What is Asbestos? Why is it Dangerous?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance. In the environment, it poses virtually no threat to humans. However, the problem with asbestos initially arose out of the full-scale mining, extraction, and use of the substance in the roofing industry which led to an increase of the amount of asbestos in the air. Asbestos fibers are microscopic, so when they are exposed they can become airborne and inhaled. Once inhaled, they can lodge in the outer tissue of the lungs and abdomen, which over time leads to inflammation, scarring and the eventual formation of fatal diseases such as lung cancer. This is why many homeowners have begun to get asbestos roof removals done for their safety. Many homeowners today are seeking to get an asbestos roof removal once discovered.
How Can I Tell If It’s Asbestos?
The reliable way to know if your home contains asbestos is to hire an environmental consulting firm or asbestos building inspector for asbestos testing. They’ll take fingernail-sized samples and test them in a laboratory. You can’t see or smell asbestos, but exposure to loose fibers can cause lung diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer. The naturally occurring, flame-retardant mineral fibers are too small to identify without a microscope, so don’t believe anyone who claims you have asbestos but hasn’t done testing.
Is An Asbestos Roof Dangerous?
One of the widest uses of asbestos in the building industry was in roofing. Due to its heat and fire-resistant properties, asbestos was added to many roofing products including roofing tiles. Cement tiles were not comprised solely of cement. Cement roofing tiles were largely made from cement, with the now-banned product added into the cement mixture. Depending on the manufacturer, the cement tiles would typically be made with between 10 to 15 percent asbestos.
In addition to its heat and fire-resistant properties, asbestos has excellent strength and durability features. New homes built prior to the 1970s with asbestos roofs, were lauded for the longevity of their roof systems, as the roofs had a life expectancy of 30 to 50 years. Although asbestos serves as a formidable roofing material, it exposed people to a list of compromising health issues, which led to its eventual ban.
Do I Have to Remove My Asbestos Roof or Siding?
Many homes, especially the ones that were built at the turn of the twentieth century, have siding or roof shingles that contain asbestos. Asbestos has plenty of quality features, including its durability and fire-resistance. However, it also poses many significant health hazards. The inherent question that comes with this is whether it is necessary to remove your asbestos-containing roofing shingles or fiber cement siding to protect your family’s health?
We know that there are many homeowners who want a roofing company that does asbestos roof removal. A homeowner should be aware of the harmful effects that occur with asbestos when someone breathes in a tiny, sharp fiber, which irritates and inflames the lungs. If the asbestos is not airborne, it is not a danger. The asbestos in shingles, siding, and other home products is encapsulated, which is surrounded by a coating of something else that keeps it from becoming airborne. If your roof or siding shingles are in good condition, they are unlikely to pose a health hazard to you or your family. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends not disturbing asbestos if at all possible.
Unfortunately, while asbestos home products are durable and long-lasting, everything must be replaced eventually. In 1989 asbestos was banned, leading to the asbestos roofs and sidings to fall into disrepair. Many asbestos roofs and sidings are damaged, cracked, or broken. Asbestos siding in particular, however, has a tendency to chip, crack, and break with normal wear-and-tear of family life. This can release the fibers into the air, which poses a threat to your family’s and neighbors’ health.
How Can You Tell If Old Siding Has Asbestos?
Many manufacturers made their products to look like asbestos-free products, so it is not really possible to determine if your siding contains asbestos just by looks. You can easily send a sample to a lab if you suspect that it may contain asbestos. Or you can hire a specialist to take a look at the siding so that they can determine if you have an asbestos siding.
Can I Install New Siding Over Old Asbestos?
Some people try to attempt to solve the problem of deteriorating asbestos siding by installing vinyl siding over on top of it. This practice is not recommended for a number of reasons. First, the siding installation process itself, nailing into existing boards or tiles, is enough to disturb the existing material and create a dangerous condition. Second, installing vinyl siding over any existing materials, particularly those in poor condition, can lead to additional problems in your home and can hide the development of those problems until they become extremely large and costly to repair. Therefore, hiring a specialist or roofing contractor who has the right education for asbestos would help in asbestos roof removal.
