Identify Asbestos

How to Tell the Difference

Between Asbestos and Fibre Cement


Very few people  know the difference between Asbestos and Fibre cement roofing. A quick rule of thumb is, if  the  building predates 1985, it is almost certainly asbestos. Everite phased out Asbestos roof sheets after 1985 and replaced them with Fibre Cement sheeting. This is not always the case as I am told that a small amount of asbestos was imported and used after 1985.


A quick test can be done by breaking off a small piece of the roof sheet and putting a lighter flame to it. If the fibres glow red, its asbestos. If the Fibres burn off, its Fibre cement.

When you start renovating your pre-2000s home, you may be trying to figure out how to tell the difference between asbestos and fibre cement. After all, if you can tell the difference between the two, you can be assured of your safety when you start hacking into building materials.

However, the unfortunate reality is that the only sure-fire way to know your building materials like fibre cement don’t have asbestos is by having them tested. Otherwise, you’re playing a dangerous guessing game.

However, if you’d like to find out more about the differences between asbestos and fibre cement, if any, along with some other helpful information, read on.

What is Asbestos Fibre Cement?

Asbestos fibre cement was a cladding material used in New Zealand and around the world for several years. Asbestos products were generally used up until around the 1980s, but it’s not uncommon to see them feature in homes built before the year 2000.

They went by brand names like Fibrolite, Durock, and Hardiplank and still exist in thousands of homes built today.

When left alone and kept in excellent condition, fibre cement with asbestos doesn’t pose much of a health risk. Typically, it only becomes unsafe when it’s broken, damaged, cracked, or cut, exposing fibres that can become airborne and cause various health problems.

What is Fibre Cement?

As many people know that fibre cement used in the construction of our homes once contained asbestos, the connection remains today. Whenever you hear people talking about fibre cement in older homes, you automatically assume they are talking about asbestos.

However, fibre cement building materials manufactured today don’t contain asbestos – and they haven’t done for decades. You can safely use this building material knowing it generally only contains cellulose fibre, cement, water, and sand. Some additives may also be used to achieve a particular look or feel.

Fibre cement remains popular in residential and commercial builds, especially for:

  • External cladding

  • Internal floor, ceiling, and wall lining

  • Wet area lining

  • Acoustic and fire floors and walls

  • Carports, verandas, and eaves

  • Bracing products

It may look similar to asbestos fibre cement products of the past, but asbestos is no longer a concern in new buildings.

How Do I Know If My Fibre Cement is Asbestos Or Not?

As previously mentioned, the only way to know for sure if any part of your property contains asbestos is by testing it. There is no substitute for a test, but you may be able to gain a general idea by looking out for a few of these things below.


If you are in the fortunate position of being able to see the rear side of any fibre cement building material without moving it, then look out for any brand names.

Some asbestos products were labelled, which means a simple Google search can provide some helpful information on the brand or material you’re working with. However, a lack of any labelling doesn’t mean the material won’t contain asbestos.


Some asbestos-containing materials (ACM) have slight texturing, similar to a golf ball. New fibre cement created without asbestos won’t always. However, once again, a lack of texturing doesn’t mean there isn’t any asbestos if the building material was manufactured pre-2000s.

Building Age

If your residential or commercial property was built before 2000 in South Africa, you can err on the side of caution and assume that at least some building materials will contain asbestos. Before undertaking renovations, consider enlisting the services of an asbestos removal company to perform tests and provide the answers you’ve been looking for.


When you compare building materials of a new structure to an old structure, it’s generally quite obvious which is new and which is old by the colour. The same can be said for fibre cement. If it looks old, it likely is. This can increase the chances that it’s asbestos.

Breaking Style

You should never purposely break ACM and release asbestos fibres into the air. However, the way ASM breaks can be much different from materials that don’t contain asbestos. Therefore, you may be able to compare how two different materials look.

Asbestos fibre sheets snap easily and cleanly, and fibres may not be present. When you snap fibre cement that doesn’t contain asbestos, it doesn’t tend to break cleanly. It may also break into layers, which is often not the case with asbestos.

The problem is, they are similar in most other ways. This can make It even harder to tell the difference between asbestos and fibre cement. They are both fire-resistant, thermally stable, and water-insoluble.

What Should I Do Now?

There’s simply no way to know with absolute accuracy if something does or doesn’t contain asbestos just by looking at it. Before you get renovations underway, take a moment to find the phone number of an asbestos removal company.

They can provide helpful advice, perform testing, and even remove asbestos materials if you receive a positive result.

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