Flames and Fibers: Examining Asbestos Risks in Your Fireplace

Let’s talk about the dreaded ‘A’ word. Asbestos.

Homeowners dread hearing that asbestos is present in their houses, and it is more common for those with older properties to come across it. This is because builders of yesteryear thought it was some kind of wonder material and tried to use it in nearly every part of the home. Fortunately, we live in a more enlightened time and it was finally fully banned in 1999. There are six main types of asbestos, Amosite, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Actinolite, Anthophyllite and Chrysotile which is the most commonly found type in the UK.

Up until as recently as the ‘80s, asbestos was used partly due to its fire-retardant properties, and a report in 2011 suggested almost 50% of UK homes still contain some form of asbestos in them. In this era of home improvement and DIY, we felt it necessary to warn people about the dangers and locations that asbestos can be found around areas of the home such as fireplaces and even in old stoves and woodburners.

Asbestos Stove Rope

Sometimes known as the stove gaskets, these were used to seal the stove against air leaks. Asbestos is no longer used in stove rope and it is quite rare to come across it these days, yet that doesn’t stop people still referring to this item as ‘asbestos rope’ when they are looking to replace it. Stoves sold in the UK after 2000 will not have asbestos rope inside them, and the likelihood is that stoves installed prior to this would have had the rope replaced in in the last 20 years to a new fibreglass rope seal. That being said older stoves that have not seen the light of day for a few decades may require you to proceed with caution. Stove rope is often used to seal the door/doors against the stove body, hold the glass in place and in some cast-iron stoves was used between the body panels, base and top plate. If in doubt replace the rope.

Asbestos can be found around areas of the home such as fireplaces and even in old stoves.

Gas Fires

Unlike modern gas fires that use ceramic glass fibres to mould and shape the realistic looking logs, coals and pebbles found in today’s fires, some old gas fires may still have original fuel effects that still contain asbestos. Gas fires have improved dramatically in the last 25 years, from increased flame effects, fuel effects, heating and efficiency ratings. There is a huge choice of Gas Fires available to buy today, from classic traditional coal effect designs, to minimalist modern looking fires. So if you have an old gas fire that you suspect may contain asbestos, it is probably time to replace it for a more efficient, more realistic flame and fuel effect fire.

Fireplace Tile Mortar

The presence of asbestos in old fireplace mortar is a possibility, especially if the fireplace was constructed or renovated before the 1980s when asbestos was commonly used in building materials. Brown and crumbly mortar could indicate deterioration, which may increase the likelihood of asbestos release if it contains asbestos fibers. However, visual inspection alone cannot confirm the presence of asbestos.

To determine if the mortar contains asbestos, it’s recommended to consult with a professional asbestos testing service or an environmental consultant who can collect samples and perform proper laboratory analysis. They will follow established protocols to assess the material accurately. Keep in mind that disturbing or attempting to remove the mortar yourself can release asbestos fibers into the air, which is hazardous to your health. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek professional assistance to handle any potential asbestos-related concerns safely.

Asbestos Insulation

There is a chance in older properties that panels of insulation around your fireplace could contain asbestos. Due to its fire retardant properties it was often mixed into concrete, and plaster, for floors, walls and ceilings. It was also used in and around fireplaces, flues, and heating systems, thus there is a chance in older properties that the panels of insulation around your fireplace could still contain it. If you suspect this is the case call in the experts to check for you, its not worth taking the risk.

The good news is today there are several alternatives when it comes to fireproofing around your fireplace, stove or woodburner. Vermiculite boards such as Scamolux is an increasingly more commonly used fireboard sheet that offers great fire protection and can be used to help protect combustible materials from heat. These heat resistant boards can also now be found inside wood burning stoves instead of traditional cast-iron panels or clay firebricks, as they are lighter, cheaper and harder wearing. They are other fire-resistant, fire-proof, and heat resistant construction boards available, just check the fire rating and temperature rating is suitable to replace what you already have.

Don't Risk It

It is tough to know whether asbestos is lurking in your old fireplace but it is advisable to take care before you start swinging your sledge hammer. Oftentimes asbestos was used in the cement, so soak any masonry to keep dust and any airborne fibres down to a minimum. This list is by no means comprehensive and should not be taken as a removal guide, but we hope to shed a bit of light on the subject.

Remember, this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It’s always best to consult with experts who specialise in asbestos testing and abatement to ensure the proper handling and management of any potential asbestos-containing materials.

Should you find any or suspect your home contains asbestos, do not attempt to remove it yourself, call a professional and do not disturb it. For more information on identifying and safe removal of asbestos and who to call, take a look at the Health and Safety Executives page on the subject. Alternatively, consult with our friends over at Natural Handyman who would be happy to advise and recommend a handyman to help.

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