Question: I'm considering buying a home with asbestos siding. I have been told that I can remove it myself if I keep it wet, take my time, and don't break it as I remove it. But I have also been told that I can leave it and it won't be harmful as long as it's not disturbed. I was told I can paint it or I could side over it. I'd rather not have to remove it, and initially I'd like to just paint it until I decide what to do long-term. Is it true that I can just paint it and it won't be a health issue? A few of the pieces are already chipped--the house was probably built around 1912--but all the chipping looks to have happened quite a while ago.
Answer: This type of siding, also called "transite" or "asbestos slate" was pretty popular in the 1940's and 1950's. Someone probably put in on the house then as an attempt to make the house more maintenance free. I really like this siding because paint lasts a long time on it, and it is somewhat fire resistant. Some manufacturers are making fiber cement panels in matching profiles so people can use the new stuff to patch the old.
Back in 1994, when I bought my first house with this type of siding, I was told that I could remove it myself, but my local laws have changed, and now I would have to hire a licensed abatement contractor to remove it.
The stuff is really, really brittle. You will never, ever, get more than a couple of pieces off the house without breaking them.
A very important consideration is disposal - even if you are allowed to remove the siding yourself, very few dumps will accept asbestos.