Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scaling a Big Green Monster

When I look at our green-scaled behemoth, I Imagine this chat taking place during the late 1940’s when those scales were installed…

“Holy mackerel, Mr. Spencer, I see that your house got itself torched. That charred area on the turret – lucky that got put out in time. Did your insurance rate go up?”

Evidence of a fire, as seen from the interior of the attic.

Mr. Spencer looks at his house and cringes at the unsightly scorch marring the once-gorgeous turret.

“Have you thought about using this new fire-proof siding everyone’s putting on their houses? It looks pretty spiffy."

Mr. Spencer ponders for a moment and admits to having noticed newer siding being installed on houses about town.

“Your neighbors are putting these asbestos-cement tiles on the sides of their houses and it makes them look brand new,” continued the hawker. “It’s fire-proof, termite-proof AND they even look like wood shingles! Dan up the street installed it on his house and the Simmons a block over did, too. They told me it’s real easy to install.”

Mr. Spencer studied his house as his young neighbor traipsed away. A few steps later, the neighbor stopped and turned to have his final say, "To tell you the truth Mr. Spencer, just knowing another fire could knock off a house just up the street from us gives me the heebie-geebies!”

The late 1940's and 1950's was a time of a huge construction boom, and this one spurred a big demand for asbestos-cement as siding and roofing material.

Typical installation for asbestos-cement siding on a house.
From McCawley's, 1940

Asbestos. The word itself makes me nervous. It’s a hazardous material that can kill and who wants it on their home now?

The EPA banned this material in 1973 after it was determined it caused mesothelioma, lung-cancer, and pnemoconiosi when breathed in. Today, the production and use of the naturally-occuring, silicate fibers have been totally halted.

So what does someone do about a house that’s covered with the stuff?

One alternative voiced by a contractor was to leave it on. The reasoning being, the cement binds the asbestos which, if allowed to remain undisturbed, will not be released into the air where it can be breathed in. According to one misguided piece of contractor advice, aluminum siding can be installed directly onto it. Was he serious?

The other alternative was to take the siding off with precautions not to severely break or pulverize the material, and then dispose of it (tiles and felt lining) in a special lined dumpster. A contractor’s cost for the job? Easily upwards to $10,000 for the whole house.

So the house sat for awhile – a dinosaur with its ominous green scales lying in the yard next to our Chateau...

A big green dinosaur, for now.

Sometimes things happen – almost divine things – when you are searching for an answer to your current dilemmas. As usual, a call to the local preservation society yielded the best results.

Next Post – The House Doctor comes to Hannibal and makes a house call.

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