Many homes on the market today may still have asbestos siding, perhaps even a few homes you’re considering buying. However, you know asbestos isn’t great for one’s health, so you’re on the fence. Should you buy a house with asbestos siding?
A home with asbestos siding isn’t necessarily a ticking time bomb for your health. If the siding remains untouched, then the asbestos can’t hurt you. However, you’ll still want to replace the siding for peace of mind. Most home insurance companies will not cover asbestos siding removal.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about asbestos and its use in home siding. We’ll talk about the types of asbestos, the pros and cons of asbestos siding, how to determine if a home has asbestos siding, and your removal options.
What Is Asbestos?
First, let’s discuss what asbestos even is. After all, lots of people know the word but they don’t necessarily know what it means.
Asbestos is a silicate mineral with a fibrous texture. The fibrous crystals that comprise the mineral are technically known as fibrils.
Processes such as abrasion can cause these fibrils to disengage from the mineral and enter the atmosphere. This can be dangerous, as we’ll talk more about in a later section.
Due to the heat resistance, flexibility, and durability of asbestos, it’s unsurprising that it was used as a common construction material for decades in the 1900s.
Between 1940 and 1960, it was the most prevalent siding material. A home’s siding may be made of pure asbestos or reinforced with concrete. This was before anyone knew that asbestos could be a health risk.
There exist six different types of asbestos. Let’s examine them now.
A type of amphibole silicate mineral, actinolite usually comes from metamorphic rock. The fibers of actinolite are incredibly tiny. They’re so small that they can easily get to the alveoli in the lungs and cause damage there.
Another type of amphibole silicate mineral is tremolite. When sediments that contain a lot of quartz and dolomite metamorphosize, tremolite results.
In some instances, tremolite and actinolite can combine to make ferro-actinolite.
On its own, fibrous tremolite is a type of toxic material.
Yet a third type of amphibole mineral is anthophyllite, which is a magnesium ion inosilicate hydroxide. It’s not always fibrous and can be lamellar as well.
Anthophyllite comes from rocks containing high amounts of magnesium. The rocks must metamorphosize. When rimming relict olivine and orthopyroxenes, anthophyllite can also form.
Crocidolite is the fibrous form of riebeckite, a sodium-containing amphibole. Known also as blue asbestos, crocidolite is largely considered the most dangerous form of asbestos.
Grunerite is an amphibole mineral that comes from the grunerite-cummingtonite series. In its fibrous form, it’s known as amosite. Grunerite also develops as crystal aggregates and as columns.
The last form of asbestos is chrysotile, aka white asbestos.
A 2007 report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA reports that most asbestos in the United States, upwards of 95 percent, is chrysolite.
Chrysolite is a silicate mineral with a fibrous yet soft texture.
Should You Buy a House with Asbestos Siding?
Now that you understand more about asbestos and the types, what happens if you come across a house in your search that happens to have asbestos siding? It could happen!
After all, despite what you might think, it’s perfectly legal for someone to sell a home with asbestos siding.
The presence of asbestos will undoubtedly come up during a home inspection, but a seller can still proceed with the deal just as a buyer can purchase the house.
To help in your decision-making, let’s weigh the pros and cons of asbestos siding on a house.
Asbestos Siding Pros
Although you would think that asbestos siding couldn’t possibly have any upsides, we must stress again that it’s quite a durable, hardy construction material. Before the general public was aware of its health risks, asbestos was used in all sorts of applications.
- Nonporous: Asbestos siding isn’t porous. If you want to paint your siding so it’s your ideal color, asbestos is very paint-friendly. You’ll get an appealing finish that you wouldn’t be able to wait to show off.
- Cleans easily: The lack of maintenance of asbestos siding is certainly a huge advantage, especially for the busy homeowner.
- Looks like wood but lasts longer: Wood is an eco-friendly housing material, but it’s prone to insects and rotting. Asbestos siding can have a texture and look similar to wood but without the above disadvantages.
