Asbestos exposure the hidden cost of DIY boom
In the renovation boom sparked by the pandemic two years ago, it's easy to forget about some of the dangers of DIY fixes.
One that comes to mind is the risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was a popular building product used in most houses between the 1940s and the late 1980s.
Little did we know then that it can cause cancer, and so many lives have been cut short because those who were exposed to it - labourers, subcontractors, homeowners - didn't know the price they were paying for building a dream home or fixing up an old one.
We do now, but some people still skip getting professionals in to remove asbestos from their homes when they are renovating.
The cost of removing asbestos safely by a licensed business can be between $25 and $50 a square metre. It's a small price to pay given the risks of doing it yourself. Local councils also impose harsh penalties for dumping asbestos-laden materials illegally.
The rule of thumb is this: if a home was built before 1990, chances are high that it contains asbestos both inside and outside. It is found in one in three Australian homes, according to the federal government's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.
The agency is running a campaign informing residential property buyers, sellers, renters and landlords of their responsibilities and rights when buying or renting a home that may contain asbestos.
"By knowing where asbestos can be in a residential property, we can all keep safe," says the agency.
Justine Ross, the chief executive, says sellers must disclose the presence of asbestos to protect buyers.
"In some states and territories, they may be legally obligated to do this," she says. "Similarly, we want landlords to identify, disclose and manage the presence of asbestos in their properties to minimise the health risks for renters."
Landlords may be eligible for tax deductions for asbestos testing and removal. The cost varies, but taking five samples for asbestos testing could set you back around $950. This is a tax-deductible expense.
As more houses built before the 1990s are passed on to a new generation of owners, one of the things that should be legislated is the inclusion of an asbestos report in a pre-purchase building inspection. At the moment, this is not a requirement and can be overlooked in the sale process.
The asbestos agency's website (asbestossafety.gov.au) has online tools that can help both the buyer and the seller of a property to disclose which areas have asbestos. The website also provides a list of asbestos disposal facilities and what to do if you think you've been exposed to it.
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