Many houses built prior to 1990 have asbestos ceilings. They are often fairly easy to distinguish, as typically the asbestos ceilings have strips over the joints.
In some cases however there are no such strips and it is not possible to visually determine the difference between an asbestos ceiling and a plasterboard-type ceiling as the ceilings may have been painted over several times over the years.
But it is relatively easy for an experienced asbestos surveyor to establish if the ceiling is asbestos by taking a small sample and having it tested in a NATA accredited laboratory. This would always be done as part of a pre-purchase or pre-renovation building survey.
It is preferable not to have asbestos-based ceilings, however it is not necessarily a problem, and only really becomes a problem in the event of interference with the ceiling, eg drilling, sanding etc. Notwithstanding this, the perception of having an asbestos ceiling can give rise to a devaluing effect on the property. Thus plans should ultimately be made for eventually having the asbestos ceilings removed.
Significant health-and-safety concerns surround asbestos therefore the strict legislative requirements must be followed in order to ensure the safe handling and disposal of all asbestos-based materials.