BISF House Asbestos Dangers?

The word BISF is synonymous with post war prefabricated buildings. This same word is often followed sooner or later by the words Asbestos but what do you really know about Asbestos in your own BISF home?

Asbestos strikes fear into most  minds. Indeed 4000 people lose their lives every year from serious asbestos related diseases caused by inhaling asbestos fibres.

There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (which is always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal).

Asbestos fibres are naturally present in the environment, so people are potentially exposed to low levels of fibres every day of their lives. However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels can increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease which won’t affect you immediately but may later in life. You should protect yourself now to prevent you contracting an asbestos-related disease in the future. It is also important to remember that people who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.

Many different forms of asbestos can be found in almost any home no matter what the construction type.

BISF houses stand out more because of the Corrugated Asbestos Roofing Sheets that were used in their construction which are clearly visible from the street.

Other forms of asbestos can be found in: Asbestos cement products. Textured Paint Coatings similar to Artex. Floor tiles, textiles and composites. Sprayed coatings on ceilings, walls and beams, Asbestos insulating board, Lagging, Loose asbestos in ceiling or floor cavity, Fibre Board Panels, Toilet cisterns and even Ironing Boards.

While the most dangerous forms of asbestos brown ( amosite) and blue ( crocidolite)  were banned from use by the 1985 UK Asbestos (Prohibition) Regulations, followed by the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations in 1987 giving tighter controls to prevent exposure to asbestos in the workplace, it was not until 1992 that white (chrysotile) asbestos was banned too.

Considered less hazardous, chrysotile continued to be used with building items like asbestos insulating board, textured surface coatings, boiler pipe lagging, sprayed loft insulation, cement roofing and side panels. It wasn’t until 1998 that a ban on AIB was introduced and all white asbestos use, prohibited by an European Commission ruling the following year, came into force, January 2005.

White asbestos is considered low risk if it is discovered and immediately and managed by professional encapsulation or entirely removed and properly disposed of by authorised and approved a contractors. However, identifying and distinguishing asbestos from modern and identical looking materials can be difficult and any worn, damaged or discoloured wall board, surface coating, tile or infill packing which appears to be in a friable (fragile, disintegrating) condition should be considered suspect and not handled until professionally analysed.

The DETR give the guiding principles for the management of asbestos materials as:

  • Asbestos materials, which are sound, undamaged and not releasing fibres should not be disturbed. Their condition should be monitored on a regular basis.
  • Where possible damaged materials should be repaired and then protected as necessary, provided that the repair or sealing will be durable and not likely to be disturbed.
  • Removal should only be performed where repair is not possible or the material is likely to be disturbed.

Asbestos Cement

Asbestos Cement is primarily a cement-based product where about 10% to 15% w/w asbestos fibres are added to reinforce the cement. Asbestos cement is weatherproof in that although it will absorb moisture, the water does not pass through the product. It was used for corrugated sheets as found in a BISF house, slates, moulded fittings, soffits and undercloak, water cisterns, rainwater gutters, down pipes, pressure pipes, underground drainage and sewer pipes, sills, copings, chalkboards, fascias, infill panels, etc. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between an asbestos cement product and a low-density insulation board. Where the product has been used as a roofing or cladding product, open to the weather, you can be confident that the product is asbestos cement. Manufacture of all low density products was stopped in the late 70’s and since they were not weather resistant, if they had been fixed outside they would have broken down long before now. If the product is moulded it will be asbestos cement as low-density products were not moulded, except as half rounds for pipe lagging.

Asbestos cement usually contained white asbestos (chrysotile) but older types may contain blue (crocidolite) or brown (amosite).

When cementitious products like asbestos cement were manufactured, they had a cement-rich surface. The asbestos fibres were encapsulated within. Thus, occupants of buildings with asbestos cement sheet or slate roofs are unlikely to be at any greater risk than people outside in the fresh air. The small quantities of fibres released during natural weathering are unlikely to be dangerous but significant and possibly dangerous amounts of fibre can be released if the products are subject to any abrasive cleaning or working. Thus, roofing operatives are more at risk from fibre exposure than any residents inside a building. It is important that building owners keep a note of any asbestos containing products in his building and advises any contractors of their location, so that they can take the necessary precautions.

