Updated: Mar 19
Yes. The surveyor will look out for, and record any visual signs of asbestos-containing material they can identify during the survey. This will then be noted on the written report. However, a survey is not a conclusive test for asbestos and should not be considered or treated as one.
Here is an example of a survey where an asbestos shed roof was identified from a survey conducted in January 2023.
However, a it should be noted that a survey is a visual inspection only and the surveyor does not perform any removing or sampling of materials to send for lab tests.
Why is there asbestos in buildings?
Asbestos is a material which which has good insulating property and is also fire resistant. As a result was used in various building materials and even electrical insulation throughout the last century. Although it's potential negative impacts on human health were documented from as early as the 1920s and 1930s, it continued to be used in construction right up to the early 1980s. This means that hundreds of thousands of houses in Ireland potentially contain building materials made with asbestos.
This material can be in walls, ceiling, various flooring. In some cases, it can be very obvious that the material used was of the kind containing asbestos. The most common examples of this are old corrugated shed roofs (like the example above) or the old style stippled/popcorn ceiling finish.
Will the surveyor identify all asbestos in the property?
It is important to remember that a survey is not an asbestos test and should not be relied on as such. The surveyor can only identify asbestos containing material that is apparent to them during their visual inspection. This means that they may happen to identify any ceiling finishes or other material with asbestos, but it is also likely that there could be more hidden from site.
Example: If the property did have the "popcorn" ceiling finish in the past and a previous owner simply plastered over those, but did not remove the old ceilings, then the surveyor would have no way of identifying these.
Or the original builder may have used a material containing asbestos which was simply not common or well known and so it would not be apparent.
All surveyors, engineers, architects etc. would would have disclaimers in their terms of service outlining this in some more detail.
Can I get an Asbestos Survey and Test?
There are specialist companies who conduct full asbestos surveys and tests of properties. This survey involves taking samples from each room and other parts of the property to send for lab tests. Each of these samples are numbered separately so when the company receives the results back, they can produce a list of every place in the property which contains asbestos material.
This level of testing is not included in a standard pre-purchase survey and as it is considered an "invasive" test, the vendor may simply not permit it to be done.
How asbestos in a house can be dangerous to humans
Generally speaking, once the material containing asbestos is not disturbed or damaged, it is not dangerous. But if you were to drill into an asbestos containing board and the asbestos fibres became airborne, breathing these in can present a danger to humans. Likewise, as building materials weaken and degrade over time, small amounts of asbestos fibres.
For additional information please see this HSE resource https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/5/publichealth/publichealthdepts/env/asbestos.pdf
Should I avoid buying a house if it has asbestos containing material?
There is no straightforward answer to this. It is advisable to eventually have all asbestos containing material removed and replaced by a qualified company. However, if the material is intact and undisturbed, it may pose no immediate risk.
Every situation here is different and so if asbestos is identified or suspected by your surveyor, is advisable to speak with your surveyor and get their opinion on a recommended course of action.
Many people choose to continue with the purchase and spend the money to have the asbestos removed and replaced. As this is only common in oder properties, many people intend to refurbish a property anyway, in which case it may not be too much more of an inconvenience.
In Ireland, the department of the environment give information on the handling of asbestos and it's disposal. If you are having work complete on a property with asbestos containing material, you should ensure the company is qualified and experienced in handling the material.