Buildings of historic importance, that were constructed centuries ago, were not built with asbestos. Whether you’re talking about castles or smaller old listed properties they were built before we started using asbestos in construction.
What we will consider in this blog is what may have happened to those buildings after their original construction. In short, we need to look for anything that may have been added to the building, maybe through a refurbishment, extensions or upgrades within the building, including electrics, wiring and fuse boxes.
What to look for in listed buildings
Fuses boxes are a big deal. We always work with a qualified electrician on fuse boxes which look old. You need to examine the suppressors, which are woven guards where the fuses sit, to ensure they are not faulty. You can find asbestos in panels in fuse boards, below fuse boards and even in the fittings attaching the fuse box to the wall.
Fire protection is one of the most obvious additions to old buildings. Thatched buildings may have had fire breakers added to their lofts, attics may have been boarded out or had doors installed. Look out for risers and cladding. Fire doors are also common in older buildings and sometimes historic doors will have been cladded on one side to make them fire resistant.
Look for heating upgrades to boilers, pipe work and insulation. Time and time again, we see evidence of heating systems installed in the 1950s and left in place when the system was upgraded decades later. The asbestos degrades over time, rats and mice get into it, and then you go into a void and it’s all over the floor and the pipes. Then you have a massive contaminated area with pure asbestos sitting there.
Don’t forget the flooring which often gets replaced with modern flooring over time. There may have been refurbishments, or rooms may have had their use changed, which results in the area being refloored with asbestos floor tiles.
Extensions often try to look like the original building and are usually made from asbestos.
What do you need to consider?
You need to understand the grading of the building. Every building is different and it is really important to get the building information or a survey.
These types of buildings tend to have high ceilings, confined spaces, spaces that are hard to get into and even hidden spaces. You need to remember health and safety wasn’t on the spectrum when these buildings were constructed. Hidden voids are common.
We’ve recently been to a site where the risers were boarded up. Luckily, one of the site workers knew about this and knew how to access the riser area. There is no way you would have known they were there when you looked at the building without this knowledge. You need to gather information about the construction and management of the building over the years. Talk to the people on site who have a working knowledge of the building.
Get the right surveyor on board to help with the job. Make sure you know what is listed in the building. It could just be one corner of a room that is listed – you need to know what you can and can’t touch, what can be looked at and accessed.
Treat the listed parts in the same way we treat asbestos – give me the register, show me around, show me what I can and can’t touch.
When we have done refurbishments in these types of buildings, we have used other qualified tradespeople who can carefully remove and handle materials of historical interest. This enables us to look behind these materials so we can identify if any asbestos is present. For example, on certain projects we have worked with specialised window fitters who have removed historic glazing carefully and then placed it back after our works have been carried out.
Can we help?
With historic buildings it can be easy to forget about the presence of asbestos when your main focus is their heritage. However, it is vital to consider asbestos when you are doing any refurbishment or upgrade to a historic building – it really needs to be considered and handled professionally.