Posted by: cdpenne | May 10, 2010

What’s Ghetto Brick?

Good bye ghetto brick

Fortunately for us, our version did not contain asbestos!  If you are wondering about this issue yourself, you can be resonably assured that if your fake brick looks like an asphault shingle (with colored rock granules) on a fiberous board (Masonite) then you do not have an asbestos issue.  This type of siding was much thicker  (1/2″ Masonite with 3/16″ asphault shingle) than the cementious version. The other fake brick sidings manufactured at the same time (1940’s -1960’s) which were cementious and did contain asbestos,  are thinner (3/8″) and brittle.  They would look much like the cementious tile backer boards and sidings manufactuered today, but which don’t contain asbestos.  We did not know this when we bought the house, and pretty much assumed that when the time came to remove the siding, we were going to tent off and go through the whole containment regimen. It sounds easy right?  Just drape some plastic over your entire house and make sure no speck of dust can fly off down the street.  Don’t forget to spray the stuff down so that it is less likely to become ariborne, but don’t use too much water because that has to be contained too. How do you tent off an entire house and still use the front door? What if the wind blows?  Nevermind trying to keep the wind from blowing your newly constructed tent down after you’ve built it, how do you build it to begin with?  What manner of tape could possibly hold a 40′ x 200′ piece of plastic to a porous granular surface like a roof shingle or fascia board?  And don’t forget the tent has to cover the ground where all the debris will fall as well?  Too much time considering how I was going to be able to pull all that off by myself made me all to willing to consider the alternatives- tear the stuff off on a rainy day when no one is looking, or put it off entirely.

Well, our story, or rather this chapter has a happy ending.  After resarching on the internet, but finding no conclusive enough evidence for my wife that I wouldn’t be putting our daughter at risk, I called a couple of the Hazmat testing services in and around Seattle.  The answer I received was that they would be more than happy to test it, but that they had tested numerous samples of the same stuff and never found asbestos.  This already confirmed what I suspected and read on the internet- I had even seen a commercial job right in the heart of Fremont where the Ghetto brick had been torn off without any special precautions.  It was enough to convince Nicole, so game on!  With a little clean up crew help from my uncle-in-law, I was able to completely tear off two sides in one day.  And that’s as far as I got.  The other two sides still have the crap on them. 

Piles of Ghetto Brick

Piles of Ghetto Brick

This whole process of tearing into the outside of the hosue when the inside was still so far from being complete and was only just livable was instigated by my insurance company.  They sent me a nice letter one day which basically said I had 60 days to clear the moss from the roof, trim back the neighbors tree from overhanging our eaves, repair or replace the siding, and paint, or they would drop my policy.  Meanwhile, I’ve been nearly six months out of work, we are already behind on all our bills and have no income, let alone expendable funds for a home repair project.  So hearing that I wasn’t going to have to pay a bunch of extra money for asbestos containment was the best news I’d heard in a while.  Some realtives gave us a gift card to home depot for $500 dollars and that was enough to cover the the primer, wire brushes for scraping the moss, a rope, harness and D-Ring, paint brushes, and other materials I needed to satisfy the insurance company.  Our families came through with a loaned paint sprayer, and a buch of cedar trim to replace what had been torn off.  But I only sent the insurance company pictures of two sides.  The other two sides will be done this summer. 

The two pictures above show the original unpainted cement plaster (being from the South West I hesitate to call it stucco0), the original narrow lap cedar siding in resonably good shape, and a bit of the old world detailing which had been torn off in order to make a flush surface to nail the Ghetto Brick on to.  One wonders why anyone would chose to use this stuff?  I am not quoting but I imagine the sales pitch was somehthing along the lines of ‘never have to paint again,’ and maybe they tossed in a line about insulating and sealing it since the stuff does have a fraction of an R-Value and was properly called Insul-Brick.  Maybe people just thought a brick house looked more afluent.  Whatever the reasoning, the stuff only did two things in my estimation- make the house ugly, and preserve the original siding.



  1. We had that same exact ghetto brick on the back porch and our garage in Chicago. Our block consisted of nice, well-built and attractive brick bungalows, but at some point in the 1930’s or 1940’s, apparently everyone in the community decided to build a covered back porch, and whoever owned our house, I think did it in the cheapest way possible.

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