Asbestos Shingles: Your Ultimate Guide

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Asbestos Shingles: Your Ultimate Guide

Asbestos Shingles: Your Ultimate Guide

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Arial Photo of a House with Old Asbestos

Are you worried that your house may have asbestos shingles? Well, you most likely do if you live in a house built in the 1930s. This isn’t the reason for panic, though. Asbestos only risks you and your family’s health if it’s airborne. You need to understand what you’re dealing with and the best course of action. 

That’s where we come in. We’ve got your ultimate guide to dealing with asbestos shingles. By the end of this article, you’ll know what asbestos shingles are, right down to how to dispose of them when you remove them. Let’s get started.


What Are Asbestos Shingles

Before understanding whether you’re at risk, you must understand what asbestos shingles are. In a nutshell, asbestos shingles are asbestos mixed in with concrete to create a durable roofing option for residential and commercial properties.

They looked like slate shingles and were used to increase durability and provide some insulation to homes. 

Close up Example of Asbestos Shingles Roof

History Of Asbestos Use

Using asbestos in construction started in 1893 when manufacturers combined asbestos with cement. This power couple was fireproof, corrosion-resistant, and could be used for various building materials. 

As a roofing material, this combo helped keep roofs fireproof – which was terrific since the biggest threat to homeowners at the time was that a single spark could set whole communities on fire. 

By 1911, asbestos shingles dominated the market, and by the 1920s, most homes in America had asbestos shingles for their roofs.

By the late 1920s, health officials connected asbestos production with illnesses like lung cancer and pulmonary disease. The medical industry found this particularly in American factory workers, who were suddenly stricken with chronic lung issues. The poor conditions of the factories themselves were primarily to blame. 

Over time they found that the illness wasn’t confined to those working in the factories but also those nearby. By the 1950s, a safer alternative in the form of asphalt shingles became the preferred roofing choice. 


Asbestos Bans And Regulations

After about 30 years of use, the public started understanding that asbestos was linked to many adverse health outcomes. Since asbestos shingles were used in many family homes, people began to worry about its effects on them and their children. 

In July 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule. This imposed a complete ban on manufacturing, importing, processing, and selling asbestos-containing products. 

Given the wide use of asbestos in the community, these rules were hit with some fierce critique, citing job losses and dire economic consequences. These regulations were then appealed in court, overturned and replaced with a partial ban. 

Asbestos was then only banned for the following products: 

  • flooring felt
  • rollboard
  • commercial paper
  • corrugated paper
  • speciality paper
  • new uses of asbestos.

Over the 1970s and 1980s, the government wrote several pieces of legislation to regulate the use of asbestos. Though asbestos wasn’t ever entirely banned, it is strictly regulated, making people question themselves before using it. 


Different Types Of Asbestos And Asbestos Shingle Roofs


Asbestos is made up of six naturally occurring silicate minerals

  1. Chrysotile.
  2. Amosite.
  3. Crocidolite.
  4. Tremolite.
  5. Anthophyllite.
  6. Actinolite.

They’re all composed of long and thin fibrous crystals that can be released into the atmosphere. 

Asbestos also falls into two categories: 

  • friable asbestos, meaning in powder form, or 
  • non-friable asbestos, which cannot be crumbled into powder form.

For example, the non-friable form is usually bonded into an asbestos cement sheet. 

In roofs, asbestos can be found in a myriad of forms, such as: 

  • roofing tar
  • asphalt liquids
  • felt and underlayment
  • cement
  • shingles
  • flashings and vents
  • flat sheets and corrugated asbestos roofing. 


Identifying Asbestos In Your Roof

Now that you know more about asbestos shingles, how do you know if it’s in your roof? Well, knowing when your home was built is the first place to start. If you’re living in a house built before 1990, there’s a high chance that your roof may have asbestos in it.

Identifying Asbestos Roof

Another way is to look for asbestos markings on the roofing material – if you’re not sure what these look like, try to see if you can contact the manufacturer. If you’re still not convinced, getting the help of an accredited professional will be the way to go. 


Should You Repair Or Replace Your Asbestos Roof 

Once you’ve identified that your roof has asbestos shingles, what next? Asbestos is usually harmless if left undisturbed. However, if it does get damaged over time, this is when you can have trouble. 


