Asbestos Exposure and Popcorn Ceilings

Santa cluse figurine on a sofa

Let’s take a little trip back to the 70s. What might the well-appointed family room look like in the 1970s? The walls would be painted or wallpapered, likely with trendy tones of gold, orange, and avocado green. Seating would include a hip rattan hanging chair flanked by rattan side tables and rattan shelves (basically, rattan everything!). The floor would be covered by a comfortably thick shag carpet. And finally, one of the newest commercial offerings would crown the whole space – the popcorn ceiling.

Why a popcorn ceiling? The popcorn ceiling – also known as an acoustic or stipple ceiling – rose to popularity as a cost-effective method for drywall installation. Instead of the tedious process of creating a perfectly smooth ceiling surface through multiple steps over many days, drywallers could now spray or blow the popcorn material on a ceiling in a matter of minutes. Not only were blemishes effectively covered, but the textured surface also created a sound reducing benefit.

Hidden danger. But many popcorn ceilings produced or installed prior to the 1980s contained an unseen danger to human health: asbestos. Asbestos was frequently used as a binding agent in popcorn ceilings prior to its ban in 1978. Although this stopped industries from manufacturing the product, any inventory that was distributed prior to the ban remained available well into the 1980s.

If you are planning to remodel a room with a popcorn ceiling or if you have your eye on purchasing a cute vintage home that has one, don’t be deterred – be informed. Here are some suggestions to help you make a wise decision.

Determine the Composition of the Ceiling

Many building products prior to the 1980s contained asbestos. For example, a homeowner might discover its presence in roofing and siding shingles, vinyl flooring, and insulation. Hire a licensed and certified asbestos professional to collect samples and perform testing for you. The results will help you take next steps in your purchasing or renovation plans.

What To Do if the Ceiling DOES NOT Contain Asbestos

If you want to remove the textured surface and opt for a smooth ceiling, you can remove the popcorn ceiling yourself by scraping it off. Homax makes a tool just for this purpose. This will take time and effort (you’ll get a great upper body workout!), but will yield a smooth, fresh surface to finish. You can also keep the textured surface in place and simply revive its appearance with a coat of paint.

What To Do if the Ceiling DOES Contain Asbestos

Removing or encapsulating a ceiling containing asbestos is not a do-it-yourself project. A licensed and certified asbestos contractor can work with you to accomplish your aesthetic objectives safely and in full compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. Complete removal can be expensive but considering the health risks of airborne asbestos it is well worth the cost.

When does a popcorn ceiling become unhealthy? Remember, asbestos only becomes a health hazard when it is disturbed to the extent that its fibers become airborne. It might be possible to cover a fully intact (in other words, not damaged or crumbly) popcorn ceiling with a layer of drywall and several coats of paint. According to the EPA, asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk. Usually, the best thing is to leave asbestos-containing material alone if it is in good condition. However, the safest choice is to proceed according to the advice of your local asbestos professional.

Who knows? With the return of bell bottoms, platform shoes, and macramé, these once-hip ceilings may make a comeback. If you decide to keep your popcorn ceiling in place, just be sure you do it safely. If you have questions, give us a call!

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