Asbestos Artex: Identifying If Your Retro Ceiling is Dangerous

Interior design trends come and go, and most of them can be hidden with a simple lick of paint, or removed and replaced. However, some trends such as textured Artex ceilings can be a bit more complex. Artex was huge from the 1950s, until as late as the 1990s, and created a textured, patterned look. Unfortunately, unlike innocuous design trends such as neon colours, Artex can be dangerous. Up until the mid-1980s, and later in some areas, it was made with asbestos, meaning that if you have this kind of ceiling, asbestos testing is essential before you try to remove it. If you have a home built before the 1990s with an Artex ceiling, here are some steps that you’ll need to take when modernising your home.

Is my Artex ceiling dangerous?

If you’ve moved into a house with an Artex ceiling, it’s important not to panic. Unless you’ve disturbed the ceiling, releasing asbestos fibres, you’re unlikely to have been exposed. However, if you do have asbestos in your home, then it’s important to get it removed by professionals as soon as possible, as it will become more of a risk over time, and could be a hazard when you carry out DIY work.

Why is asbestos so dangerous?

Asbestos is dangerous because exposure to even a small amount can cause illnesses such as mesothelioma, a type of cancer that covers the lining of the lungs, or other organs. It can take decades between exposure to asbestos and symptoms to develop, which can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

However, these can often be misdiagnosed or attributed to other illnesses, meaning the condition is diagnosed too late. For example, asbestosis, an inflammation of the lungs, is often diagnosed by doctors as asthma, meaning it can be a long time before the correct treatment is given.

The main problem with asbestos is that the fibres are tiny, so using a mask from the DIY store simply won’t protect you from exposure, and you may not realise you’ve been exposed until many years later.

How do I know if my Artex ceiling contains asbestos?

If your home was built between the 1950s and 1990s, and has textured Artex ceilings, then there’s certainly a risk of asbestos. Most homes built in the 21st century are unlikely to contain asbestos, as it’d fallen out of favour by then. However, it’s worth remembering that asbestos wasn’t banned in Australia until 2003, so any homes built up until this time have a small risk.

Artex was a way of making plain white ceilings look more ‘interesting’, with swirls and patterns adding a textured look. A water-based paint was applied using special rollers, finishing off the design. Asbestos was often added due to its insulating properties and fire resistance, and unfortunately, the dangers of the material were not known at the time.

Detecting asbestos

If you suspect there’s asbestos in your Artex ceiling, it’s important to get it checked before you do any sort of work, whether it’s drilling holes or sanding it down. Speak to the professionals to find out whether testing is necessary. If they feel you’re at risk, they’ll be able to come around and take a sample, then send it to a lab for testing. If there’s no trace of asbestos, then you can remove the Artex without needing to worry. Non-asbestos based Artex is usually scraped or sanded down, or just plastered over. Steaming it off is also another option, which can leave a nice clean finish.

Removal of asbestos

If the lab results come back positive for asbestos, then it’s important not to attempt a DIY removal. If you try to sand down an Artex ceiling that has asbestos, then you release the fibres, and this means you can easily inhale them.

The best thing to do is speak to asbestos removal experts. They’ll be able to give you a quote for removal, and also discuss options such as plastering over the ceiling.

How can asbestos be disturbed?

Asbestos can become dangerous whenever it’s disturbed, and this can be by:

  • Drilling into the ceiling – for example when you add a light fitting
  • Knocking or chipping the Artex – this could happen while moving furniture
  • When cracks or damage appear

That’s why, if asbestos is detected in your Artex ceiling, it’s important to talk about removal as soon as possible. While you can take certain precautionary measures, such as not drilling into your ceiling, over time it’s easy for damage to appear, and that’s when asbestos is at its most dangerous.

Cost of removal

If asbestos is found in Artex ceilings, home owners will no doubt be worrying about the cost of removal. It depends on the size of the area, where it’s being removed, and the kind of asbestos that has been used. Use a reputable firm, and find out all your options, whether it’s removing the Artex or finding a way to cover it over. Some areas are riskier than others, but getting expert advice is key before you make any decisions.

Can I remove Artex with asbestos myself?

Removing asbestos is never a DIY job. If your Artex ceiling is found to contain asbestos, then you absolutely should not try to remove it yourself, even if you’ve brought protective equipment from a DIY store. When you remove asbestos, you disturb it, and that puts you in danger, and it’s very hard to know whether you’ve breathed in fibres or not. Asbestos also needs to be properly bagged and disposed at a nominated disposal site, which is best left to licenced and fully trained professionals. You should never bury or burn asbestos.

If your home has an Artex ceiling and was built pre-2003, then it’s important to get it checked for asbestos before you carry out any work. The tests are simple, and ensure you and your family aren’t exposed to harmful fibres. Once tests are done, you have different options to deal with the problem, and can opt to have it removed from your home, giving you peace of mind.