Repair Your Asbestos Roof

If you’re thinking about repairing it, unfortunately, this doesn’t work if the roof has suffered significant deterioration or damage. If your home was built before 1990, it is likely gaining some wear and tear. 

Ordinary maintenance like replacing the individual tiles may seem like an easy solution. However, this can create asbestos dust – which isn’t great for your lungs. 

Doing anything that may disturb the existing asbestos could lead to water infiltration, rot, mold, and structural damage to your home. Looking at the long term, replacing your roof is the best approach when dealing with asbestos shingles, as opposed to repairing it. 


Remove And Replace Your Asbestos Roof

Removing the asbestos shingles and replacing them with something new will disturb the material and create a hazardous environment. This isn’t something that you should do with the family over the weekend. 

You’ll also need a permit to remove asbestos-containing building materials. Many local and state councils restrict asbestos disposal (more on this later). 

Again, an accredited professional that’s well versed in asbestos removal will be able to quickly, legally, and safely remove your existing asbestos roofing and handle the disposal of this material. 

However, if you decide to replace the asbestos shingles, here are some tips to keep you and your family safe


  1. Keep others away from the area.
  2. Make sure you dispose of the clothing you were wearing before you enter your home.
  3. Wear a respirator with P100 cartridge filters. Regular dust masks will not be enough. 
  4. Keep the material wet as you are doing the removal. This helps the dust not stick to you. 
  5. Avoid breaking it up, which increases the chance of creating dust. Please keep it in big chunks as much as possible. 
  6. Don’t drop or throw the material around. Lower it carefully. 
  7. Place all the waste and contaminated items in a leak-tight bag, drum, or wrap in 6-mil polyethene sheeting. 
  8. Wash all your tools off. 
  9. Don’t expose any of your skin; if you do, thoroughly wash it before entering your home. 


Health Risks Associated With Working With Asbestos Roofing

If you decide to remove the asbestos in your roofs, you must take extra precautions to ensure it’s done safely. This includes ensuring that the dust and debris aren’t caught on your clothing and then transferred when you go home to your family. 

Dust can cling to clothing, shoes, your hair, you name it. So make sure that you’re being safe. 

Asbestos though it looks like a powder, is made of tiny sharp fibers. When a person breathes, they can get embedded in their lungs. The lungs can’t expel these fibers, and it then becomes an irritation and causes inflammation. Over time, this builds into scar tissue, and the person has trouble breathing – which is fatal. 

Considering all these health risks and the fact that you need to navigate your local regulations around removal and disposal, professional help is the way to go. 


Getting Professional Help

When looking for someone to help you remove the asbestos shingles in your roof, make sure they have the correct license. Check your local asbestos removal specialists, as you’ll be able to rely on them to carry out fast and efficient removal work with minimal disruption to your daily life. 

Accredited professionals will be thoroughly trained and have the correct tools, safety equipment, and best-practice protocols to ensure that asbestos is safely removed from your home. Most of them will also be able to help you install new roofing material, so you do not have to deal with two different sets of contractors. 


Disposal Of Asbestos

Asbestos needs to be disposed of in a specific manner and can’t be thrown in your regular trash run. Usually, designated landfill sites treat asbestos as hazardous waste. 

To dispose of asbestos, it must be destroyed by ultra-high temperatures in a process called thermal decomposition. This is where 1000-1250 degrees celsius transforms it into a mixture of non-hazardous silicon-based wastes.

Some industrial manufacturing processes also transform it into porcelain stoneware tiles, porous single-fired wall tiles, and ceramic bricks. 

This is all work done by professionals, so ensure you get in touch with your local council to find the best way to dispose of your asbestos shingles


Useful Resources

To find out more about asbestos in your local area, the best thing to do is to reach out to your council or a specialist, as they’ll be able to talk you through what you need to do. Some other valuable resources include: 


Well, there you have it, your ultimate guide to asbestos shingles. Now that you’re equipped with the information necessary, the first step is determining if your roof does have asbestos. Next will be deciding whether you will replace it or hire a licensed professional. 

Whatever way you wish to go, asbestos shingles are usually harmless if left undisturbed. So if your shingles are in top shape, you may have time to decide what to do in the next few years. 


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