Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance. It was mined and mixed as fibres into other materials, such as cement, to take advantage of its superior insulation and fire retardant properties. From around 1930 to the 1980s, it was commonly used in roofing.
Unfortunately it became apparent that asbestos fibres are a severe health hazard. The microscopic fibres can become airborne as the material degrades or is disturbed, then be inhaled and cause serious damage in the lungs.
Asbestos roofs are common in garages, sheds and farm buildings built or refurbished during 1930-1990. A specialist can identify asbestos in your property.
There is no legal obligation at the moment to replace asbestos-containing materials. You should, however, be mindful of them when doing any structural work on the property as this can release the dangerous fibres.
Asbestos roofs last about 50-60 years for thin sheet varieties or 70-85 years for thick sheets. The ban came into effect in 1999, so bear that in mind when thinking about how long your roof has left.
Installing solar panels is the kind of activity that can disturb the roof material, so we advise against fitting them to the roof without any prior remedial work. There are two options we recommend:
Get specialists to remove the asbestos and replace it with a new corrugated steel roof. It’s expensive, but you won’t have to worry about asbestos any more and will have a long-lasting, well insulated roof to fit solar PV on.
Overclad the asbestos roof with steel. This is cheaper, but the asbestos will still be present in the property. Your roof will also be more insulated, however.
If you have an asbestos roof but it’s too expensive or difficult to make it suitable for solar, you could consider getting a ground mounted PV array. This will require sufficient land and planning permission, but will of course be an independent structure with no need to disturb the roof.
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