How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

What is the life expectancy of an asbestos cement shingle roof?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The life expectancy of an asbestos cement shingle roof is 40 to 60 years, with an average of 50 years. It will last longer with luck and diligent maintenance, and we saw one roof a few years ago that was just beginning to fail at 60 years old. The roof shown in the photo above and the first one below is 37 years old. But there are also four factors that can shorten the life expectancy:

  1.  Insurance - Many insurance companies will not write a policy on a home with an asbestos cement roof. The roof may need to be replaced to get reasonably priced insurance.
  2.  Maintenance - Asbestos cement shingles are somewhat brittle. They are installed in a similar way as slate, and are easily cracked or fractured when walked on by someone not familiar with the material. Professional maintenance is usually done from a roof ladder hooked over the ridge to avoid damaging the shingles, making it more time-consuming and expensive.
  3. Marketability of the Home - When some homebuyers see the word “asbestos” in the disclosure sheet on a house, they walk.
  4. Safety - The asbestos fibers that cause mesothelioma and several other cancers are embedded in the cement of the shingle. They are not harmful unless the shingle is broken and the fibers become released into the air, at which time they become what is technically called “friable” and dangerous.
        Theoretically, you could just leave them alone and everything would be fine. But pieces of shingles crack off and fall to the ground at an increasing rate as the roof ages and the material becomes more brittle. The broken shingles can be replaced by scavenging intact shingles from a less visible part of the roof to replace them, but you still have to contend with bits and pieces of asbestos-containing material that are deteriorating on the ground around your home.

    Asbestos was a “wonder” material at the height of it’s popularity in the 1930s and, like kale in grocery stores today, seems to have been inserted into everything to make it better. The fibers really do have amazing qualities of heat resistance, rot resistance, chemical stability, and tensile strength. it’s just that asbestos can make you very sick, and it takes up to 20 years for the symptoms to appear after exposure.

    One potential solution to an aging asbestos cement roof is to leave it in place and apply an SPF (Spray Polyurethane Foam) roof over it, like in the example below that we recently inspected in Gainesville. 

    Here’s a bar graph that compares the life expectancy of an asbestos cement shingle roof to other types of roof coverings.

    Go to our blog post What is the average lifespan of the parts of a house? for rating of other house components. 

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •  

  To learn more about roofs and attics, see these other blog posts:

Why is my roof sheathing sagging between the trusses?

Why is granule loss a problem for an asphalt shingle roof? 

What are the mistakes to avoid when doing attic improvements?

What causes roof shingles to curl up at corners?  

What causes shingles to buckle along a line on the roof?

What causes leaks at a fake roof dormer? 

What causes a sagging roof ridge line?

What causes bubble-like blisters in a built-up and gravel roof?  

Why does it cost so much more to replace a steep roof than a low slope roof? 

What is "ponding" on a flat roof?

Is an attic required to have a light by the building code? 

How can I inspect my roof for hurricane damage?

Why is premature curl of roof shingles a problem?

How can I tell if a roof has more than one layer of shingles? 

What is the building code requirement for an attic access hatch, scuttle, or door? 

Does a roof with multiple layers of shingles last longer?

What can I do to prevent roof leaks?

Are roof trusses better than roof rafters (stick framing)? 

Why is a popped nail in a shingle roof a problem? How do I fix it?

What are the most common problems with wood roof trusses?

What causes a lump or dip in the roof? 

If my roof is not leaking, why does it need to be replaced?

How can I be sure my roofing contractor got a permit?

How many layers of roofing are allowed on a home? 

What are the dark lines running parallel to shingles on my roof?

Can metal roofing be used on a low slope/pitch roof? 

How can I make my roof last longer?  

What are the warning signs of a dangerous attic pull-down ladder?

How can I find out the age of a roof? 

Should I buy a house that needs a new roof?

Why do my dormer windows leak? 

Do home inspectors go on the roof? Do they get in the attic?

Should I put gutters on the house? 

How much of a roof truss can I cut out to make a storage platform in the attic? 

What's the difference between an "architectural" and a regular shingle roof? 

What does a home inspector look for when examining a roof? 

Do stains on the ceiling mean the roof is leaking?

How can I tell if the house needs a new roof?  

 Why does my homeowner's insurance want a roof inspection?

What are the hazards to avoid when going into an attic? 

     Visit our ROOF AND ATTIC page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

Water Heaters

Water Heater Age

"What Are The

Signs Of..."

Septic Tank Systems

Structure and Rooms

Plumbing Pipes

Termites, Wood Rot

& Pests



When It First

Became Code

"Should I Buy A..."

Park Model Homes


Shingle Roofs




Wind Mitigation

Roof and Attic

"Does A Home


Pool and Spa

"What Is The Difference Between..."




Concrete and

Concrete Block

Metal Roofs


Modular Homes

Rain Gutters

Mold, Lead & Other Contaminants


Older and

Historic Houses

Crawl Spaces

Mobile-Manufactured Homes

Building Permits

Life Expectancy

Clay Soil





Exterior Walls

& Structures


Common Problems

HUD-Code for

Mobile Homes

Garages and Carports

Flat (Low Slope) Roofs

Electrical Panels

Sprinkler Systems

Electrical Receptacle Outlets

4-Point Inspections

Hurricane Resistance

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Home Inspection

Heating and Air Conditioning

Building Codes

Fireplaces and Chimneys

Inspector Licensing

& Standards

Energy Efficiency

Washers and Dryers



Doors and Windows



Electrical Wiring

Click Below  

for Links

to Collections

of Blog Posts

by Subject

Plumbing Drains

and Traps


Smoke & CO Alarms

Aging in Place

Top 5 results given instantly.

Click on magnifying glass

for all search results.






Air Conditioner & Furnace Age/Size


Electrical Switches





Water Intrusion

Electrical - Old

and Obsolete


Foundation Certifications

Tiny Houses

About McGarry and Madsen



Buying a home in North/Central Florida? Check our price for a  team inspection by two FL-licensed contractors and inspectors. Over 8,500 inspections completed in 20+ years. In a hurry? We will get it done for you.

Moisture Problems

Crawl Spaces