Advice and Opinion

Asbestos removal and gas heating increasingly necessary in South Africa's homes

When buying a home today, it is essential to beware of those that have asbestos roofs.

There is now conclusive evidence that asbestos roofs and partitions can deteriorate, especially if they have not been regularly painted. They then release microscopic fibres into the atmosphere which can cause damage to peoples’ lungs, especially if they already suffer from some sort of disease or malfunction. For this reason, says Bill Rawson, Chairman of the Rawson Property Group, it is highly likely that within five to ten years, buyers will simply refuse to buy any house with an asbestos roof.

“The remedy, of course, is to replace the roof with one made up of an environmentally safe material such as tiles, thatch or IVR sheeting. The fact that this will almost certainly be necessary might be used to negotiate a more favourable sales price.”

“While it is generally acknowledged that the phase out of asbestos is a good move and was long overdue, it also has to be accepted,” said Rawson, “that asbestos removal can only be done by a trained and qualified contractor whose labourers have been clothed in special protective suits which not only encloses the body but the entire face as well.”

These specialist teams, said Rawson, are absolutely necessary in this work, but the employment of them can add to the contractor’s bill.

“What seems likely to be a fairly simple removal task becomes a highly specialist exercise in which every fraction of the asbestos has to be extracted from the building, if necessary by the use of high pressure vacuum equipment.”

Rawson warned, too, that buyers today have to beware of homes with high energy costs, for example, those with extensive single external glazing which is subject to high temperature fluctuations. If such homes, he said, are heated by electricity, the cost of running them will almost have already trebled in the last decade and will increase exponentially in the future. The use of heat pumps and solar heaters will become inevitable and are, in fact, quite likely to become legally mandatory in the not too distant future. The cost of installing such equipment, he said, has to be taken into account in any offer to buy.

Also to be taken into account, said Rawson, is the swing towards domestic liquid petroleum gas (propane and butane) as an alternative to electricity for cooking and heating.

“In a typical small South African home,” said Rawson, “one gas heater, turned on only when the water is required, will provide all the hot water necessary for the home and this cuts 60 to 75% of the electricity costs.”

In a home where the electricity bill is usually R800 plus per month, said Rawson, the cost of the geyser will be around R380, thereby effecting a R420 saving per month.

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  • It sounds clear that asbestos roofs should be replaced. What about partitions and/or walls like the prefab houses in Vanderkloof and Oranjekrag? Isn’t it overall safer to keep these undisturbed? I’ve also heard a rumour that Banks don’t give loans for such houses anymore. Is there any truth to this?

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