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Does home insurance cover asbestos removal?

Does home insurance cover asbestos removal?

Some aspiring home buyers have a preference for older homes, favouring the charming period style of construction over modern architecture. Buying an old home, however, comes with certain risks, one of which is the use of asbestos in building materials.

Although the Australian government completely banned the sale and use or reuse of asbestos-based building materials in 2003, it is possible that any home built prior to that may contain asbestos as a fireproofing or insulating material, particularly in ceilings and wall claddings. While you should certainly avoid exposing yourself to asbestos or asbestos dust, if the material is not damaged or open to the air, it may not pose any danger. You should, however, consider working out the spots where asbestos may have been used in your home if only to ensure nobody in your family comes into contact with it.

Why is asbestos removal not included in my home insurance policy?

Australian insurers usually don’t include asbestos removal in their policies for the simple reason that they may face a huge number of fairly high-value insurance claims. The use of asbestos in housing materials goes back a hundred years in Australia, and an estimated one-third of Australian homes contain some amount of asbestos. Not only could asbestos removal work in all these homes be a big expense it would also likely drive up home insurance costs as the insurers would struggle to settle all the claims. In the event you need to remove the asbestos-containing material, your home insurance policy will generally not cover the cost of necessary repairs or rebuilding.

If you buy a house that is likely to contain asbestos, consider discussing this fact with your insurer when buying a home insurance policy. You may be able to claim a settlement if the removal of asbestos is a necessary part of repairing your home after a disaster. For instance, hail damage can cause asbestos contained in roofing insulation to crumble easily and release fibres which pose health risks if breathed in. If your home insurance policy covers hail damage to your roof, you may be able to get the insurance provider to cover the cost of asbestos removal.

Am I at risk if I can’t pay for asbestos removal?

Buying an old home, particularly one that hasn’t been well maintained, can involve a number of complications. While asbestos may not be the most immediate threat, it’s important to consider getting a licensed expert to assess the amount of asbestos present in your home as this can help you fine-tune your insurance policy. It can also assist with guiding any renovation you may be planning.

It could also allow you to better understand what activities or incidents are likely to release asbestos fibres, and what you need to do if this happens. When you discuss your home insurance policy, you can ask the insurer about circumstances in which asbestos removal may be covered. Consider reading their Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to understand these circumstances more completely.

Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause lung damage, but the asbestos material needs to become friable, or easy to break down, in order to release fibres. Unfortunately, you may not see symptoms of asbestos exposure for a long time, which means pinpointing the cause isn’t easy either. Since you may not want to undertake asbestos removal unless absolutely necessary, taking precautions to ensure you don’t accidentally damage asbestos-containing materials is the safe bet. Again, even if your insurer does cover asbestos removal as part of the claim settlement for a covered incident, they may not cover any related health issues. 

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This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Georgia Brown before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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