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 30 to 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 photos above and 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. 

    See our blog post How accurate are the average life expectancy ratings of home components? Are they actually useful? to learn more about life expectancy ratings.

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

Why is my roof sheathing sagging between the trusses?

Are H-clips required by the building code for roof sheathing?

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 are the common problems with attic insulation?  

What's the average lifespan of a roof?

Why is it a mistake to replace a roof and not replace its flashings? 

Why is there no attic access hatch in the house?

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?

Is a ridge board/beam required for a roof framed with rafters?  

Does it cost more to roof a hip roof than a gable roof? 

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?

Should I buy a house with an old roof? 

What are those metal boxes on the roof?

What is roof flashing? 

What does "lack of tab adhesion" in an asphalt shingle roof mean?

Why do roof edges start leaking?

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? 

What's the difference between a roof inspection and a roofing estimate?

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 is an EPDM roof?

 I'm buying a '50s modern house with a "gravel" roof. Is the roof going to be a problem?

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? 

• What is a roof certification letter/report?

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


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