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Business Advice7 min

What to Do When You Uncover Asbestos

Most re-siding projects are on older homes, so it’s a good bet you’ve seen your share of asbestos siding if you operate in the business of siding renovations. Asbestos is a silicate mineral that was commonly added to cement board siding for durability and resistance to fire and weather during the 1920s to 1980s.

Asbestos never rots and doesn’t decompose, but asbestos is extremely brittle. Because of this, your experience with asbestos-sided houses may be working with those plagued by general weathering, hail damage, broken corners and cracked shingles.

While asbestos siding is considered one of the least harmful among all construction materials containing asbestos, it requires respect and due diligence. Disturbing materials that contain asbestos releases fibers into the air. Even though it’s outside, fibers can be unknowingly inhaled and trapped in the lungs or swallowed and embedded into the digestive track. Asbestos is a human carcinogen and can cause cancer, and the symptoms can take years following exposure.

Unfortunately, even seasoned construction professionals are taken by surprise to discover asbestos siding. In some areas, it was common to keep the original asbestos siding intact and clad the house in vinyl siding and insulation.

“You can find asbestos in almost every older structure,” advises James Hampel, retired civil engineer. “Some people use a date in the ‘70s after the home was built to assume they are safe. But even then, people would buy surplus materials, so you can’t always rely on that. If a home was built before the early 1990s, you should err on the side of caution.”

Hampel spent the last 30 years of a nearly 50-year career in the asbestos, lead paint and other environmental issues in the man-made construction sector. As an expert, he’s quick to advise contractors to take a sample to the laboratory before starting a job.  “Most contractors know asbestos siding immediately. However, for less than $10 - $15, you can get confirmation. It’s not expensive and it starts the project off on the right foot.”

After asbestos siding is confirmed, contractors consider the following:

  1. Occupants – people who live in the house and neighboring properties
  2. Worker protection
  3. Properly disposing of hazardous waste

“Worker protection laws require that contractors protect their workers,” said Hampel. “You’re not allowed to expose your workers to harm. Additionally, you must protect the occupants.  In the same manner, if the homeowner is aware of the presence of asbestos, they should notify the contractor.”

Asbestos siding removal must be completely handled by licensed abatement contractors. They come in and prep the site, isolating the occupied areas of the building from the work area. After the asbestos siding is removed, they clean up everything including the plastic, uniforms and waste and take it to a certified waste facility.

“Most general contractors don’t want to deal with it. They would prefer to use a licensed abatement contractor who does everything from start to finish,” said Hampel. “If you want to be certified, go online and you can find somebody in your state who does asbestos training. It’s an extra qualification on your contractor license.” If you’re interested in becoming a licensed abatement contractor, check your state’s licensing website for licensing information.

Finding and removing asbestos may rattle some homeowners, putting them on edge during the entire process. Most pros will find that communication and expectation-setting will help homeowners along during the remodeling process. For example, Brent Taylor (owner of exterior remodeling group OC Taylor) takes the time to walk homeowners through every step of the re-side project. He finds it’s a great way to strengthen the customer relationship and foster trust.

“The key to a successful install is preparation,” says Brent. To manage expectations, he takes homeowners through every step of the process. The first step to a successful install, according to Brent, is properly installed house wrap, with the starter strip added on the bottom. On top of the starter strip, LP® SmartSide® smooth-texture siding products are installed. Finally, the project is finished out with trim for a complete package.

Use these step-by-step instructions for LP SmartSide to assist in guiding your clients through the installation process.

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