Spray-on textured ceiling was popular from the 1950s to the 1980s because it was an easy way for builders to hide imperfections.
Unfortunately, this was during a period when asbestos was a high-demand building material in the U.S.
Known as “popcorn ceiling,” “cottage-cheese ceiling” or “stucco ceiling,” it was typically 1 to 10 percent asbestos.
To find out if your old popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, you can purchase a test kit or hire an asbestos abatement professional.
If you buy a test kit, you will have to collect a sample of the ceiling and mail it to a lab. Hiring a professional to do it is safer but more expensive. Many inspectors recommend testing your ceiling for lead paint while you are at it.
So what do you do if you find out your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos?
Any percentage of asbestos makes popcorn ceiling dangerous. Make sure nothing disturbs it, and decide whether you want to have it encapsulated or removed.
Removing asbestos popcorn ceiling requires many precautions. It’s a job best left to qualified professionals.
Popcorn ceiling is a friable material — meaning it is very easy to damage. Friable asbestos materials release toxic dust at the slightest disturbance. Inhaling asbestos dust is what can lead to serious diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
It’s Not the Percentage — It’s the Crumbliness
Whether your popcorn ceiling is 1 percent asbestos or 10 percent asbestos, the advice is the same.
The ceiling will not endanger your health as long as it remains completely undisturbed or properly encapsulated. In the long run, having it professionally removed is the safest choice.
A higher percentage of asbestos is worse, but popcorn ceiling is dangerous even if it is just a few percent asbestos.
The Clean Air Act of 1978 banned spray-on asbestos products, which were a major health risk for the workers who applied them.
However, the law allowed businesses to use up their existing inventory of products, so asbestos popcorn ceiling was applied well into the 1980s.
The crumbliness of popcorn ceiling puts it in a different class than other common asbestos materials leftover in old homes.
For example, you can walk on vinyl asbestos floor tiles without much risk. Just don’t smash, scrape or sand them.
But merely brushing asbestos popcorn ceiling with your hand releases toxic dust. This makes it as dangerous as old asbestos pipe insulation.
Tips for Living with Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling
Do not disturb the ceiling with nails, screws or tape.
Don’t put shelves so high that items might scrape the ceiling by accident.
Be careful not to scrape the ceiling when moving furniture or long objects.
Make sure children do not throw toys or pillows at the ceiling.
If a child’s bunkbed allows them to touch the ceiling, don’t put the bunkbed in a room with asbestos popcorn ceiling.
If the ceiling starts to peel down because of dampness or age, it must be encapsulated or removed.
How to Encapsulate Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling
Encapsulation means covering an asbestos material so it cannot release asbestos dust. Asbestos popcorn ceiling can be covered with new ceiling panels or vinyl paint.
One way to cover popcorn ceiling is with gypsum board ceiling panels. This material is like drywall but lighter. You screw it into the framing of the ceiling. It’s best to hire a professional to cover asbestos popcorn ceiling. They will know how to mud and tape the new ceiling seamlessly.
Another method is to spray the ceiling with a special vinyl paint. Ordinary house paint will not work. In fact, putting normal paint on the ceiling will actually cause the exposure you are trying to prevent. Spray-on vinyl paint can work, but keep in mind the old popcorn ceiling texture will still be visible.
Encapsulating asbestos is a safe solution, but if you do renovation or demolition work in the future, the asbestos will become a danger again. If you decide to sell your home, you will have to inform potential buyers of the asbestos you found.
How to Remove Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling
It is always better to have asbestos abatement done properly from the beginning. Cleaning up contamination after the fact becomes much more expensive.
For many homeowners, hiring a professional is mandatory. For others, it is highly recommended.
In most places, the law requires qualified asbestos abatement professionals to perform asbestos removal in commercial buildings and multifamily homes.
Owners of single-family homes are usually allowed to perform their own asbestos removal. Every state and city has its own regulations, though, and it is still safest to leave it to professionals.
Precautions for Safely Removing Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling
Remove furniture from the room, and cover whatever is left in the room with plastic.
Turn off the home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit to avoid spreading contamination beyond the room.
Seal the doors and windows with plastic flaps.
Keep pets and all people without protective gear away from the area.
Wear a respirator with a high efficiency particulate air filter. Set up an air purifier as well.
Wear disposable coveralls. Cover your skin and hair to keep ceiling debris off you.
Keep the popcorn ceiling material wet. This helps prevent dust from getting into the air.
Place asbestos-containing waste in sealed and labeled plastic bags.
Find a landfill or trash-pickup service that can accept asbestos, and call them in advance.
Ignoring these guidelines can be costly. Insurance policies often do not cover asbestos contamination caused by careless renovations. This could leave homeowners with a huge bill for asbestos abatement, on top of the health risks.