Short Answer: Ordinarily, repainting asbestos-based shingles should not pose a significant risk. However, you may need to exercise increased caution to ensure your safety. 

The Dangers of Asbestos are Still With Us

Asbestos was once a cornerstone of American industry. Construction companies would often fortify building materials with the mineral, which is naturally heat-resistant. While the Environmental Protection Agency banned the sale, distribution, and purchase of most asbestos products in the late 1980s, many homes still contain asbestos-contaminated materials.  

If your house was built during or before the 1970s, you should presume that asbestos is present. Although asbestos is not necessarily dangerous, it could cause health conditions up to and including cancer if asbestos particles are inhaled. 

Repainting asbestos-based shingles may not pose a significant risk if done correctly. Nonetheless, anyone painting over asbestos shingles should exercise extreme caution to prevent asbestos exposure and ensure the safety of anyone within range of the roof.

Asbestos Shingles 

The History of Asbestos Roofs

For decades, asbestos was used in a variety of roofing materials, including but not limited to: 

First Use of Asbestos Shingles

American companies began manufacturing asbestos-based shingles in the 1920s. 

While asbestos is not found in modern shingles, any roofing materials fabricated or installed prior to the E.P.A.’s broad-ranging asbestos ban in 1987 could contain significant amounts of the mineral. 

Identifying Asbestos Shingles 

Most asbestos products cannot be identified without special training. 

However, there is a chance any roof shingles, underlayment, and siding manufactured before 1987 may be asbestos-contaminated. You could try to ascertain the presence of asbestos by considering: 

  • The age of your home. Homes and roofs built before 1987 at the highest risk for asbestos contamination. 
  • The type of shingle. Asbestos is most frequently found in asphalt- and cement-based shingles. Wooden, plaster, and slate shingles are usually asbestos-free. 
  • The location of the material. Older residential and office buildings could be asbestos-contaminated. However, asbestos roofing was most often used to protect low-cost constructions, such as sheds, barns, and housing projects. 

If you are not sure whether your home contains asbestos, you could consult your county health department or a private, licensed asbestos identification service. 

“The overall evidence suggests there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.”

Source: National Cancer Institute (NIH) 1

The Potential Dangers of Asbestos Shingles 

Today, most Americans know that asbestos can be hazardous. In fact, the National Cancer Institute has said that “there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.”

Asbestos can cause or contribute to a number of serious medical conditions, including but not limited to: 

  • Lung scarring
  • Lung inflammation
  • Asbestosis 
  • Mesothelioma of the lungs, heart, and abdomen 
  • Lung cancer 

Most people who are diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions were exposed to the mineral at work. 

Despite asbestos’s obvious dangers, asbestos minerals are generally not inherently dangerous unless breathed or ingested. 

When asbestos is inside shingles, behind walls, and underneath carpets, it often poses little risk. However, asbestos could be hazardous if it is friable, disintegrated, or otherwise damaged. Intensive roofing renovations could cause asbestos shingles to crumble, emitting microscopic, odorless, and undetectable asbestos into the air. If and when this asbestos is inhaled, it could accumulate inside the lungs, causing irreversible injuries.

Deciding Whether to Paint Asbestos Shingles or Siding 

Removing or destroying large quantities of asbestos shingles or siding could be dangerous. However, you do not need to take extraordinary precautions if you are only planning to paint or repaint asbestos-based shingles, provided that they are in reasonably good condition.

Weathered and Degraded Asbestos Shingles are the Most Dangerous for Exposure 

Unlike other asbestos products, asphalt and cement shingles are nonfriable. This means they do not easily crumble and do not typically break under stress. But if asbestos-contaminated shingles have degraded, they could be unsafe. Before beginning your project, inspect the material for signs of:

  • Cracking 
  • Loose fibers 
  • Broken edges

If your roof is in poor condition, you should avoid sanding and scraping, since these aggressive techniques could release asbestos into the air. 

How to Paint Asbestos Shingles 

When asbestos is nonfriable and undamaged, it is typically safe to paint. You could prepare asbestos shingles for painting by: 

  • Cleaning the materials by hand 
  • Priming any shingles or siding in poor condition 
  • Using a high-quality acrylic latex paint to ensure longevity 

Asbestos shingles do not require any special preparation or paints. Of course, your paint job will likely last longer if you purchase a good-quality paint produced specifically for exterior use. 

While asbestos shingles are naturally resilient, paints differ in purpose and longevity. Companies like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams sell paints specifically meant for outdoor applications. 

Asbestos Shingles Safety Precautions 

Good-condition asbestos shingles and siding do not require precautionary treatment. 

However, if you are concerned about your safety, you could minimize your exposure to asbestos dust by: 

  • Purchasing a tight-fitting surgical mask or respirator; 
  • Wearing disposable clothes, such as inexpensive work overalls; 
  • Changing your clothes immediately after the job is complete; and 
  • Taking a shower, being careful not to track any asbestos dust, particles, or paint into your home. 

AsbestosClaims.Law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos. We hope this information helps you.

If you believe that your home was contaminated with asbestos, you could be entitled to significant compensation—money you could use to cover the costs of asbestos removal services, pay for medical treatment, and preemptively protect your physical well-being. 

In addition to legal claims, veterans disability, social security and employment protection like workers compensation, FELA and The Jones Act for maritime workers, there are asbestos trusts that have been set up to compensate those harmed by asbestos without having to file a lawsuit.
If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, including testing for exposure or how to file a claim, please get in touch by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (833) 4-ASBESTOS (427-2378) or (206) 455-9190.

1 National Cancer Institute (NIH), Asbestos Fact Sheet.
2 National Cancer Institute (NIH), Asbestos Fact Sheet.