Asbestos siding was essentially a cement siding product that asbestos fibers had been added to. This was done in order to add fireproofing and stability to cement siding, so that it wouldn’t crack or break as easily.
At the time, no one knew that asbestos fibers were carcinogenic if they became airborne and inhaled, so asbestos was commonly used in a variety of building materials.
Some of the materials beyond siding that might have been manufactured with asbestos included joint compound, drywall, pipe insulation, flooring tiles, and more.
Usage of Asbestos House Siding
The use of asbestos house siding in new construction was discontinued in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but it is still present in many older homes. Due to its durable nature (it never rots or decomposes and is impervious to termites and ants), it’s not uncommon to find asbestos siding that is more than 50 years old and in perfect condition.
The siding was manufactured in a variety of shapes and styles, including scalloped edges and often with ridges and grooves that run across each piece of siding that give it its distinctive look.
As with all issues involving asbestos in building materials in older homes, you’ll need to collect a sample and have it tested to definitively prove it contains asbestos. Not all manufacturers added asbestos to their siding so those 50 year old shingles on your home that you assume have asbestos in them in fact might turn out to be plain old cement siding.
Health Risks of Asbestos Siding
If a test confirms that your home siding contains asbestos, you’ll need to be familiar with the health risks. Asbestos is a natural mineral that has been mined and used in a variety of applications due to its durable, fire-resistant nature.
Health risks arise when asbestos fibers are disturbed, released into the air, and subsequently inhaled. If asbestos is inert, there’s absolutely no danger; you can touch, lick, or hold asbestos house siding with absolutely no risk of contracting mesothelioma, asbestosis, or other lung diseases and cancers linked to exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos lawsuits and class action suits have dominated the news in recent years and led many to believe that even being near asbestos is a certain health risk but the truth is that it takes prolonged exposure to airborne asbestos fibers to truly be at risk — something that very, very rarely happens with asbestos house siding.
Removal of Asbestos Siding
If you own a house with asbestos house siding or are considering buying one, do your research before making any decision as far as whether to remove or replace the asbestos siding, as there are pros and cons to both asbestos removal and to leaving it as is.
Many home owners choose to encapsulate the existing house siding without removing it, often installing vinyl siding over the top of it.
This is a proven method of safely containing siding that contains asbestos and is recommended by many licensed contractors and remediation specialists, so it’s not a case of simply covering up the problem and forgetting about it.
Remember that asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed and broken into fine particles (such as from sawing or shattering pieces of siding), so in many cases the safest course of action involves leaving the asbestos house siding undisturbed.