  • Roofing shingles
  • Roof tiles
  • Asphalt roofing
  • Bitumen

Asbestos Insulation and sprayed coatings:

  • Lagging and pipework
  • Loft insulation
  • Fire protection 

Asbestos Insulation board (ABI):

  • Drywall and Ceiling Cladding 
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Internal walls and partitions

Asbestos Composites: 

  • Floor tiles
  • Vinyl tiles
  • Adhesives
  • Asbestos paper linings
  • Damp-proof sealant
  • Insulation wire

Decorative materials:

  • Artex
  • Caulking
  • Filler
  • Plaster
  • Textured coatings
  • Paints

From the outset a whole house retrofit (PAS 2023) approach is to rework all aspects of the home’s insulation, draft-proofing, ventilation, and heating to reduce energy usage. These retrofit projects can be treated like a newbuild using a well-structured home plan that needs to be tailored to individual properties.         

In any pre 60s residence, it is vital you undertake a full risk assessment at the beginning of the project.  Remember, there are so many hidden dangers and responsibility to extracting older construction materials and their disposal of.

Whole house retrofit and asbestos management plan. 

So, do you need a survey?

Yes absolutely, Asbestos surveys are required by law  --  unless you know there is no asbestos present!

Surveying needs to be completed by a trained specialist; they do not require a licence!

However, higher-risk work, such as asbestos removal, must be undertaken by a licensed contractor.  

The good news is asbestos is only dangerous when the tiny fibres are ‘friable’ meaning when they are loose and able to float and are ‘airborne’ –

If you must conduct work which may disturb asbestos containing products and materials, you need to take appropriate control measures to reduce and prevent exposure and suitably training anyone who will come into contact asbestos-containing materials. 


Asbestos training courses can be found on ESS website

UKATA Asbestos awareness training course has been developed for supervisors and trades personal, including trainees contractors such as but not limited to: demolition workers, construction workers, general maintenance, electricians, plumbers, gas fitters, painters and decorators, joiners, plasterers, roofers, heating and ventilation engineers, architects, building surveyors.         

Essential Site Skills also deliver in-company training including Face Fit Testing which is a legal requirement. All UK employees who wear tight-fitting respiratory protection equipment (RPE) must have a certificate to prove that the protective equipment they wear during work not only fits but also gives them effective protection.    

Other Related Asbestos Health and Safety Training Courses delivered by Essential Site Skills:

Face Fit Train the Tester

Asbestos Awareness UKATA

Certificate in Controlling Health Risks (CCHRC)

Non-Licensable Work with Asbestos (UKATA)

Control of Substance Hazardous to Health (COSHH)

Face Fit Train the Tester – Fit2Fit Approved Course (Quantitative)

Face Fit Testing (Quantitative)

Construction training is key to securing Health and Safety of the UK Workforce.      

Essential Site Skills also offer a comprehensive range of CITB accredited courses, construction training, health and safety courses, and NVQ qualifications covering an ever-increasing range of topics.

View upcoming public courses by month and year online  You can book online, or you can contact one of our expert training advisors direct: 0115 8970 529 they will assist you find an alternative training location or date, or create bespoke training for your organisation. 


Research Support The mesothelioma center

Essential Site Skills would like to thank Jose Soler, Outreach Coordinator – for technical information on Asbestos types and classifications.  

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