How to avoid and/or manage a renovation on a house with asbestos

The mention of asbestos tends to trigger alarm bells for people, yet the material itself can be quite elusive. Many of us are aware that it poses a serious health threat upon exposure but lack an understanding of its application in our society and why such a dangerous mineral has been so widely used in public construction. In order to avoid the costly complications of purchasing a home with an asbestos problem, it’s beneficial to be able to recognise the signs and ensure the necessary checks are carried out before you buy a new property. However in some cases, despite prior diligence, and because asbestos can be quite hidden, you may discover it in your property well after construction has started. In this case, it is crucial to manage it appropriately for health, legal and of course financial reasons.

This article aims to provide the basic information you would want to have about asbestos in residential properties and their renovations.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of silicate minerals made up of long, thin, strong fibres. It is highly resistant to electricity, water, heat and chemicals. Its uniquely wide range of resistant properties makes it a valuable material in construction as well as other industries. Before its regulation in commercial use, asbestos was used extensively for insulation, heating, electrics, flooring, roofing etc.

Why is it dangerous?

Asbestos fibres can be readily separated and become easily airborne if disturbed, which most commonly takes place during constructions and renovations. The durability of this mineral means that if inhaled or swallowed, the fibres cannot be broken down by the body. Long-term exposure to these particles results in an accumulation in the lungs which eventually causes tissue damage. Some severe asbestos related diseases include mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

Which properties are at risk?

Although many European countries have now banned its usage in building materials, asbestos was a central feature of residential construction between the 1930s through to the 1980s. If the property in question dates back to this period, there is a strong chance asbestos is or has been used within the structure.

Although avoiding asbestos altogether is the ideal scenario, it certainly does not have to be a deal-breaker on the property.

3 tips for avoiding a property with asbestos
1. Preliminary checks at viewings

Although it is certainly not limited to the locations mentioned below, it is worthwhile to be aware of building materials that commonly feature some amount of asbestos. It would be wise to enquire with your estate agent about the presence of these materials when viewing a property, specifically in such items as:

“Insulation boards between wall partitions, white tape on heating ducts, insulation around boilers, ducts, pipes, wood stoves and fireplaces, vermiculite insulation, 9″x9″ floor tiles, acoustic ceiling tiles, cement products like sidings, gutters, and rainwater pipes, popcorn ceiling texture, glues used under flooring.”1 (Absestos123)

2. Ask your real estate agent

A visual check is not enough to indicate the presence or absence of asbestos and its condition. It is advised to ask your real estate agent for an asbestos assessment report of the property. If they cannot offer you one, it is strongly recommended to have one conducted prior to proceeding further.

3. Request an asbestos survey

There are different types of asbestos surveys with varying degrees of comprehensiveness. The type of survey required is dependent on the kind of work that will be done with that property, differentiating between demolition, refurbishment, etc. At this stage, it can be very useful to have a professional like an architect on board who can guide you through the specific requirements based on your plans for the property alongside the relevant government regulations.

It is good to remember that, despite the most detailed screenings, asbestos sometimes resides so deeply in the structure of the building that it is only discovered during thorough renovation. In such unfortunate situations, you need to halt the renovations and shift focus to managing the asbestos before proceeding any further.

3 tips for managing a property with asbestos
1. Conduct a deep inspection

If asbestos is discovered during the renovation process, a company must first be hired to perform a deep inspection. This inspection will give you the necessary information about the extent and condition of the asbestos in the property.

2. Permits and removal/management

Although this varies between laws in different areas, if deemed to be in good, non-threatening condition, some asbestos containing products can be ‘sealed’ instead of removed completely. In most places, upon discovering asbestos, it must be reported to the municipality and management plans are to be devised. At this stage the corresponding permits to support the management plans must also be acquired, asbestos treatment cannot begin until such permits are granted by the municipality.

3. The costs to expect

Whilst the removal company is dealing with the asbestos in the property, no one is permitted to work on the site. The contractor may need to be compensated for this waiting period, therefore it is advisable to have a discussion about such potentialities in the initial contract. The cost of the management and/or removal of the asbestos itself greatly varies depending on its quantity, its position in the building and what needs to be replaced.

Although encountering a property with asbestos is a cause for concern and should be taken seriously, it does not have to be an outright deal-breaker. With an appropriate risk assessment you should be able to evaluate the condition of the asbestos-containing products and also determine whether you could afford the treatment potentially required. Having a professional onboard can be very useful in a situation in which asbestos is unexpectedly discovered during the renovation. Past experience with such scenarios mean architects can effectively negotiate new project timelines with the contractors and will likely be able to recommend cost-effective removal companies. Unfortunately, undesirable developments do tend to occur during renovations, so it never hurts to have a professional who has seen it all in your corner!

If you have any questions about managing asbestos or you are constructing or renovating your home or workplace and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

Biennale Architettura 2021: How Will We Live Together?

