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.
Asking 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 fibres.” 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 is 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.”
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 $4,761,” they write, “with typical costs between $665 and $8,856. 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.
Did you buy or sell your home recently? Have you thought about siding your home? Have you bought or sold a home with asbestos siding? What was the experience like for you? And what advice would you give for someone wondering if they should buy a home with asbestos siding?