How to Identify Asbestos Roofing Material

By Stan G. in Construction

Asbestos-containing roofing materials were a popular choice for the citizens of the U.S. before 1980. Thanks to its impressive durability and fire resistance, the mineral was widely used in a variety of roofing slates.

Now, when the possible health effects of asbestos exposure have been discovered, its presence in homes is no longer desired and concerns over whether it should be removed or not are being raised. However, the main problem is identifying asbestos-containing roofs, since roofing tiles were manufactured in a variety of shapes and colors, and each type had its own particularities. Here are some useful tips on how to recognize asbestos roof slates.

Always Consult the Product Label to Determine If It Contains Asbestos

Where a product containing asbestos may undergo processing or finishing it shall contain a visible label with safety instructions appropriate to the particular product. Labels provide clear, accurate, and adequate information about the product by answering two simple questions: Where does a product come from? & What is it made of?

Companies that manufactured asbestos roofing materials include:

  • G.W. Berkheimer Company, Inc.
  • Barrett Roofing Company
  • Bird and Son
  • Fibreboard Corporation
  • Flintkote Company
  • GAF/Ruberoid
  • Johns Manville Corporation
  • National Gypsum Company
  • Atlantic Asphalt & Asbestos Company
  • Rutland Fire Clay Company
  • Keasby & Mattison Company

Because some asbestos-containing roof cement, coatings and mastics are not labeled as asbestos-containing, information about the dates of the roofing installation may also be sufficient to rule in or out the possibility that your roofing contains asbestos. Find out more about how to recognize asbestos-containing products in your home.

Discover the age of the house

This is an essential step in the process of spotting asbestos materials within your home. Since asbestos cannot be accurately recognized visually, the age of your roof can be an important clue. The use of the toxic mineral was more intense between 1920 and 1980, so if your house was built during that period, it is likely to contain asbestos.

Learn about the existing types of asbestos-containing roofing materials

  • Mineral fiber: This type of roof can be quite easy to recognize, as it usually has a green coloration and a striated texture. It is made of a mix of cement and asbestos fibers and, as the majority of the materials which contain asbestos, it is only dangerous when damaged and in poor condition.
  • Asphalt tar paper: It was one of the most used types of asbestos-containing material for roof building, mainly as an underlayment. It is black and pretty difficult to remove.
  • Cement: Asbestos cement roof tiles are usually square-shaped and their color is a combination of grey and black. They can last for more than 40 years and if undamaged, they pose little risk of exposure.
  • Asphalt shingles: This type of roofing material can have various colors, from different shades of grey to red, green, and even blue. Asphalt shingles usually contain small amounts of asbestos.
  • Corrugated cement: Corrugated cement panels were used for a short period of time, as they break quite easily. Their width can range from 12 to 48 inches and are very simple to identify, since asbestos fibers can be seen on the grained sections of the material.
  • Slate: The asbestos fibers inside slates can only be released when they are broken and this roofing material does not necessarily require removal, although many people choose to do it. Their color ranges between grey, light green, peachy orange, and even purple.

Health & Safety Concerns Related to the Removal of Asbestos-Containing Roofs

Most of the times, asbestos roofing materials are not dangerous if not damaged and left undisturbed. The only way to know for sure whether your roof contains asbestos is to have a sample tested by professionals in a certified laboratory.

The result of the test will lead you to the next step. Accordingly, if the material contains less than 1% asbestos, it is safe and does not require removal. If, however, the content of asbestos is higher, you should balance this against the following factors in favor of having your asbestos roof removed:

  • The more weathered your roof gets, the more risk there is of deterioration, which might expose your family and neighbors to harmful asbestos fibers.
  • Selling a property that you know or suspect contains asbestos can be a challenge.
  • Homes with asbestos roofs are generally harder or more expensive to insure.
  • You will almost certainly want to undertake a roof replacement project at some point. Doing it sooner rather than later minimizes the possibility of complications.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.