Popcorn is great for enjoying a big bucket with family and friends at your local movie theater, stringing it on a thread to give Christmas that old-fashioned touch, but one place that it’s a lot less welcome is on the ceiling in your home.
Unfortunately, some homes still have popcorn ceilings. They often raise some questions for homeowners or homebuyers: how to repaint them, how to clean them, how to get rid of them, is it safe to keep them?
What Is a Popcorn Ceiling Anyway?
Back in the day, someone had a brilliant idea: What would happen if there was a cheaper alternative to meticulously applied plaster ceiling coating for homes?
Popcorn ceilings became the solution to the problem. Many of these ceilings are still around today, largely seen in homes built between the 1930s and 1990s.
The ceiling texture oddly resembles cottage cheese far more than it does popcorn. It was popular for its ease of application and, at the time, low maintenance requirement.
Popcorn Ceilings: Here’s The Kicker
Even if you don’t object to the generally dated appearance of a popcorn ceiling (hey, maybe retro’s your thing), think twice before going all in if a house you’re looking at has one that’s still intact. At least make sure your home inspector gives you an opinion about it during your home inspection.
So many popcorn ceilings may contain some amount of friable asbestos and are generally not a great idea to keep around. Even though popcorn ceiling mixtures containing asbestos were banned under the Clean Air Act in 1979, the remaining unsold mixes were still allowed to be sold. So in some areas, this means that new installations of potentially hazardous popcorn ceilings lingered well into the 1980s.
As if asbestos wasn’t enough, many popcorn ceilings installed prior to 1978 were also painted, possibly with lead-based paint. Lead-based paint was the norm during those years, until it was banned in 1978. So this can be a double-whammy in an older home.
Friable Versus Non-Friable Asbestos
There are two kinds of asbestos: friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos is the most dangerous kind, since any amount of disturbance can result in particles floating around in the air and being inhaled. Not good news! Risks of free-floating asbestos can range from lung scarring to mesothelioma, an insidious and heartbreaking form of cancer. This is the kind found in popcorn ceilings.
Non-friable asbestos is a lot safer because the asbestos is encapsulated within another material. For example, older homes often have siding made of cement fiber-board tiles. These often contain asbestos, but unless you’re cutting the tiles, it is safely contained.
There are very specific laws about dealing with both types of asbestos. Laws surrounding removal of friable asbestos are as much about protecting people near the material as they are the environment.
In most areas, homeowners are legally allowed to remove popcorn ceilings from their own homes, but it is recommended to at least have a test for the presence of asbestos before you decide to remove yours.
Don’t Even Think About Scraping That Ceiling…Yet
A scraper and a lot of sweat equity will easily remove a popcorn ceiling, but the hazard of starting in blindly cannot be understated. So, before you even think about scraping that ceiling, CAREFULLY take some samples and have them tested.
Send one to a lab to test for asbestos. Send another to test for lead-based paint. As an alternative, you can use a high-quality at-home test kit for lead-based paint testing. Wait until you have these results before moving forward.
If your tests show positive for either (or both,) consider calling in a pro. They have all the right equipment to ensure that asbestos doesn’t get loose in your home, where you, your family and pets can be at risk of exposure. If you decide to DIY this one, be sure not to skimp on masks and other filters to keep any friable asbestos out of your lungs.
Definitely One for Our HomeKeepr Community
Maybe you like DIY projects, but when it comes to one that can create such a significant risk to health and home, it’s really best to call on a home pro with the right kind of equipment to keep everyone safe.