Safety First

If your BISF roof is made with Asbestos Cement, a licence is not needed to remove it.  However, in compliance with HSE, All Roofing and Building is highly experienced in handling the product and fully aware of the strict guidelines that must be followed to remove and dispose of the product correctly.  A licensed contractor is only needed to work on High Risk Asbestos such as pipe insulation or insulation panels NOT on Asbestos cement which is considered much less dangerous.

Waste Disposal

Asbestos waste is any waste, which contains more than 0.1% w/w asbestos. It is subject to the waste management controls set out in the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005 and the agricultural waste regulations, with most properties if more than 200kg of asbestos containing waste (500kg for agricultural asbestos waste) is removed from site then the site has to be registered as a hazardous waste producer with the Environment Agency. The waste must be consigned as soon as possible by a licensed haulier to a dump licensed to take asbestos. Your local authority should have a list of licensed haulier’s and waste dumps in you area.

The above is only a brief guide, it is not a complete guide to Health and Safety responsibilities when dealing with asbestos containing products, for more information contact your competent contractor, or local council.

BISF 3 Bedroom Iron & Steel Federation HousePossible Asbestos Location Chart

BISF House
BISF House

All textured coatings are to be presumed to contain asbestos unless a full up to date survey has been carried out, please contact your local council for further advice and instruction.


All elements listed are presumed to contain asbestos.

Additional Known BISF Asbestos Locations

This list is not exhaustive and is additional to the above table. It may be further added to as more information is received. The below items are strongly suspected as containing asbestos cement products however this cannot be verified until full testing is undertaken and should be viewed with that in mind.

Corrugated Asbestos Cement Roofing Sheets

Asbestos Soil Pipe Vent found in loft space above bathroom which vents out through roofing panels.

White Asbestos cement board sometimes found as a bath panel

White Asbestos Cement board found covering the ground floor exterior toilet inner walls.

A White Asbestos Cement board sometimes located near to the rear kitchen door of the property where a cooker is traditionally housed.

The above guidance is given with the best intentions but nothing in this advice shall create or be deemed to create any obligations, liability,whether expressed or implied. If you are unsure of the content of any material found in your BISF home it is your responsibility to treat it with caution and care until it can be identified by an expert.

Exposure to high levels of Asbestos over a period of time can cause a number of health problems including Asbestosis, Mesothelioma, Pleural thickening and Lung Cancer.

For further advice please visit the Health & Safety Executive Website

You may also download the PDF document


  1. According to a long-time resident of a nearby BISF house, originally there were no doors at the ends of the outhouse passageway and it was just a covered walkway. There is still the remains of a gate hinge and latch from that time and this accounts for the external type render and external type concrete floor on a level with the back terrace.

    The doors must have been added by the council some time before any of the houses were sold, as none of the BISF houses in Bath still have an open passageway.

  2. Hi Marc, it does seem a bit strange to go to the trouble of assembling a steel framed house only to build an outhouse of more or less traditional construction next to it.

    Most of the BISF houses in Bath are built on sloping sites, this one especially so. The back of the house is cut into the hillside while the front is raised up above the original ground level. At the back there is a concrete terrace about 1.5m wide and then a retaining wall about 1.5m high. At the front the house sits about 3m above the road with two retaining walls and a sloping garden in between. So the whole thing required a lot of earthworks and wall building before the houses could be built.

    Perhaps given the amount of site preparation, they decided to build the houses closer together with linked outhouses in order to fit more in. Also, having a raised concrete platform is essential at the back as it keeps the house up above any water that runs down off the hillside at the back (there tend to be small springs on many of the hillsides).

    Those horizontal lines on the concrete are definitely some sort of shuttering marks, but I’m not sure why they are so deep.

    I was actually looking for a similar concrete platform in the photo of the house under construction in Coventry and couldn’t work out where it was.

  3. Now I really didn’t expect to see that Ed!

    They do definitely appear wider than the timber ones in the Midlands. I’ve still got to go garden hopping to find a nice resident who will let me take a photo of an original.
    Considering the costs of building a BISF house were already higher than a brick property I’m pretty sure that those block structures would have added even more onto the cost.

