The Asbestos Shingle Siding Dilemma

The Asbestos Shingle Siding Dilemma

Asbestos Shingle Siding. This is the dilemma real estate investors face. Asbestos Shingle Siding is also called cement fiber siding or referred to by the trade name Transite. It was one of the most commonly installed siding materials during the mid to late 1950s and early 1960s. It was originally chosen for a couple of reasons including resistance to fire and hail damage, ease of maintenance and its relatively low price compared to wood siding.

In all probability any asbestos shingle siding you might run into was installed over fifty years ago. The shingles are constructed from a composite mixture of asbestos fibers and Portland cement. The cement gives the shingles rigidity and form. The emulsion is formed into various shapes and sizes under hydraulic pressure. Nail holes are pre drilled by the manufacturer to avoid cracking during installation. Each shingle has three pre­drilled holes. Special alloy nails and asphalt joint strips were then used during the installation of the cement fiber shingles. At this time any malleability which was originally inherent with the shingles has now totally dried out and dissipated.

Many rehabbers will install new siding over asbestos shingles to update the look of the home. Independent contractors recommend this as it avoids the need to be properly trained in asbestos mitigation as they did not remove any asbestos during the course of remodeling.

First a thin layer of insulation is installed. One such product was Celotex[i] a brand of board made of cane fiber which was used for insulation or as a vapor barrier. Another insulation choice is referred to as fanfold[ii] which is nailed over the existing asbestos shingles. The new vinyl siding will be nailed over the insulation. When the securing nails of the vinyl siding and insulation are installed, they are driven through the asbestos shingles. You can be assured that these new nails will not be driven through factory drilled holes. Secondly, what is the chance that they were made of the alloy specified by the manufacturer of the asbestos shingles? The over nailing will result in cracking and chipping of the underlying asbestos shingle siding. Large pieces of asbestos siding can crack off and create bulges under the new vinyl siding that are clearly visible.

In my experience in the Midwest, vinyl siding only has a reasonable life span of 15 to 20 years. If you originally chose to do a nail over, now consider a hail storm or other casualty loss 5 to 20 years down the road. For whatever reason it is now time to remove the vinyl siding. It will be necessary to remove the nails which hold it in place. Vinyl siding is installed using nails which are 1 5/8″ or 2″ in length, galvanized or aluminum, smooth or ring shank. Whichever nail was used it was selected with the intent that it not fall out or be easily removed. It will also be necessary to remove the nails holding the insulation panels. Conservatively speaking, there could be as many as 11 nails driven through each asbestos shingle. This number does not include those nails used during the original installation.

How can you remove the nails in the vinyl siding and not damage the underlying asbestos shingle siding? To remove nails a nail puller or hammer will be needed. These devises operate under the principles of a lever and fulcrum. Downward pressure is applied to the underlying surface in the attempt to extract the nail in the opposite direction. That very same downward pressure is what will shatter any underlying asbestos shingles.

This year in fifty percent of the municipalities will require any contractor who works on this surface to comply with all EPA guidelines or face massive fines and most probably bankruptcy. What will the percentage of communities doing this be when your next siding occasion occurs?

As you can see, at some point in time there will be no way to avoid proper removal and disposal of the asbestos shingles on all four sides of the dwelling. Can you pay a little more now to avoid a whole lot more later? Maybe!

Asbestos siding can be a very sticky EPA issue depending on where your property is located. The asbestos fibers are not considered friable (easily airborne) and outside of large metropolitan areas it does not normally represent an EPA problem.

In many communities the property owner can deal with it as they see fit subject to common sense and dumping restrictions. Just remember every municipality has its own rules and regulations when it comes to dealing with asbestos shingle siding.

Here are four examples of directions I have received.

  1. Any owner or their contractor can strip and dispose of asbestos siding, with no restrictions.
  1. Only an owner can strip and dispose of asbestos siding with no restrictions. However if the owner hires a contractor, then the contractor must be certified to do asbestos abate­ment.
  1. As long as the owner did not work on more than three homes on the same block at the same time no EPA guidelines need be observed.
  1. The Saint Louis County Department of Public Health regulates and monitors asbestos abatement in both the city and the county. This office operates with the authority of the EPA and oversees all abatement action. Per Mr. Shelly Saboth of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health any time more than ten (10) square feet or sixteen (16) lineal feet of material containing asbestos is disturbed a certified asbestos abatement company must be retained for the clean up. In St. Louis all abatement work must be completed BEFORE any other demolition can proceed. It must be inspected before and after abatement before permission to proceed with any other demolition can be granted.

Those examples were for property owners, NOT contractors. Contractors must comply with a different set of laws, regulations and possibly licensing.

Check with Local Authorities

As you can see by the four examples above this issue is still a mixed bag. I cannot stress this enough, before proceeding CHECK with the local authorities concerning your situation and get their response in writing if at all possible. Consider the long term consequences of not dealing with it now versus waiting for local ordinances to go against you and your pocket book.

Companies which are certified for such work are listed under Asbestos Abatement in the phone book.

My recommendation is to deal with it legally and deal with it now.

Check out the EPA website for more information.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not to be considered as legal or professional advice. This article can be reprinted only in its entirety and used by permission only with proper citation. It can be divided in to one or more news letter articles as long as printed in its entirety overall. Electronic publication cannot exceed 75 words and must link back to the original article in this blog.

All Rights Reserved © 2004 to present by George N Skidis, Jr., Illinois REIA and Missouri REIA

[i] For more information about Celotex and asbestos lawsuits visit


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