Learning that a home’s siding contains asbestos can cause considerable alarm and worry for homeowners considering buying that home. But the worry, in this case, is probably misplaced; while asbestos has well-known health risks, asbestos siding is generally safe.
As the folks at Asbestos123.com report, “Learning that a home’s siding contains asbestos can lead many homeowners to a panicked fear that this siding must be removed immediately. If your siding is in good condition and intact, asbestos poses a relatively low health risk to your home and the environment.”
You should always ask your realtor and the seller if the home you’re considering purchasing contains asbestos siding, especially if it was built before 1980. However, if the home was constructed from the 1980s onward, then the chances that its siding contains asbestos diminishes greatly.
Ask yourself “Should I buy a house with asbestos siding“? Let’s examine this topic in some detail.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos refers to silicate material that is naturally occurring. It’s made of fibrous crystals that can be released into the air. There are six different types of asbestos fibers: chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite.
Because of its electrical insulation and thermal resistance, it’s been used as a building and insulation material for many years. Going back even further into history, however, reveals that asbestos materials were used in pottery from the Stone Ages.
Siding manufacturers used to mix asbestos fibers into their shingles. This was done in order to fireproof, insulate, reinforce, and strengthen the siding.
But asbestos is a dangerous substance; it is toxic and a carcinogen when it becomes airborne. Thousands of people die each year from diseases caused by or related to asbestos exposure.
Thus, many countries, including the United States, prohibit its use as a building material. According to the British Lung Foundation, “There are four main lung conditions associated with breathing in asbestos fibers.” They are:
- Non-malignant (not cancerous) pleural disease
- Asbestosis (nonmalignant scarring of the lungs)
- Asbestos-related lung cancer
Older homes likely contain asbestos siding (if they have siding), roofing, and insulation. How much should it worry you if asbestos is present? And should you buy a house if you find asbestos in the siding?
The short answer is that the presence of asbestos siding is most likely safe as a siding material. Therefore, it’s probably OK to buy a house with asbestos siding, and there may be no reason to remove the asbestos (asbestos abatement).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) weighs in.
“The only way to be sure whether a material contains asbestos is to have it tested by a qualified laboratory,” the EPA reports. “EPA only recommends testing suspect materials if they are damaged (fraying, crumbling) or if you are planning a renovation that would disturb the suspect material. Samples should be taken by a properly trained and accredited asbestos professional (inspector).”
As TodaysHomeowner.com reports, “Unless asbestos siding is disturbed, it doesn’t pose a significant health hazard and does not need to be removed. Both the EPA and the Vinyl Siding Institute recommend not disturbing asbestos if at all possible.”
However, you should also keep the following in mind (from HomeAdvisor.com):
“Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material. Many homes built before 1989 have asbestos siding. While safety and health should be a concern, full removal might not be necessary.
“Toxic particles will stay put and the exterior is safe to be around if it is uncut and intact,” they continue. “However, it’s highly advised that you encapsulate to make sure that no fibers break free.”
Should I buy a house with asbestos siding FAQs
Why Was Asbestos Used in Siding?
The durability, fire resistance, and insulation that asbestos offered made it a desirable material for use in siding. In comparison to the cost of other materials, it was also very affordable. From the 1920s to the 1970s, asbestos cement siding was a common siding material; however, it was eventually phased out owing to health concerns.
Is Asbestos Siding Dangerous?
When damaged or disturbed, asbestos siding may release harmful fibers into the air. Asbestos fibers that are dispersed into the air can be breathed, which can lead to a variety of adverse health effects. It is quite unlikely that the siding will present a health danger if it is in excellent shape and has not been damaged. On the other hand, if the siding is broken, it has the potential to emit asbestos fibers into the air, which is potentially harmful to your health.
What Should I Do If I Find Asbestos Siding in a House?
If you are thinking about purchasing a home that has asbestos siding, it is imperative that you have a qualified specialist evaluate the asbestos siding beforehand. A qualified asbestos inspector will be able to evaluate the condition of the siding and decide whether or not it poses a risk to human health.
It depends on the state of the siding; if it’s in good shape, you might be able to keep it where it is. However, if the siding is damaged, it will need to be removed by an asbestos abatement professional who is licensed in the state in which it was originally installed.
Can Asbestos Siding Be Removed Safely?
Yes, asbestos siding may be safely removed from a building by hiring a professional that is licensed to remove asbestos. In order to prevent asbestos fibers from becoming airborne, the contractor will adhere to stringent safety rules. This may entail applying water to the siding in order to stop the fibers from going airborne, as well as wearing protective gear in order to reduce the amount of exposure received.
What Are the Costs of Removing Asbestos Siding?
The cost of removing asbestos siding might change based on the size of the property as well as the amount of asbestos that has to be removed. Before acquiring a home with asbestos siding, it is critical to receive a price estimate for asbestos removal from a qualified professional contractor. There are several situations in which the cost of removing the siding can be negotiated with the person selling the property.
Removing and Replacing Asbestos Siding
HomeAdvisor also provides some stats on how much asbestos siding removal and/or repair may cost.
“The average cost to repair asbestos siding is $4,770,” they write, “with typical costs between $690 and $9,430. Some projects are as low as $300 while the highest prices can reach $22,500. Encapsulation, a popular form of repair, averages $2 to $6 per square foot.”
You may want to ask your real estate agent about having the owner remove and replace the asbestos siding as a condition of purchase. There are other options, you may consider, too — such as having the cost of removal and/or replacement deducted from the home’s sales price.
Another thing to consider: home insurance. Some insurance companies will not insure a home that features asbestos siding.
The choice to buy a house with asbestos siding is yours. As the Everett (Washington) Herald wrote in 2010, “You do not have to remove this material to have a safe living environment in your home. If you cover it with paint, tape, or some other type of airtight sealant, you should not be bothered by asbestos fibers in your air.”
One final word from The Spruce does a good job of summarizing the question of asbestos siding replacement.
“Removal of siding containing asbestos often is more hazardous than leaving it in place,” they write. “If left alone, asbestos-cement siding and other building products containing asbestos can be considered to be benign.”
It’s when asbestos is disturbed that the fibers are released. At that point, it doesn’t matter how long the asbestos siding has been in place — 20 years, 30 years, 50 years; the asbestos in your home’s siding is probably a health hazard at that point.
Purchasing a home that has asbestos siding may be a nerve-wracking experience; nevertheless, it is essential to keep in mind that the presence of asbestos does not always indicate that the home is hazardous to occupants’ health. It is quite unlikely that the siding will present a health danger if it is in excellent shape and has not been damaged.
However, if the siding is damaged, it will need to be removed by an asbestos abatement professional who is licensed in the state in which it was originally installed. Before buying a property with asbestos siding, it is essential to have the siding assessed by an expert in order to ascertain whether or not it is secure and to estimate how much it will cost to remove the siding if this becomes required.
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