Asbestos warning

Asbestos Cladding in New Zealand Homes: A Cautionary Tale for DIY Renovators

For a substantial period of New Zealand’s building history, asbestos was a common material used in the construction of homes. While it offered durability and fire resistance, we now understand the significant health risks posed by asbestos, especially during renovations where the material can be disturbed.

Historically, wood was the predominant material used for the outer walls of New Zealand houses, as evidenced by census data spanning from 1861 to 1981. However, during the mid-20th century, the use of ‘permanent’ materials such as brick, stone, concrete, and notably, asbestos, became more prevalent. In 1961, for instance, 9.1 percent of dwellings featured asbestos cladding.

The use of asbestos was widespread due to its affordability and physical properties, until its dangers became well-known. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to serious diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, conditions that often do not manifest until many years after exposure.

Given the historical data and the BRANZ 2010 housing condition survey indicating that less than half of dwellings were clad in wood, there’s a significant chance that homes built before the cessation of asbestos use contain this hazardous material. This is particularly pertinent to houses constructed in the decades when asbestos cladding was at its peak of popularity.

Homeowners planning to embark on DIY renovations must be cautious. If your home was built or renovated in the mid-20th century, there’s a potential risk of asbestos being present. Before starting any work, it is crucial to have your home assessed by a professional. Asbestos should not be disturbed by anyone other than a licensed removalist, as DIY attempts can release dangerous fibers into the air.

For those hiring builders or contractors, it is equally important to ensure they are aware of the potential for asbestos. Qualified professionals should always be engaged to perform an asbestos check before any renovation work begins. They can take samples of suspected materials and have them tested in a lab to confirm the presence of asbestos.

If asbestos is found, removal should only be done by licensed asbestos removers. This process involves several safety measures, including sealing off the area, using specialised equipment to prevent fiber inhalation, and disposing of the material safely and legally.

The health risks associated with asbestos are significant and should not be taken lightly. The New Zealand government provides guidelines for the safe removal of asbestos, and it is imperative to follow these regulations strictly to protect yourself, your family, and your community.

Homeowners whose properties were built during the mid-20th century should exercise caution and seek professional advice before undertaking any renovations. It’s a matter of health and safety that goes beyond the immediate satisfaction of home improvement. By taking the right precautions, we can ensure that the legacy of asbestos does not continue to pose a threat to current and future generations.


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