Asbestos. A dreaded word that strikes fear in the hearts of homeowners. But you may not even know what it is, what it looks like, or what to do about it if it’s discovered in your house.
You need information about this controversial material and how it can affect you. But not to worry — you can learn to identify asbestos siding.
This guide will explain more about the substance, how you can identify asbestos siding, and the next steps you should take if you discover it.
Table of Contents
- What Is Asbestos Siding?
- A History of Asbestos Siding
- What Does Old Asbestos Siding Look Like? How to Identify Asbestos Siding
- Is Asbestos Siding Dangerous?
- Should Asbestos Siding Be Removed?
- Worried About Your Asbestos Siding? Call Elite Home Exteriors NW For a Free Inspection and Siding Replacement Today
What Is Asbestos Siding?
Asbestos, a natural mineral found in rocks and soil, consists of flexible fibers that are resistant to heat, chemicals, and electricity.
For these reasons manufacturers have widely used asbestos for years to make:
- Construction materials
- Such as attic and wall insulation, vinyl floor tiles, shingles, siding, and blankets created to protect hot water pipes
- Specifically heat-resistant fabrics
- Automotive parts
- Like car brakes
We will focus here on asbestos siding, which was created when asbestos fibers were mixed with cement and applied to the exterior of homes as shingles.
A History of Asbestos Siding
Asbestos cement was first used on the exteriors of homes in the early 1900s when an Austrian engineer discovered how to form it into sheets, which allowed it to be manufactured as siding and shingles.
Soon it was recommended for use by the National Board of Fire Underwriters to replace wood as siding and roofing materials due to its outstanding fire-resistant properties.
This led to a boost in sales, and by the 1940s it had become extremely popular. Hundreds of thousands of homes in the United States were built using asbestos cement siding.
Not only was asbestos siding resistant to fire and heat, but it also:
- Resisted termite damage
- Stood up well to rot
- Was weatherproof
- Was extremely durable for many years
- Was easy to clean and maintain
- Was less porous than wood, making it easy to paint
Because of all these positive attributes, asbestos siding was then found pretty much everywhere.
But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, reports began to emerge that there were health hazards associated with asbestos.
The issue was that breathing in asbestos caused tiny fibers to get stuck in the lungs and irritate the tissues there.
This led to the diseases:
- Asbestosis — scarring in the lungs from breathing in asbestos fibers
- Pleural disease — a non-cancerous disease in which the membranes surrounding the lungs and chest cavity thicken or fluid builds up around the lungs
- Lung cancer — greatly increased when cigarette smoking and exposure to asbestos are combined
- Mesothelioma — a rare cancer of the membranes around the lungs and chest cavity, abdominal cavity, or other organs
Pretty scary stuff. So it was no surprise when the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of asbestos for the manufacture of building products in the 1970s.
What Form of Asbestos Was Used in House Siding?
Fibrous cement sheets are excellent for use in housing construction because they are more durable than drywall and easier to handle than concrete.
Today, these sheets contain the safe plant material cellulose and are known as Hardie Board, a superior siding material. But for decades after fibrous cement sheets were invented, they were made with asbestos.
House siding containing asbestos could be in the form of:
- Corrugated sheets — an easy and more affordable alternative to corrugated metal panels, these sheets were used in the siding of many types of buildings.
- Asbestos lumber — also called asbestos cement sheathing, it was used in siding materials such as false brick facing and shingles.
What Does Old Asbestos Siding Look Like? How to Identify Asbestos Siding
You may not be sure how to tell if you have asbestos siding, so here’s what to look for and how to identify it.
Since asbestos cement siding came in a variety of textures, profiles, shapes, and sizes, there’s no one style you can look for to know how to spot asbestos siding.
However, if you see a combination of any of the following characteristics, that points to the likelihood of the siding containing asbestos:
- It will most often have two or three nail holes at the bottom of each panel.
- It feels denser to the touch than modern fiber cement siding.
- The texture seems somewhat chalky.
- It is a 12-inch by 24-inch shingle or shake.
