Cottage Q&A: Disposing of asbestos shingles

Asbestos shingles on a small cabin By Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

We have a 1950s prefab cottage clad in asbestos shingles. How do we remove them?
—Mary, La Malbaie, Que.

First of all, must you? “If the material is in good shape, it’s not considered unsafe,” says David Kinney, the owner of Canadian Haz-Mat Environmental in Victoria. “You don’t have to remove it.”

Intact asbestos shingles are not thought to be harmful. And they don’t easily damage, or crumble and release fibres (i.e. they’re not “friable”) like other forms of asbestos. “You pretty much have to take a grinder to them to get any dust out,” says Courtney Ingram, a project coordinator with Ferro Environmental Canada. Of course, “eventually, they can become a liability if you try to sell the cottage,” she says. Even if you don’t disclose the asbestos, “a home inspection would pick it up right away.” 

Here are four reasons to use cedar shingles on exterior walls.

The simplest and safest way to handle any asbestos removal project is to hire a qualified expert—a licensed, reputable contractor with experience dealing with this kind of hazardous material, or an asbestos abatement company. But if you love the idea of wearing haz-mat gear and taking decontamination showers (you can rent them, and it looks totally fun in Silkwood), you can, in many provinces, legally do the work yourself. Asbestos siding removal is often considered moderate-risk, assuming you follow the recommended and (usually) legally required safety procedures.

These vary between provinces and even municipalities; break the rules, and you could be fined or sentenced to prison. “The work isn’t hard,” says Kinney. “It’s just very, very detailed.”

Asbestos disposal, on the other hand, is both hard and detailed. Most municipal landfills don’t accept any kind of asbestos, and the ones that do require you to follow all sorts of specific protocols when it comes to bagging up and transporting the material. 

Here’s how to safely dispose of leftover materials in your workshop.

Before you bust out the pry bar and the plastic drop sheets, look into your options. You don’t want to round out the summer with a pickup truck loaded with disease-causing shingles…and no siding on your cottage.

This article was originally published in the Aug./Sept. 2019 issue of Cottage Life.

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