    It looks like they are well made too.

    It’s very good to see that you have a nice well raised foundation pad there too Ed, it certainly helps to keep the lower stanchions protected and allows allows for run off.
    Yours have two horizontal grooves in them. Does that look to you like layered slabs or do you think the groove was caused by shuttering? (Building a wooden or metal framework into which the wet concrete was poured).

    Those I have worked on here all have shallow pads with smooth sides.

  4. Here’s a photo from the front of the house with my house on the right and the neighbours to the left in which you can see the two outhouses. The small square windows are for the WCs.

    I’ve just realised I used a wide angle lens which makes things look further away than they really are, which is probably why you thought the alleyway was longer than it is!

  5. Hi Ed
    From my observations of the Midlands houses some were either built with a full size garage in place of the outhouse but the garage still incorporated the toilet or a narrow wooden outhouse incorporating a toilet and one store room.

    There is also a side gate and pathway leading from the front to the back of the property that is not covered.

    Your outhouses appear to cover the entire with at the side of the building as the hallway in your photo was totally alien to me based on the buildings that I have worked on down here.

    The Northern built houses that you mention really do intrigue me. The differences that you have mentioned must surely relate to an alternate kitchen layout and I am searching for inside images to validate this.

    The terraced BISF houses offer another insight and I have located a few internal photographs. The layout is surprisingly similar to the standard A1 type house which appears the most prominent.

    One of the very first prototypes was built in Northolt and it was a BISF type B house.
    Searching through all the street indexes so far I have yet to come across another Type B property.

    In the image you will see that there are two windows located on the landing area.

    I still have some more digging to do before I have enough for a feature post on the different types.

    Re the picture you have posted of the outhouse roof, I’m surprised to see that the building doesn’t stretch along the full length of the house as yours appears to be very long.
    Is the neighbours shorter than yours?

    1. All the outhouses are identical, I took a photo of the neighbours as it’s easier to see from my house partly because their house is a bit higher up the hill. They are set back a little from the front of the house (it starts roughly half way between below the landing window and the bottom of the stairs) and the back or larger store room sticks out a little into the back garden beyond the back of the house itself. But the hallway itself is slightly shorter as beyond the kitchen door the solid roof to the hall ends and there is a little glazed (or plastic) roof and then the back door is flush with the back of the house .

      The concrete floor of that alleyway is continuous with the concrete terrace at the back of the house, so there is a step down into it from the kitchen. The floors of the two store rooms and WC are slightly higher but not as high as the main house. Because of that, the alleyway is more of an outdoor space than an indoor one even though it is covered and has a door at each end.

      Quite a few of the traditionally-built houses of a similar age in Bath have a similar arrangement (there are some scattered amongst the BISF houses and plenty elsewhere in the city), so perhaps it was a local thing. As the outhouse was not prefabricated, perhaps the Bath council architect had some freedom to design something himself.

      If you look at the top of Watery Lane there are three pairs of traditionally-built houses sandwiched between BISF houses but of a similar style to the BISFs and with a similar outhouse, though in this case it is flush with the front of the house and doesn’t stretch to the back:,+Bath&hl=en&ll=51.379295,-2.399869&spn=0.011451,0.033023&sll=53.800651,-4.064941&sspn=22.297654,67.631836&oq=freeview&hnear=Freeview+Rd,+Bath,+United+Kingdom&t=m&z=16&layer=c&cbll=51.379378,-2.399789&panoid=Ec-Hn79oHxDRz8lQqbCCIg&cbp=12,170.18 ,,0,11.17

      If the commonest type of BISF was A and the Northolt one was B, it sounds as though the Scottish one was C.

  6. Hi Marc, I’m glad you liked them!

    What I’ve noticed about the BISF houses in Bath is that their arrangement is a little different from the others I’ve looked at in the register you’ve made, even from those at Ashton Vale and Shirehampton in Bristol which aren’t far away. In other parts of the country they are ordinary semi-detached pairs, or (slightly weirdly [where’s the back door?]) terraces, but in Bath the outhouses are joined together.