- It has a pressed wood grain pattern or a wavy pattern at the bottom
Also, newer, asbestos-free siding shingles usually have a manufacturing code stamped on the back. So if you don’t see a code, it could be asbestos.
Asbestos siding was prized for decades due to its high level of durability.
But because homebuilders stopped using it due to concerns of it creating health problems, any asbestos siding you find now is probably a minimum of close to 50 years old.
As it ages, there’s a danger of asbestos siding becoming very brittle, which causes it to break off easily. So if you suspect that the siding on your home is quite old and it seems to be breaking apart, it could very well contain asbestos.
Consider the Age of Your Home
The use of asbestos in homebuilding was discontinued in the late 1970s or early 1980s, but it is still present in many older homes. If your home was built before then and is up to 100 years old, it could be covered in asbestos siding.
If it still has the original siding which seems to be made of cement, the odds are high that it is asbestos.
However, not all manufacturers added this substance to their siding, so the fact that your house was built in the heyday of asbestos doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a potentially harmful material covering your home.
When in doubt, treat the materials covering your dwelling as if they do contain asbestos just to be safe.
But if you want to be sure whether or not your siding contains asbestos, the best way to do this is to have it tested.
You can contact us at Elite Home Exteriors NW, and we’ll be happy to do a free inspection of your home to identify asbestos siding. Plus we can give you an estimate of what it will cost to replace the siding if you decide to go that route.
Is Asbestos Siding Dangerous?
Asbestos is so common that everyone is exposed to it at some point. It’s in the water, air, and soil around us, but at such low levels that it isn’t likely to make us sick.
Even if the old siding on your house is highly concentrated with asbestos fibers, that doesn’t necessarily pose a danger to you. Asbestos is only dangerous when the fibers are disturbed.
So, for instance, if pieces of the siding are beginning to break off or chip, it’s a problem because the asbestos particles are now being circulated into the air where they can be inhaled.
However, if your asbestos siding is in good condition and showing no signs of wear or breakdown, it poses no health risk and is not harmful to you.
Of course, as your house continues to age, there is always the possibility that the siding can degrade over time. So you as a homeowner will have to weigh the prospects of future worry versus taking action now.
Cons of Having Asbestos Siding
Even if your asbestos siding isn’t putting you in immediate danger, it can still have a negative impact.
Some of the other issues involved with having a home covered in asbestos siding are:
- Many people consider it unattractive.
- It can drastically reduce the resale value of your home or make it downright impossible to sell due to the bad reputation of asbestos.
- If there are worn-down areas and you don’t want to replace the entirety of the siding, it can be difficult to find a good match since asbestos siding is no longer manufactured.
Should Asbestos Siding Be Removed?
As we said before, if your asbestos siding is in good shape, it may not be necessary to have that removed.
But if it is cracking, chipping, or breaking down in any way, you don’t want to risk the health of your family by leaving the siding as-is.
As an example, let’s take a quick look at Rachel’s asbestos siding situation:
Rachel had just inherited her grandmother’s house. She was thrilled to have a bigger space to accommodate her growing family.
But this house was built in the 1960s and had remained largely unchanged for decades.
Rachel thought it was likely that the house’s siding contained asbestos, but it had never been tested before. The property was inspected for her and confirmed that not only was asbestos present, but it was also chipping badly in certain areas.
Now, now not only are Rachel and her family happy and healthy in their asbestos-free home, but their house also has a completely updated look and the resale value has increased tremendously.
Worried About Your Asbestos Siding? Call Elite Home Exteriors NW For a Free Inspection and Siding Replacement Estimate Today
If you decide to have the asbestos siding removed from your home’s exterior, you should consult trained professionals rather than trying to do it yourself. The process of removing or covering over asbestos siding can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Since breaking open asbestos siding releases the fibers into the air and circulates them into the lungs of everyone in the area, any work with the material must be carefully done. Even if you’re into home improvement projects, it’s for the best that you skip this one.
We will perform a free inspection of your house and give you recommendations on the most beneficial course of action. If you decide to replace the siding, we will provide you with an estimate and help you get started on the path to a healthier and more beautiful home. Contact us today.