Can You Pressure Wash Asbestos Siding?
Painting asbestos siding is not difficult at all, as one of its benefits is that paint easily adheres to it and it is very durable and can last for decades without chipping or cracking. However, when cleaning the siding before painting, the important thing to note is that you should avoid power washing asbestos siding as it can chip or damage the siding and release the dangerous asbestos fibers into the air. If you do pressure wash, use a gentle touch if possible and stop immediately if you find that you’re knocking pieces of siding off. This means that you’ll have to take some extra time cleaning and prepping the siding before painting and rely on a garden hose and sponges instead. If you manage to chip damage your siding and worry it may be made with asbestos, make an appointment to have the material tested to confirm.
Do You Have to Disclose Asbestos When Selling a House?
For starters, it is not illegal to sell a house with asbestos. Obviously, buyers would much rather buy a home with no asbestos concerns. However, outside of a thorough inspection, there is no way to tell if a home contains this potentially toxic material. If you know your house has asbestos, you might disclose the information to buyers. Again, it’s not illegal to sell a home with asbestos, but you can be liable for not disclosing the information to the buyer if you knew it was present beforehand.
Cement Asbestos Roofing
When asbestos came into the picture many manufacturers experimented with it. In the 1880s manufacturers used asbestos fibers in mixtures that resulted in building products like insulation for steam pipes and boilers. It was eventually being mixed in Portland cement and the paste was used as a roof repair compound. In 1907, process equipment was invented that produced rigid sheets from the cement-asbestos mixture. These sheets could be pigmented and cut into manageable shapes and were able to have textured patterns pressed into the surface. The result was very durable siding and roofing shingles that imitate traditional, natural products, both less expensive and lighter than slate. They don’t rot or warp like wood and are extremely fire resistant. It’s not at all surprising that the popularity of these asbestos sheets skyrocketed throughout two-thirds of the twentieth century.
The manufacturers of individual asphalt shingles, which were less expensive and more flexible than cement asbestos, were major competitors for market share in the roofing material industry by the 1920s. In the late 1930s, asphalt strip shingles, coated with granules in a wide variety of colors, were the most popular roof covering.
Asbestos-containing products, like the cement mixture, posed very little health risk if the material is kept in good condition and not disturbed. Severely worn or damaged asbestos roofs and walls, or improper repairs, alterations, or removals can allow the release of the fibers and risk the health of the occupants and neighbors. The EPA provides detailed information about managing asbestos-containing products on its web site.
Cement asbestos roof shingles typically have a much shorter life than the siding panels. If a replacement is needed, removal can be a significant expense. If the shingles are severely weathered, to a point that the material can be crushed by hand, professional abatement is needed. Precautions should still be taken even if they’re intact. The fasteners securing them should be kept wet and lowered to the ground instead of being tossed down. Individual states and municipalities may also have additional requirements for the removal and specific requirements for disposal.
Like tile and slate roofs, occasionally there may be some cracked, broken, or missing tiles or slates, or flashing repairs that may be needed. Maintaining an asbestos tile roof can be difficult. Finding contractors willing to work with the material associated with the A word can be a challenge. It can also be a challenge to find contractors that are mindful of the brittle nature of these tiles. Some roofing contractors, experienced with slate and tile roof repairs are willing to repair and restore asbestos tile roofs. The tools, equipment, and techniques they use for their regular repairs are well-suited for working with the brittle shingles. There are also a few good sources of salvaged replacement shingles that with luck can be a close match to the existing roof.
Hopefully, the remaining cement asbestos roof tiles are in good to repairable condition and will be properly maintained for the maximum potential life. Those that are beyond safe repair will need to be properly and professionally removed, and will likely be replaced with a roof that looks like most other roofs, and will likely only last one-third as long.
If you or someone you know is concerned about the effects that asbestos can have on their health, please visit the EPA website for more information on handling asbestos the proper way.