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Asbestos-containing building siding identification: this document provides a photo guide and text for the identification of asbestos-containing wall siding products like asphalt shingles & asbestos-cement siding shingles.
This document assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection. In the website sections listed below, we provide photographs and descriptive text of asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing products to permit identification of definite, probable, or possible asbestos materials in buildings.
While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy may be needed to identify the specific type of asbestos fiber, or to identify the presence of asbestos in air or dust samples, many asbestos-containing building products not only are obvious and easy to recognize, but since there were not other look-alike products that were not asbestos, a visual identification of this material can be virtually a certainty in many cases.
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In this photo of a house in New York State we can see both original cement-asbestos wall shingles and newer fiber cement replacement wall shingles that do not contain asbestos. This is the "wavy edge" asbestos cement shingle siding product.
But only the installer (me in this case) an expert or a lab can tell the new fiber cement from the old asbestos fiber cement shingles - or you can with help of the inspection and repair tips we provide below.
Is it safe to buy a home with cement asbestos siding? Most cementious building materials are considered to be non-friable, and are probably less hazardous than other friable asbestos products such as asbestos pipe insulation. However removal of asbestos-containing roofing products is regulated as we discuss at ACRM Roofing Disposal Regs.
Asbestos cement wall shingles were in popular use in the U.S. from the 1920's (est) through the 1960's (est). A mixture of asbestos fibers and portland cement the material was durable and fire resistant.
The building shown at left, located in Hughsonville, NY, using the "thatch edged" shingle siding style is almost certainly sided with asbestos-cement shingles. From the 1940's to perhaps the early 1970's it was popular to cover peeling wood clapboard buildings with this durable material. We estimate that this building was probably re-sided in the 1960's.
Siding materials that use fibers and aggregate other than asbestos are properly called "fiber cement" building siding products. Some manufacturers use the term "fiber-reinforced cement" for these products.
All of these products use some sort of fiber along with cement. Before 1978 in the U.S. the common reinforcing fiber used was asbestos. Asbestos in granular or powder form may also have been mixed in with cement as a filler when these products were m anufactured.
It's tricky. But here are some ways to distinguish between asbestos containing shingles and non-asbestos fiber-cement shingles. At below left I point to an older asbestos cement siding shingle while to the right of my finger the next shingle is a modern asbestos-free fiber cement siding shingle. I know the difference because I installed the new material. Otherwise, without close inspection or a lab test it would be difficult to say which was which.
If an asbestos-cement sided home has been re-modeled such as by adding a window or door, it's likely that the old asbestos cement shingles were broken around that new opening during the construction work - expect to see newer fiber cement shingles there.
Our photograph at left illustrates that corrugated asbestos cement (or on newer buildings corrugated fiber cement) panels are also used as siding, not just as a roofing product.
This building was observed in New York City and based on its age, we suspect that the material shown is asbestos cement corrugated siding, not a newer fiber cement product.
Using cement asbestos roofing products as an example, according to NRCA, the National Roofing Contractors' Association, their studies up to February 1992 had not found a single roofing job at which these limits were exceeded, and NRCA reported that in some cases no fiber release was detected.
But it appears that the association may have been referring only to asphalt-based roofing materials, not jobs involving the demolition of other ACRM such as cement-asbestos roof shingles (or "asbestos roof tiles" as some consumers refer to them) which might produce different statistics.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: I have some cement-asbestos siding from 1972; it's cracked. Is it safe to remove?
I have siding from 1972. Some are cracked and I have replacements. Is it a risk to remove the old ones? - Joe 6/28/11
Cement asbestos siding from 1972 could release substantial asbestos fibers during demolition, especially depending on how it is removed. Breaking up into small pieces, running power tools, etc. make the problem worse.
Question: Should we be worried about buying a house with asbestos-cement siding? Can we cover it up?
we are looking at a house that has concrete asbestos siding on part of the house, should we be concerned about it, or can we cover them with vinyl without the removing the old ones. please reply - Jerry Massie 7/25/11
Jerry you'll want to avoid demolition, using power tools like saws, or something that creates a lot of dust. You can paint cement asbestos siding to bring the potential surface fiber release down close to zero, or you can side over it, taking care not to generate a lot of broken scraps in that process. Functionally you don't have to remove the old material, though for aesthetic reasons, adding layers of siding to a building can look funny at windows and doors unless you also build out the window and door trim - that's what I'd do.