This year, Venice’s bi-annual International Architecture Exhibition1  has taken on the critical question of How Will We Live Together? The Venice Architecture Biennale is one of the most prestigious exhibitions in the world, attracting participation and audiences from all over the world. The 17th edition of this event brought together 60 national pavilions as well as a range of innovative installations. This article enquires into Anna-Marie Mašková’s personal experience of the work showcased in Venice. Anna-Marie is a passionate architecture student and an intern at AKKA Architects in Amsterdam. After her visit to Venice, we sit with her to hear about her experience. As a young practitioner entering the field, she offers a valuable perspective on the significance of sustainable design and how it can guarantee to meet the needs of future generations.

‘We need a new spatial contract. In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together’

-Hashim Sarkis, 2021 Biennale Curator

venice architecture biennale

Source: Anna-Marie Mašková. Venice Biennale 2021

What is the relevance of the 2021 exhibition theme, 'How Will We Live Together?'

“The pandemic has accelerated so many issues in our society and I think the 2021 Biennale has laid them out front and centre.”

The curator of the 2021 Biennale states that the exhibition “calls on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together”1. The pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped the way people feel about this topic. Anna-Marie stresses a pinnacle example of this being the “long-term psychological damage for many caused by spending months on end in quarantine in what could be considered a cell”. She sees this as evidence in support of “creating spaces which are adaptable, that will be able to withstand the challenges in the future”.

What do you feel are the key theoretical questions raised at the exhibition?

“Sometimes we have to look to the past to understand how we used to live together, see if there’s something we can learn from past practices.”

Anna-Marie highlights the Dutch3 and Japanese4 pavilions for the important questions they have raised. The Dutch exhibit focuses on the ‘we’ aspect of the 2021 Biennale theme. Looking back into their complex history, the Dutch encourage audiences to consider who is included and thus who is potentially excluded from this collective notion of ‘we’. The Japanese pavilion, on the other hand, presents the disassembled house of a resident who passed away, along with the memories it holds. Adhering to the idea of looking back in time, this pavilion prompts us to see what there is to gain from exploring the ways we used to live. Both exhibits exemplify how evaluating our history can be beneficial for developing the solutions of today.  

Which pavilion left the biggest impression on you?

“The Nordic Pavilion. It was so interesting to see a totally different way of doing a residential project. It’s radical, it’s sustainable- socially, economically, and material-wise”

The Nordic pavilion2 showcases an award-winning co-housing model in Stavanger, Norway. The design involves residents sharing their budget and skills, as well as a lot of social time together. Anna-Marie recalls an instance in which the entire co-op came together to help a young couple adapt their space for the needs of a newborn’s arrival. The project not only demonstrates the use of adaptable, non-toxic materials, but also emphasises the importance of creating socially sustainable living contexts in which residents can rely on one another.

venice architecture biennale

Source: Anna-Marie Mašková. Nordic pavilion [left] and Japanese pavilion [right]

What developments in architecture and design do you hope to see in the coming years?

“Pressure on the industry to produce socially and climatically responsible materials.”

Sustainable design is a recurrent theme throughout the Biennale this year. Anna-Marie notes the prevalence of material research. Organic fibre compost of different materials, is being demonstrated as highly effective, non-toxic building materials. She hopes that with the commercialisation of these materials architects will be able to tap into this conversation and move away from unsustainable materials like plastics. Anna-Marie highlights the responsibility of being a practitioner, and having a privileged position to advocate for forward- thinking materials.

“As practitioners in the field we can really take a hard look at our discipline and be really responsible about what we are using”

-Anna-Marie Mašková, AKKA Architect

As the Venice Biennale is one of the most prominent exhibitions in the world, having the opportunity to explore some of the main ideas and questions raised there this year is very insightful. Anna-Marie noted that “the fantastic thing about the Biennale is that you can see exactly where each country places its priorities”. Exhibiting a wide range of perspectives from across the globe provides a unique opportunity for professionals to reflect on what they want their designs to contribute to society.

Anna-Marie concludes that “the fact so many countries chose to prioritise sustainability in their pavilions, despite it being nothing new to design, indicates that current solutions are simply not enough for achieving our goals”. Today designing a sustainable future demands radically innovative solutions which drastically reconceptualize the very way we live together. This year’s Biennale has provided an important global stage on which to showcase these kinds of ‘out-of-the-box’ designs which we need. The United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow this month declared this necessity to prioritise sustainability with a collective sense of clarity and urgency we have not witnessed before. If you find yourself feeling inspired to make sustainability a priority of your own, we recommend taking a look at our two-part series on the sustainable home: Improving Energy Efficiency and Improving Your Self-sufficiency.

If you would like to discuss the 2021 Biennale or if you are constructing or renovating your workplace or home and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

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“We would like to express our gratitude for the time you invested in helping us get to a clear picture.  Anna and I really appreciated the call we had with you, your responsiveness, and the great empathy that you exhibited throughout – we certainly felt very “well taken care of” when engaging with you.  On the practical side, we especially appreciated that there was the option to obtain robust bottom-up cost estimates for the construction itself (not every design architect offers this).”

-Private Client of AKKA



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