Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate substance. Scientists discovered asbestos material in debris dating back to the Stone Age Period, around 700,000 years ago. Asbestos’ hair-like fibers were being used as wicks in lamps and candles dating back to 4000 BC.

Between 2000-3000 BC, emboldened Pharaoh’s bodies were covered with asbestos cloth to prevent deterioration. In Finland, clay pots dating back to 2000 BC had asbestos fiber believed to have made the pots durable and fire-resistant.

Asbestos was adopted as a choice roofing material at the start of the 19th century. However, it is believed that scientists began experimenting by adding asbestos to asphalt and cement in the late 1700s. With a growing adoption by people and businesses, asbestos cement rose to popularity during World War II to design inexpensive, durable military housing.

A variety of developments leading to the industrial revolution led to the asbestos imitation of more expensive materials such as shingles, stone, and wood sliding. This transformation catapulted asbestos as an alternative renovation material in the building industry and semi-skilled professions like plumbing and roofing.

Adoption of Asbestos in Flat Roofing

Early roofing materials had many issues related to durability, safety, and availability. Wood shakes were highly flammable, posing a safety threat to home and business owners. And so were the bare asphalt shingles. Concrete tile roofing materials were cumbersome and rusted out. Asbestos stood out for its durability, easy availability, and fire resistance, phasing out traditional roofing materials.

In flat roofing, asbestos was used as an upgrade on asphalt roof systems. Asbestos flashing was often sold as a premium product, but at times it was installed throughout the entire roof system.

As the hazards of asbestos became more and more known, it began to fade away from all industries, including roofing. The last asbestos products were installed in the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, asbestos products were slowly phased out or banned altogether.

What to Do if Your Roof has Asbestos

If you suspect your roof has asbestos, it is important to get the roof tested. There are a variety of companies that specialize in asbestos testing. These companies will typically take a few core samples from the roof and get them analyzed. Afterward, they will submit a report that lets you know the results. Typically, this includes the percentage of asbestos found in each core sample, along with a location of where these samples were taken.

After, an abatement plan needs to be created with a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. Typically, the asbestos abatement contractor will complete the removal and disposal of the asbestos materials. Once the site is safe, the roofing contractor will install a new roof system over these areas or patch these areas temporarily until permanent roofing work can be completed with safe materials.

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