Fibro sheeting is perhaps one of the commonest building products to come across when doing renovations to an older building. It was widely used from the 1950’s and is still being used today, albeit in non asbestos form thankfully.
Fibro sheeting gained popularity during the post World War II period because of its cheap and durable nature. As a result it became widely used for building of cheaper style houses.
The most likely form of fibro to come across is the flat sheet fibro, often used for outside cladding of houses, sheds and garages. This flat sheeting was simply nailed to the wooden framed structure thus making construction quick and cheap. No wonder is was (and still is) widely used.
It can sometimes be found inside houses such as backrooms, toilets and games rooms. It was especially popular for renovations and additions. Special wet area versions designed for bathrooms and laundries are quite common in older wooden framed houses also. See below.
Asbestos fibro. Widely used from sheds to bathrooms.
James Hardie & Co Fibrolite Products
The main manufacturer of fibro asbestos cement sheeting was James Hardie & Co who produced a whole range of products under the brand name of Fibrolite. The name Fibrolite, was used to describe virtually any of its asbestos cement products such as flat sheeting, corrugated sheeting, decorative profiles, mouldings and pipe. In the 1960’s Hardies gave some products more marketable names such as Hardiflex, Colorbord, Shadowline, Coverline, Tilux, Versilux, Super Six and Asbestolux.
The Fibrolite generation house. Later versions of the sheeting are called Hardiflex.
Top section shows Hardies Shadowline. A decorative asbestos fibro wall cladding.
Popular during the 1960′s and 1970′s.
Fibro and Hardiflex are quite often used under the eaves of brick houses. Beware of old brick houses when doing work to the eaves. These sheets may contain asbestos.
Hardies Tilux. Wet area asbestos fibro used for bathrooms and laundries.
Fibro sheeting was also produced by Wunderlich and under the names of Durabestos and Durawall.
Asbestos Fibro and Non Asbestos Fibro
Not all fibro contains asbestos. Modern fibro equivalents are asbestos free and are manufactured with cellulose fibres sourced from wood pulp. The use of asbestos was phased out in Australia for all fibro building products in the 1980′s.
Below is a guide to the dates when products ceased to be manufactured with asbestos fibre. Be aware that asbestos was slowly phased out (presumably to allow manufacturers to use up stocks of asbestos fibre they had) and some products manufactured around these dates may contain from 3–5 per cent asbestos.
- Hardiflex 1981
- Hardiplank 1981
- Villaboard 1981
- Versilux 1982
- Harditherm 1984
- Drain Pipe 1984
- Super Six 1985
- Highline 1985
- Shadowline 1985
- Coverline 1985
- Roofing Accessories 1985
- Pressure Pipe 1987
From: Management of asbestos in the non-occupational environment by Department of Health and Ageing.
Tips to Identify Asbestos Fibro
It is important to distinguish between fibro that contains asbestos and similar looking modern cellulose based equivalents. James Hardie & Co was a major manufacturer of asbestos fibro and continues to make fibre cement products based on much safer cellulose fibres.
Hardies manufactured flat fibro sheeting originally named Fibrolite which was available in various thicknesses and sheet sizes. During the early 1960′s Hardies began using the name Hardiflex for some of its flat asbestos sheeting. Asbestos versions of Hardiflex was manufactured up to 1981 and there after was replaced by the safer cellulose fibre versions. Note that the name Hardiflex was retained even though the product was now manufactured without asbestos …which may cause some confusion.
Any structure like a house or shed built in the 1950′s, 60′s and 70′s is a candidate for containing asbestos fibro. Try to find out the date when the house was built by consulting local authority records, the builder, past owners or even the neighbours. Also be aware of any renovations using asbestos fibro. For example, replacing old wooden weatherboards with asbestos fibro was a popular renovation technique, as was doing extentions in asbestos fibro.
Be cautious of buildings constucted in the early to mid 1980′s where asbestos was being phased and being replaced by cellulose fibre cement products. Consult the above table for a guide.
Buildings constructed post 1990 would most certainly be constructed from non asbestos materials.
Fasteners and joiners
External: A dead give away of asbestos fibro is the 40mmx6mm or 75mmx8mm battens used to cover the join between the sheets. Also note the special fibro nails that do not have a point. The idea behind these was to punch a hole through the sheet and reduce fracturing. See pic below.
The 40x6mm batten found on asbestos fibro. They often have a bad habit of breaking off as well.
Fibro nail without point. Used on asbestos fibro sheeting.
In addition, there may be various corner and angle sections which is a tell tale sign of old asbestos fibro. See pic below
Asbestos fibro corner
Outside corner section of asbestos fibro
Asbestos fibro angled covering.
Joiners: Aluminium joiners are dead give away that the material is asbestos fibro. Later forms of Hardiflex use plastic strip joiners between the sheets, however be cautious of those buildings in the early 1980′s that might have used asbestos fibro with plastic joiners.
Internal: You may find asbestos fibro inside the house as well. In general, the 40x6mm external battens are not used inside but are replaced with wooden battens or aluminium H section. Also bathroom/laundries may have Tilux, a wet area asbestos fibro with aluminium H section joiners.
The aluminium joiner between the sheets of asbestos Tilux
Internal walls. Fibro joins maybe covered with wooden battens
Plastic joiner as used on modern Hardiflex.
Later versions of asbestos fibro may have markings: “Contains Asbestos“. Alternatively, some non asbestos fibro/Hardiflex may have markings of: “Does Not Contain Asbestos”
Some markings are non descriptive such as N28B7 HARDIFLEX AB. Unfortunately James Hardie & Co has not released any information about these codes. If your lucky you might find a date of manufacture marking.
Close Up Inspection
Use a digital camera in macro mode to take a close up shot of the sheet edge. If your lucky you may be able to spot the clumps of asbestos fibres. Although asbestos fibres are microscopic quite often the strands of fibres are clumped together. Typically cellulose based cement products are a lot more uniform without visible fibres and may have a layered appearance.
Warning: Do not deliberately break edges of fibro as harmful asbestos fibres may be released.
Close up shot of asbestos fibro and modern Hardiflex(non asbestos)
Dimples: Older asbestos fibro often has a distinctive dimpled pattern on the back. Compare this to modern HardiFlex.
Notice the dimple pattern on the asbestos fibro when compared to modern non asbestos Hardiflex.
False brick cladding may have a backing sheet of asbestos fibro. Exercise caution.
Fibro asbestos sheets tend to be harder and more brittle than the equivalent non asbestos Hardiflex sheets due the age and hydration of the cement fibre matrix.
If all else fails and you want to be absolutely sure with what your dealing with, then the ultimate test is to take a sample for laboratory analysis. A list of laboratories can be found on the NATA(National Association Testing Authorities) website – www.nata.asn.au