    Because the outhouses are joined together, there is a covered alleyway from the front of the house to the back running through the outhouse so you can get to the back garden without going through the house (because you can’t go around the outside of the house). It is, like the rest of the house arrangement very convenient as you can put your muddy shoes etc in there after coming in from the garden and it’s also useful for storing the recycling from the kitchen! I believe one of the store rooms in there was originally used for storing coal.

    The roof is indeed a poured concrete slab, at least above the store rooms and toilet. In the alleyway the ceiling is of hardboard, and I suspect the concrete slab continued above, but I’m not sure how it is attached to the main house for support or if it is just cantilevered out. On the outside it is covered in roofing felt.

    The skylight is corrugated plastic, so I don’t think it’s original, but it may replace something similar. There is no evidence of a door frame further back, so I think it’s in the original position, though the original doors have probably rotted and been replaced. The inside doors in the outhouse are as you describe.

    Here’s a picture of the neighbours’ outhouse roof from my landing window, and you can see part of my outhouse below too.

  7. Great set of photos as always Ed :0)

    I don’t know how I missed this post but I have been rushed off my feet recently with one thing or another.

    You outhouse is completely different to the ones I have worked on. sadly I can’t take any photos because both have been converted now.

    Your ceiling appears to be constructed of sectional concrete. What is covering the outer side of this roof?

    The ones I am familiar with were timber with an asbestos roof. There was one long batten attached to the house. the sheets were nailed on one end onto the the batten and the other end nailed to the outer wooden wall of the outhouse with no extra support underneath. This of course caused the sheets to sag over time.
    The only thing that appears similar to me is the layout of the toilet.
    Not only that but you have a glazed rear door but in the Midlands the doors were often constructed from thick planks, rather like a wooden gate.

    Do you think the glass skylight is original?
    I think it’s located above what I presume is the back door. Plus I am surprised to see the application of render on the inner walls of the walkway. It looks alien to me :0)
    It just shows how many different variants were used in construction.

    I will try to obtain a photograph of a wooden outhouse commonly seen in the West Midlands area.



  8. Sorry for the late reply, but I’ve taken photos of the outhouse now.

    As you can see, the wall facing the wall of the main house in the alleyway is rendered in the same textured render, while the inside of the two store rooms are bare concrete blocks. The toilet’s walls have been plastered on the inside (perhaps later, especially as it has a wood cladded ceiling that doesn’t look original).

    The other thing I’ve found that was unexpected is that the outhouse roof appears to be concrete.

  9. I'll take a photo tomorrow and post it here. My outhouse is made of concrete blocks. It's rendered on the outside and the wall that faces the passageway, but the inside of the two storage rooms are not plastered at all, they are just bare concrete block. The toilet room though is plastered on the inside.

    I'm guessing that as the outhouse wasn't prefabricated like the structure of the main house, perhaps it was built of whatever was to hand locally. The party wall in the loft is also made of concrete blocks, and presumably behind the party wall in the house too, though tapping on it reveals that it is faced in board on a timber studwork.

  10. The asbestos sheeting wasn't on the outside Ed, it was in flat sheets on the inner walls of the outside toilet. It looked like painted hardboard at first in panels on the walls and ceiling.

    My ground floor extension or outbuilding had a timber frame which was boarded with wooden boards. All of them are the same around here. I have never seen one constructed with concrete blocks.

    Do you have a photo you could share? It would be very interesting to see.

    I will try to get a photo of a neighbours outhouse as mine has been replaced now with a brick laundry room.

    Cheers Keith.

  11. Mine appears to just have an ordinary render, but I’ll be careful if I ever make changes there. BTW, were all BISF houses built with a single storey extension built from concrete blocks? It isn’t structurally part of the house and it seems a little odd that it was built in a different way, also the other traditionally-built houses of a similar age around here have them too.

  12. You are right about the asbestos on the walls of the downstairs toilet.
    I started knocking my outhouse down last year to make way for a new garage. I was amazed to find asbestos fibre board on all three of the inner walls.

    Sadly I had smashed most of it out before I realised what it was.
    The rest of it I then removed after soaking it with water to avoid particles but by this time it was already broken into pieces.
    Anyway I bagged it all up and the council took it away in a special van for free.
    I thought it was going to be expensive, so check with your local council to see if they have an asbestos removal programme.