Old, asbestos buildings are commonplace in the UK. The use of asbestos in building work was at its most popular in the middle part of the last century. Hailed as a miracle material, it had many benefits. The asbestos fibres gave cement extra strength without adding much weight and it was also a very good fireproofing material. It had great heat-resistance which made it especially good at providing thermal insulation. However, as knowledge of the serious health problems that are linked to asbestos become more common, its use became illegal in the 1980’s and the handling and disposal of the material became heavily regulated.
This has left many building owners with a problem. Having been built back in the 50’s and 60’s, many asbestos buildings are starting to fall apart and are in desperate need of renovation. However, with the strict regulations that are now in place, the cost of repairing them is really high. And as for knocking them down, you’ll have to
- Pay a specially trained contractor to do the work
- Pay for a specialist, sealed skip to stow the old materials
- Pay for the safe disposal of the material by a suitable waste management company
And all of this before you even consider the cost of building a new building to replace it. The situation can get very expensive, very quickly. In many cases the cost is so great these buildings are left derelict. They’re unsightly, essentially useless and, if they’re really badly damaged, potentially dangerous to the health of anyone who goes near them.
This was the problem faced by the owner of this old barn in West Wales. It was in terrible condition and needed something done to it to make it safe and useable again. It was covered in moss and ivy and leaked terribly. A conservative estimate of the cost involved to remove and dispose of the old asbestos was around £60,000 and to put new sheets in it’s place was £80,000. That would have meant a minimum of £140,000 to make this barn safe and useable again.
Using the Alchimica Hyperdesmo range of liquid waterproofing membrane, we were able to safely save this barn from an extremely expensive demolition or overhaul. Polyurethane liquid membranes are applied with a brush or roller as a thick liquid but cure to give a rubber-like membrane that is waterproof. By overcoating and encapsulating the material, not only is the waterproofing restored but the dangerous microfibres associated with asbestos are trapped beneath the membrane. This minimises the health risk to anyone who goes in, or near, the building in future.
The first step was to clean the walls and the roof, both inside and out. This had to be done by professional, trained and qualified asbestos handlers and is probably the hardest part of the job. Years of neglect meant that this barn was overrun with roots and branches and the harsh Welsh weather had taken its toll on it. Not only did we have to remove the ivy, it had to be thoroughly cleaned to remove the moss and, once this was done, any splits and cracks that needed repairing had to be sealed with a polyurethane sealant or even patched up with other materials. Some of the GRP rooflights were replaced and the holes patched up with off-cuts of fibre cement. These were held in place with Hyperseal polyurethane sealant.
After prepping the barn for the work, we started by waterproofing the inside. The steelwork was treated with a rust inhibitor and the asbestos boards cleaned and dried. To consolidate the boards, as well as promote adhesion of the waterproofing membrane, a primer had to be used. We chose the Alchimica Aquasmart DUR primer because it acts as an effective DPM internally as well as being solvent free, making it much safer to work with in an enclosed space.
After the primer had cured we applied the waterproofing top coat. On a building like this, the easiest way to apply the waterproofing is to spray it. Hyperdesmo HAA is usually applied with a brush or roller but, when it is thinned with an appropriate amount of Xylene, it’s also possible to spray it on with the proper equipment.
The blockwork was coated with a polyurea, also spray applied. This is a great product as it reinforces the blocks making them much stronger and harder.
Outside, we put a screed on the external block work to give a smoother finish. After that the primer, and then the top coat, were applied much as the inside. As it’s outdoors we could have used a different primer but Aquasmart DUR works great so we kept with it. The top coat was sprayed on in 3 coats as before.
As you can see, the end result is a barn that has been saved from being condemned. Not only that, it was done quickly, safely and without the astronomical costs you would usually expect when dealing with an asbestos building. Normally you would replace the damaged sheets to restore the waterproofing but this isn’t ideal. Not only do you incur the cost of having to safely handle and dispose of the asbestos, the building will still have asbestos present. More than likely you’re going to have to deal with it at some point. By encapsulating the asbestos like this you’re getting multiple benefits.
- The building is made waterproof again without having to pay for specialist asbestos removal and replacing the damaged sheets
- You make it safer to be around as any harmful microfibres from the asbestos are contained within the membrane. The harmful effects of asbestos are very well documented so sealing the cracks and splits that release them is going to keep everyone who comes near it, or into it, safe.
- If you decide in future that you want to replace the sheets anyway, once they are encapsulated, they can be easily removed by anyone. You don’t need specially trained asbestos handlers.
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