- Insect-resistant: From termites to other boring insects, when they get into wood, you know how expensive the repairs can be. Insects don’t want anything to do with asbestos so your siding stays free and clear.
- Moisture-resistant: You won’t have to worry about asbestos siding warping or rotting. It’s moisture-resistant so that when it gets wet, it’s not destroyed. Your siding will last longer than wood siding.
- Long lifespan: The average lifespan of asbestos siding is upwards of 80 years, so it’s a cost-effective choice.
- Fire-resistant: By far the biggest reason that most people chose to get their homes built with asbestos siding is that the material resists fire exceptionally well. Vinyl or wood is not nearly as fire-resistant as asbestos.
Asbestos Siding Cons
Even before the US government began cracking down on asbestos as its health risks were realized, asbestos proved that it maybe wasn’t the greatest siding material to ever exist.
Here are some noticeable flaws of asbestos siding.
- Cannot be modified: If you’re hoping to alter or refurbish asbestos siding in any other way than through painting it, it doesn’t hold up well to these kinds of modifications. You can’t even sand it.
- Can’t pressure-wash it: You’ll have to save the pressure washing for other parts of the home if yours has asbestos siding. Pressure washing will crack the siding. Now moisture can get in, negating the above moisture-resistant benefits.
- Brittle: It’s not only pressure washing you have to be wary of. Any type of impact can cause the rather brittle asbestos siding to crack.
- Not insurable: If your home was built with asbestos-containing materials, whether that’s the siding or elsewhere, most home insurance policies can’t help you if you decide to remove the asbestos.
The Health Risks of Asbestos
We saved what is by far the biggest disadvantage of asbestos siding for last, and that’s how dangerous it is for your health.
The fibrous material in asbestos siding can flake off and enter the air. Due to the size of most asbestos particles, it’s very easy for a person in the vicinity to breathe in that asbestos-containing air.
Once asbestos enters the body, a slew of diseases can eventually develop.
Your likelihood of being diagnosed with one or more of these diseases is dependent on the amount of asbestos in the air, how long the exposure occurs, how often the exposure occurs, if you use tobacco products, and if you have a breathing or lung condition.
Here are the diseases and health conditions that could befall you from prolonged asbestos exposure.
The asbestos-causing cancer known as mesothelioma occurs in either the abdomen or the lung lining. Other organs can be impacted as well.
The symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, and fatigue. Weight loss is a possible symptom, as are nausea, bloating, night sweats, lack of appetite, and rib pain.
The treatments for mesothelioma include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Without treatment, the prognosis of a mesothelioma patient is usually very poor.
Although mostly associated with cigarette smokers, lung cancer can affect those who have been exposed to asbestos as well.
Lung cancer can be one of two kinds, small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer. The symptoms of lung cancer will appear as cancer takes hold.
Those symptoms include weight loss, wheezing, chest pain, and coughing, including bloody coughing.
The less common symptoms are swollen lymph nodes, chest pressure, loss of appetite, fatigue, recurrent respiratory symptoms, shortness of breath, and pain in the rib and/or chest.
Immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and chemotherapy are commonly prescribed treatments for lung cancer. Surgical procedures such as video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, radiosurgery, wedge resection, and pulmonary lobectomy may also help.
A type of pleural disorder, pleural disease can include pneumothorax, hemothorax, pleural effusion, and pleurisy.
A pneumothorax occurs when the pleural space gets full of gas or air. A hemothorax is when blood accumulates in this area.
When fluid builds up, a pleural effusion occurs. A pleurisy leads to inflammation. Upon taking a breath, you’d feel very sharp pain.
Pleural tumors are yet another type of pleural disease and are just as dangerous if not more so.
The fourth disease that can result from asbestos exposure is asbestosis.
This chronic lung condition causes symptoms such as cracking sounds in your lungs when you breathe, a lack of appetite, weight loss, chest pain or tightness, dry cough, and shortness of breath.
The recommended treatments include pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen, and lung transplant surgery.
How Do You Know If a House Has Asbestos Siding?
