How Do You Identify Asbestos?

How Do You Identify Asbestos?

You can identify asbestos by dating the building, as well as visually and physically assessing the building materials.

It can very hard to identify asbestos, so you shouldn’t try and do so on your own. This is because for certain materials, it may not be immediately obvious. If you suspect your building may have the substance inside, then hire one of the many asbestos surveyors out there.

There are a few types of asbestos around, but all can be dangerous to your health and safety. A surveyor has the proper equipment to identify and dispose of the substance safely. They also have the appropriate personal protective equipment to avoid damage to their lungs.

Identifying Asbestos

There are many types of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) that you may find in a building or house. Some of them include:

  • Insulation (roof, wall, pipe)
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Corrugated roofs
  • Sprays
  • Decorations

The material was most commonly used in insulation, as the material is a very good heat conductor. However, you most likely won’t be able to spot any until you have at least completed the below steps.

Dating the Building

Firstly, you need an idea about when your building or house was built.

This is very important, because all types of asbestos were outlawed in the UK in 1999.[1] This means that in theory, any house or building made before this date could have the material inside of it. To date your house online, you can use the UK government’s Land Registry services.[2]

Although this is by no means provides a definitive answer, it can give you a pretty good idea. For example, if your house was built after 1999, you can pretty safely assume that it won’t have any ACMs inside.

Visual Inspection

Next, you should visually inspect around the building you are in. However, a common question is what does asbestos look like?

Well, asbestos is a type of fibrous material. The most commonly used type is white in colour. Therefore, if you spot any material that is white and fibrous, this is an immediate sign.

However, it is never that simple. This is because the material was almost always mixed in with other substances, especially cement. As a result, it is often grey-brown in colour. However, you may still be able to identify the individual fibres on things like corrugated roofs. You may also be able to identify an ACM by its shape. Corrugated roofs often have curved ridges, and this was a common way to build houses with the substance inside.[3]

Despite this, just like dating the house, a visual inspection will not confirm your suspicions entirely.

Physical Inspection

Finally, you should do a physical inspection.

However, please note that asbestos is harmless untouched, but becomes dangerous when unsettled. Therefore, this step is reserved for trained professionals and surveyors only.

A physical inspection can allow a person to get access to the manufacturer’s mark. This will contain either the letters ‘AC’ or ‘NT’. If you see NT, then you are in luck. It means that building material is asbestos-free. If you see AC, then you will need to dispose of it. Although, it is unlikely that all building materials will have this code.

These signs are useful to identify asbestos. However, you cannot be truly 100% sure unless you do a sample analysis. This will disturb the material and make it dangerous, so leave it to a trained assessor or surveyor. They can be pretty sure if there is some around, especially if they find a manufacturer’s mark, but they cannot really be certain.

For more information, you can view our online asbestos training course here.


[1] https://ibasecretariat.org/lka_uk_ban.php

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/land-registry

[3] https://www.wikihow.com/Recognize-Asbestos