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What Do Asbestos Shingles Look Like? 3 Ways You Can Recognize Them

Asbestos shingles

Asbestos shingles became a norm during the 20th century, replacing slate shingles since the latter was not resistant to weathering. Additionally, asbestos is fire-resistant. That’s another reason its use became common in roofing.

However, asbestos exposure can cause respiratory problems. It also increases your risk of lung diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. That’s why it’s important to know what asbestos shingles look like in case you come across them during a home renovation project.

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The 3 Ways to Identify Asbestos Shingles

Only a professional can tell you with total certainty if the shingles on your roof contain asbestos. But you can look for a few things to check if your roof might have asbestos in it.

1. Check the Date of Installation

When were the shingles installed? If they were installed before the 1980s, they likely have asbestos. That’s because the EPA banned the manufacturing or selling of products containing asbestos in 1989. So, if your home was built before the 1980s, there’s a chance that asbestos shingles were used.

2. Check the Type

What type of shingles is present in your roofing? For example, if you have asphalt roofing, it may contain asbestos. Similarly, some roofing felt, base flashing, and roofing adhesive may also have asbestos.

Asbestos-cement shingles were also common back in the day. These shingles are made of a cement mixture that contains asbestos fibers. If you’re unsure what type of shingling your roof has, you can take a sample to a local hardware store. They might help you identify the material.

Composite Shingles Roof
Image Credit: Natalia S Wilkinson, Shutterstock

3. Look for Labeling

Older products containing asbestos often had labels on them. These labels warned users of the dangers of asbestos exposure.

The label tells you the origin of a product. Plus, it mentioned what the product is made of. Here are some companies that made roofing materials with asbestos in them.

Companies That Made Roofing Materials With Asbestos
  • Barrett Roofing Company
  • Bird and Son
  • Fibreboard Corporation
  • Flintkote Company
  • Atlantic Asphalt & Asbestos Company
  • Rutland Fire Clay Company
  • Keasbey & Mattison Company

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What Was Asbestos Used For?

roof repair
Image Credit: Wolfgang Jargstorff, Shutterstock

Asbestos is commonly used in insulation, brake pads and shoes, fireproofing, and other construction materials. The mineral was once praised for its resistance to heat, electricity, and chemical damage.

Since it was so versatile, asbestos was used in thousands of products. Some of them include:

Products Asbestos Was Used In
  • Friction products, such as brakes and automobile clutches
  • Heat-resistant fabrics
  • Building materials, such as roof shingles, floor tiles, and ceilings
  • Paper products
  • Packaging

Today, the material is not accessible to the general public due to its harmful health effects. But it’s still used in industrial and commercial applications.

There are many regulations and preventive measures to minimize the risk of exposure. For example, workers must wear protective clothing and equipment when handling asbestos-containing materials.

installing roof shingles
Image By: brizmaker, Shutterstock

Are Asbestos Shingles Harmful?

If you have asbestos in your home’s siding or roofing, it does not pose a health hazard. However, if the roof is undergoing wear and tear, it may expose asbestos fibers, which can be harmful. Tiny asbestos fibers can enter the air and be inhaled, which can cause lung cancer.

If you think your home may have asbestos siding or roofing, have a professional take a look to confirm. If it is asbestos, they will be able to tell you what needs to be done to mitigate any health risks. For example, you can replace your asbestos shingles with new ones made of safer materials.

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Alternatives to Asbestos Roofing

If you’ve decided to replace your asbestos roofing, you’d want to choose a safe and durable material. Here are some options.


Fiberglass is one of the most popular roof materials because it’s inexpensive and easy to install. It is made from a combination of glass fibers and resin.

Plus, it’s available in a variety of colors. Fiberglass is also fire-resistant and lightweight, making it ideal for homes in areas prone to wildfires.

fiberglass roof
Image By: porjai kittawornrat, Shutterstock


Cellulose fibers are treated with fire retardants and other chemicals to make them durable and resistant to pests and rot. They’re also environmentally friendly since they are made from recycled paper products.


Hemp is now being used as an eco-friendly alternative to fiberglass. It’s made from the hemp plant stem and is combined with resin to create a mat.

Hemp is durable, mold-resistant, and pest-resistant. It’s also recyclable.

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How to Replace Asbestos Shingles

If your home has asbestos shingles, you may wonder how to replace them. There are a few different ways to replace asbestos shingles, and the best option will depend on your budget and your home’s condition.

If you have a limited budget, remove the asbestos shingles yourself. Just be warned that this is a dangerous task to perform because of the potential exposure to the asbestos. It is a time-consuming process, but it will save you money. However, you’ll need to rent a roll-off dumpster to dispose of the asbestos shingles. Plus, you’ll need to purchase new shingles to install.

Keep in mind that you must get a local permit to remove asbestos shingles. Once you have the permit, you need to follow these steps:

Follow These Steps to Remove Asbestos Shingles
  • Wear protective gear, including a respirator, gloves, and eye protection.
  • Remove the shingles by gently prying them off with a putty knife or another sharp tool.
  • Dispose of the asbestos shingles in the roll-off dumpster.
  • Install new shingles, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not dispose of the asbestos-containing shingles in a regular landfill. You should get in touch with a recycling plant in your area. They’ll handle the disposal process.
man installing asphalt shingles
Image By: brizmaker, Shutterstock

If your budget allows, you can hire a professional to remove the asbestos shingles. Again, it’s safer since you won’t be in contact with asbestos.

Professionals know how to dispose of asbestos shingles properly. They’ll likely use a tarp to cover your yard and prevent any asbestos fibers from getting into the surroundings.

Even when replacing the asbestos shingles yourself, you must close all windows and doors to your house. Plus, you should inform the neighborhood that you’re working with asbestos. They should also close their doors and windows to prevent any asbestos fibers from getting into their homes.

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What Happens if You Breathe in Asbestos Once?

If you breathe in asbestos just once, it will not kill you. A single exposure does not usually cause any noticeable health effects. However, the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases with each exposure.

For instance, if your asbestos-containing roof has been deteriorating over time, it’s likely the fibers enter your home through windows. Inhaling these fibers can cause asbestosis and mesothelioma, both incurable and often fatal diseases.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer affecting the lungs, heart, or abdomen lining. It can take 20–50 years to develop after asbestos exposure.

Meanwhile, asbestosis is a scarring condition of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. Besides these two serious diseases, asbestos exposure leads to pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer.

woman with asthma
Image By: Antonio Guillem, Shutterstock

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There’s no sure-shot way to know if your roof shingles have asbestos. However, you can check the year of installation and shingle type to take a guess. To be completely sure, hire a professional or send a sample of your shingles to a laboratory for testing.

If you’re dealing with asbestos in your home, taking the necessary precautions to avoid exposure is important. Wear gloves, a mask, and protective clothing when handling asbestos-containing materials. If you want to replace asbestos shingles, it’s best to leave this task to the professionals.

Featured Image Credit: NATALLIA-B, Shutterstock


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