Question: I have to drill holes through cement asbestos shingles
I’m an amateur remodeling the third floor of our 1890s house. To create roof ventilation, required by code, I may have to drill 2-inch vent holes through the exterior wall in between each pair of rafters. This would mean drilling through the top row of shingles, which look like cement asbestos shingles. Should I try to remove the top row of shingles instead? (It’s a long way up the ladder.) Or is it unrealistic for a do-it-yourselfer to deal with this problem? My budget is extremely tight. - Paul 7/28/11
Many thanks. I will start by drilling one hole to see how it goes. It may be difficult to control the dust because the 2-inch-round drill bit will have to go through the wood cladding (about 3/4 inches thick) first, and then through the shingle. I'll definitely follow your recommendations as best as I can. I am concerned, however, that the drilled-out hole and the dust will fall to the ground, 30 feet below. I will try to post some pictures in the next couple of days. Again, I appreciate the thoughtful advice very much.
Paul, try also hooking up a HEPA vacuum and use that to collect what dust you can from inside as you drill. Frankly I suspect that the escaped dust from the siding will be below the ability of most tests to detect after this project is over.
Question: Is there a tool for removing nails in cement asbestos shingle siding?
Is there a specific pry or cutting tool to grab and cut the nails On broken shingles you want to replace? - Catfishlynd 9/20/11
Reply: how to remove individual fiber cement or asbestos cement siding or roof shingles
Question: reader warns about amateur cement-asbestos shingle siding or roofing removal
To all those reading this comment feed, know that most of what these people are saying is incorrect. If you are a contractor know that 29 CFR 1926.1101 OSHA asbestos standards apply and you need to remove the material properly. A dust mask (N95) will not protect you or your employees. Contact an asbestos abatement company to remove the asbestos and DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE MATERIAL YOURSELF. Your just asking for mesothelioma (lung cancer) if you do. - Inspector 5/11/12
Reply: be careful, understand voluntary asbestos standards, be reasonable
Thanks Inspector. We agree that there are both health and legal hazards in removing asbestos-containing materials, even cementious ones. In our experience there are often local regulations or ordinances that describe the level of site and dust control required when demolishing cement-asbestos materials (roof shingles or siding usually) outdoors.
But it's also fair to point out that the standard you cite is "...a non-mandatory appendix to the asbestos standards for construction and for shipyards." Details about asbestos removal and handling regulations including the actual standards and recommendations are at OSHA Regulations, Asbestos Roofing, Siding
In our OPINION, even non-mandatory standards involving health and safety ought to be followed, though it is reasonable to guess that some adjustments may be needed for the variation in individual cases and environments. For example, we seriously doubt that a homeowner or even a small contractor is going to set up a tent, containment, negative air, air monitoring and testing, and expert trained supervision simply to pull two nails and replace one cracked asbestos-cement wall shingle with a new fiber-cement shingle that fits into the same space.
CFR 1926.1101 OSHA asbestos standards refers to the U.S. OSHA regulations and standards PART 1926 Safety and Health Regulations for Construction - retrieved 8/10/12, original source: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owasrch.search_form p_doc_type=STANDARDS&p_toc_level=1&p_keyvalue=1926
Within that OSHA standard, 1926 Subpart Z - Toxic and Hazardous Substances contains subsection 1926.1101 - Asbestos which in turn contains quite a few sections and a bit of advice. We quote from the introduction to the standard here
Question: Did or does China Glaze house siding / shingles (installed by Sears) Contain Asbestos?
Years ago I sided my house . Sears did the siding and and they called it China Glaze at that time. Would that have been an asbestos shingle?
I want to take my siding to the landfill. If it is asbestos I will have to prepare it for them to accept it . Is it your opinion that my siding is asbestos?
How can I tell if my siding is asbestos?
- Charles Beranek 8/10/2012
Reply: China Glaze siding was an asbestos cement siding shingle product trademarked by U.S. Gypsum
Certainly lots of old cement-based exterior shingle type siding products contained asbestos - cement asbestos products if properly named. "China Glaze siding" was popular in the 1950's - by era alone, as a cementious product it would at least be treated as PACM (presumed asbestos containing material).
From that citation, the trademark registration was owned by the United States Gypsum Company, and the trademark application number and date were 0775204 and 8/18/1964 respectively. The application description provided to the USPTO for CHINA-GLAZE was "ASBESTOS CEMENT SHINGLES AND SIDING". The trademark expired in 1984.
In our OPINION the term "china glaze siding" may well have been more widely used or applied to cementious-based or even cement-asbestos shingle siding than just products sold by U.S. Gypsum, as we find the phrase "my house was sided with China Glaze siding" appearing in quite a few more vague descriptions of homes dating from the 1950's into the 1970's.
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