Asbestos And Property. Where Is It And Can You Avoid It?

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All posts / For Buyers / General: Real Estate

Asbestos. The mere mention of the word has most people running for the hills, and with good reason. You don’t need a PhD to know that asbestos exposure can be a health hazard.

Would you want to know if there is asbestos in a home you are considering?

How common is it in the residential setting? Where kind of materials contain it? And can you avoid it altogether?

Have you been house hunting for awhile? Did you know that extremely common products such as fibre cement (Hardiplank or Fibrolite) boards may contain traces of asbestos? It wouldn’t surprise me if you said no.

Can’t I just rely on the agent to disclose?

“But surely the real estate agent will tell me if there may be asbestos containing products in a house I visit? Can’t I just rely on them to point out what I should know about?”

Yes and no.

The agent you are dealing with should disclose if there are any identified materials likely to contain asbestos in the property you are considering. Basically, if they know about it, they should bring it to your attention.

In some parts of Auckland, however, it seems like disclosure around potentially affected building materials such as fibre cement cladding, textured ceilings and some roofing and fencing materials is far more miss than hit.

While the agent is expected to disclose around this issue, if I were buying, I would not be relying on that alone. Just because you have not been told about the possibility of asbestos containing materials in a home does not mean it is ACM free.

I hope that the information below will give you a basic understanding of the issue, direct you to reputable sources of information and help you make an informed choice on what is right for you.

What are ACMs and why are they top of mind?

ACM is a term that stands for Asbestos Containing Materials. ACMs weren’t really top of mind in the real estate industry until the 2011 Christchurch Earthquakes.

Naturally, with a major city undergoing extensive demolition and rebuilding, health risks posed to those involved became top of mind and the increased public concern and awareness gradually filtered through to real estate offices around the country.

For the data geeks, check out this 2015 report commissioned by Sir Peter Gluckman, the New Zealand Prime Ministers Chief Science Advisor.

Asbestos Exposure in New Zealand: Review of the scientific evidence of non-occupational risks.

In particular, I found Table 7 on page 35 interesting. Have a look.

Asbestos and your health…

Advising you about the specific risks asbestos exposure can pose to human health is beyond my brief but what I can do is point you towards some reputable and local sources of information.

If you want a better understanding of the situation, check out this article from the Ministry of Health when responding to questions about asbestos in Canterbury.

Asbestos Advice for Householders

According to the experts, the main risk is when asbestos is disturbed (think renovation) rather than when it is present but well maintained.

If you have identified ACMs in your home you’ll want to seek advice as to how to work with them safely or, better yet, contract in the appropriate professionals to do it for you.

*refer back to Table 7 on page 35 of the report I mentioned earlier as this has some examples of different types of activities that could increase or decrease risk if ACM’s are present.

Where is asbestos?

Diagram from WorkSafe showing where asbestos may be found.

According to WorkSafe, if you own a home built or worked on between 1950 and 2000, it is quite likely to contain asbestos.

Information from WorkSafe for homeowners and residential landlords can be viewed here.

Note: Disposing of ACMs is costly. Keep additional handling and disposal costs in mind if you plan to renovate or conduct maintenance on any potential ACMs.
ie. If you’re buying a home with an asbestos shingle roof (or similar) and need to reroof in the next year or two it would be wise to investigate the additional cost as part of your due diligence.

Where can I get a building material tested?

Many Building Inspectors offer asbestos testing as part of their service.

Or, if you want to organize getting a sample tested yourself, you can do this through Dowdell and Associates Limited.

Their Asbestos In The Home page is great and tells you what steps to follow.

Can I avoid asbestos altogether?


Just like you can avoid sharks by swimming in a pool instead of the ocean, you can usually avoid ACMs by buying a home built after 2000.

So what now?

Should you panic? Absolutely not.

You probably grew up in a home containing ACMs and yet here you are.

If you are buying a home built prior to 2000 it’s reasonable to assume that there are likely ACMs present – somewhere. Keep yourself safe and avoid unwelcome surprises down the track by:

  • Being mindful of possible ACMs when renovating.
  • Factoring in higher disposal and handling costs for identified ACMs.
  • Investigate your responsibilities under Health and Safety legislation if you are buying the property for investment purposes.

Happy house-hunting!

Do you own investment property built between 1940 and 2000?

Check out this article written for the APIA by Frankie Maccullaich from ASA Limited on asbestos, residential landlords and your responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 which came into full effect on 1 April 2018.

Also, have a look at this from Tenancy Services about Managing Asbestos in Rental Properties.

These links are by no means comprehensive but may give you a starting point for your investigation as to your responsibilities when renovating homes built within the era in question.

More Posts For Buyers.

Builders Report Blues. Run Or Renegotiate? A Guide For First Home Buyers.
Buyer beAware: How To Spot Weatherside…
RV’s (or CV’s). Are They Reliable Indicators Of Market Value?

Maori Bay

The Author

Maria is a veteran Auckland realtor, rookie blogger and long time resident of the West and Nor'west. Maria markets and sells residential and lifestyle property across Auckland and is based at Harcourts Northwest Realty Limited - Licensed REAA 2008


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