By this point, you’ve decided whether you want a home with asbestos siding or not. Either way, you want to know what you’re in for before you sign on the dotted line and receive ownership of a home.
How can you be sure whether a home has asbestos siding or asbestos and cement siding? Here are some indicators.
The Siding Is Produced by Certain Manufacturers
A large number of home construction manufacturers used asbestos for siding because it was the chosen material of the day. Thus, if the following companies built your siding, it likely has asbestos:
- U.S. Gypsum
- James Hardie Industries
- Flinknote Company
- CertainTeed Corporation
- Atlas Asbestos Company
- Asbestone Corporation
- National Gypsum Company
- Keasby & Mattison Company
- Philip Carey Manufacturing Company
- Garlock, Inc.
- Durabla Manufacturing Company
- Asbestos Shingle Slate & Sheathing Co.
- Johns Manville
- GAF Corporation
You Don’t See a Manufacturing Code
You’d likely have to remove at least one shingle to ascertain this, but most newer shingles used for house siding will have a manufacturing code on the back. The code will be stamped so it can’t fade from weather or time.
If you don’t see a code, then your siding likely contains asbestos.
The Siding Is Efflorescent
An efflorescence refers to salt deposits that accumulate when water builds up on material like asbestos. The crystalline deposits look gray or white compared to the rest of the siding.
However, if you see an efflorescence on your siding, it doesn’t always mean it’s attributed to asbestos. Stucco, stone, concrete, and brick can develop efflorescences as well.
Two to Three Nails Hold Up Each Shingle
The way that your shingles are installed can tell you a lot about whether your home has asbestos siding. If each shingle is supported by two or three nail holes, especially around the bottom, this could mean the shingles are asbestos-containing.
The Shingles Are 12×24
When home construction teams built house siding with asbestos shingles, the shingle size was typically 12 inches by 24 inches.
Again, this isn’t a guarantee that your home’s shingles have asbestos, but the shingle size with the other signs does lean heavily towards that conclusion.
The Home Was Built Between the 1920s and 1980s
Finally, if the home was built anytime from 1920 through the early 1980s, then it could have asbestos. That’s especially likely if the home was built between the 1940s and the 1960s, when asbestos had its heyday.
Can You Remove Asbestos Siding from a Home?
The home you’re looking at is otherwise perfect, but the siding contains asbestos.
Even though the siding is outdoors and thus your risk of breathing in asbestos in the air is pretty low, you still feel wary.
You want your new home to be a safe haven for your family, and so you’ve decided to remove the asbestos.
This is not a DIY job. Removing asbestos-containing siding is widely regarded as very difficult.
As we touched on in the intro, undisturbed asbestos fibers usually don’t damage your health. Upon touching the siding to remove it, now you could end up breathing in asbestos.
You’d need a lot of materials too, including protective gear from head to toe, a HEPA-approved respirator, asbestos waste disposal bags, plastic sheeting, debris containers, a nail puller, and a pry bar.
Oh, and in many parts of the country, you usually must have a permit too before you can start prying off your home’s siding.
It’s just not worth doing on your own. For your own safety and peace of mind, hire a professional team.
How Much Does Asbestos Siding Removal Cost?
Okay, so you’ll go with the pros this time. How much money should you expect to spend on asbestos siding removal?
According to the Asbestos Institute, the average cost for removal is $1,000. On the lower end, you might spend $300 to $800 for the job, and on the higher end of the spectrum, $1,200 to $25,000.
The latter cost would only be for very heavy-duty asbestos siding removal. Most jobs are not nearly that costly!
Asbestos is a dangerous substance that is well-documented today as causing lung cancer and other diseases such as asbestosis, pleural diseases, and mesothelioma.
The building of home siding with asbestos has long since been discontinued, but older homes could contain the dangerous substance. If you leave the siding alone, then the asbestos fibers likely won’t cause any type of illness.
If you just can’t buy a house that contains asbestos siding, then you’re looking at an average cost of $1,000 for siding removal. You’ll also have to spend money to get new siding installed. At least you’ll know your home is safe!