Asbestos only one factor to consider

By Steve Tytler

Question: We are considering buying an old house, and we have discovered that it has asbestos siding that had been painted.

We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the health hazards of asbestos.

Is this siding dangerous? Should we not buy the house?

Answer: As to whether you should buy the house, I can’t answer that question based on the siding alone.

It depends on whether you are getting a good deal compared to the recent sales price of comparable homes in the area.

Some popular neighborhoods are experiencing increased home sales and multiple offers on highly desirable homes, while other neighborhoods are still in a slow buyer’s market where you can drive a hard bargain.

The mere presence of asbestos siding should not be a deal killer. Just make sure you are buying the house at a good price that takes into account the negative impact that the siding may have on buyers if and when you sell the home in the future.

Asbestos only becomes a problem when the asbestos fibers are released into the air, potentially causing severe lung damage.

Cement asbestos board was a common house siding material in the 1940s and 1950s. As long as the siding is not cracked or broken, the asbestos remains imbedded in the shingles, and you don’t have to worry about breathing in the fibers.

Some homeowners can’t stand the thought of having asbestos in their homes, but many building and health experts actually recommend that you not remove the asbestos materials from your home.

That’s because the potential health risks associated with removing asbestos-impregnated building materials are greater than the risks of living with them.

As long as the material is not disturbed, it is perfectly safe. A fresh coat of paint is a good way to seal in the asbestos and keep it in its place.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (call 206-689-4058) provides information on how to safely live with asbestos in your home.

You can get information from their website:

Someday, you may want to repair or replace the asbestos siding. That requires special safety precautions. If you hire a professional asbestos contractor, you will pay several dollars per square foot for the safe removal and proper disposal of the siding.

If you are careful, you can also do it yourself. There are minimal safety risks if you carefully follow the instructions in the asbestos removal information available from the Puget Sound Air Clean Air Agency.

You can download all the required government notification forms, a list of the necessary safety equipment and stores where it can be purchased, and the location of licensed asbestos disposal sites in the Puget Sound region.

To do the job yourself, you must wear a properly fitted respirator to keep the asbestos fibers out of your lungs, as well as safety goggles, gloves and disposable coveralls.

Each shingle must be removed very carefully and placed softly on the ground so that it does not break.

The shingles must be constantly wetted to prevent asbestos fibers from floating into the air. The debris must then be sealed in plastic and taken to a disposal site.

There is no licensed asbestos disposal facility in Snohomish County. The closest facility for Snohomish County residents is Rabanco Recycling in Seattle.

Similar health precautions must be taken when removing any other building material containing asbestos, such as “popcorn” ceilings, old sheet vinyl flooring and furnace duct insulation.

The greatest concentration of asbestos is found in old air ducts for heating systems, especially old hot water systems.

Again, 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 air-tight sealant you will not be bothered by any asbestos fibers in your air.

Contact Steve Tytler at