Everything You Need to Know about Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

Asbestos in popcorn ceilings

Although these ceiling treatments were the bees knees for many years, we know now that there could be asbestos in popcorn ceilings applied before the early 1990’s.

Spray on texture, also known as popcorn texture, was a blessing for contractors starting in the 1950’s. Contractors used popcorn ceilings as an easy way to hide imperfections. Additionally, popcorn ceilings are fire and sound resistant. Thats why popcorn ceilings are also known as acoustic ceilings. They’re also referred to as cottage cheese ceiling, and stucco ceiling.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring product that is great at resisting heat. It can be found in older homes in wire insulation, attic and wall insulation, pipe insulation, exterior siding, floor tiles, roof shingles and other materials.

However, asbestos is a known carcinogen that causes mesothelioma – a lung cancer, asbestosis, and other lung diseases.

The good news is that only friable asbestos is considered dangerous. Friable means easily crumbled. Friable materials will release asbestos fibers into the air. Then, inhaled fibers get permanently stuck in our lungs.

The bad news is that popcorn ceilings are easily friable. A simple brush against the surface can release asbestos fibers into the air.

vermiculite insulation can cause mesothelioma

What Does Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling Look Like?

Unfortunately, popcorn ceilings with and without asbestos look exactly the same. The asbestos fibers are not visible and don’t change the appearance of the texture.

The cottage cheese look and the stippled look can contain asbestos.

Ultimately, you will not be able to determine if your ceiling contains asbestos visually.

stipple ceilings may contain asbestos

Should You Test Popcorn Ceilings for Asbestos?

The EPA (environmental protection agency) regulates asbestos in building materials through the Clean Air Act. In 1973 spray applied asbestos for insulation and fireproofing was banned. However, that did not apply to the popcorn ceiling material because it was a cosmetic application. Then, in 1978, the clean air act expanded the ban to all other spray applied asbestos products. Of course, the new rule allowed contractors and suppliers to sell and use their remaining stock. Thank the lobbyists.

As a result, asbestos in spray on texture material was used for many years after it was banned.

To emphasize this, homes built in the early 1990’s have tested positive for asbestos in the popcorn ceiling. Obviously this means the asbestos material was used for many years after the ban was enacted.

Taking a sample of your ceiling is the only way to know its contents.

How to Test Your Popcorn Ceiling For Asbestos

There are many health risks involved with asbestos, so it is a good idea to find out if you have it in your home. Although you can hire a professional to test your ceiling for asbestos contamination, there are many DIY kits available.

Always follow the instructions that come with the asbestos test kit and wear the proper PPE.

Generally, you only need a small sample the size of a quarter. You put the sample of the ceiling in the provided sample bag, and send it off to the asbestos testing lab.

The asbestos testing kit below comes with all your PPE, instructions, and the lab fee.

What to Do if Your Ceiling Contains Asbestos

If your ceiling does contain asbestos, then your next step depends on its condition. Remember that only friable asbestos is a health hazard. Accordingly, if it is in good shape, you may be able to live with it. Otherwise, if you have crumbling areas, water damage, or renovations required demolition work, then removal or encapsulation is your best option.

Even though federal regulations allow homeowners to handle their own asbestos abatement, asbestos removal is best left to a professional. Obviously popcorn ceiling removal is going to be a messy, high risk endeavor. Asbestos contractors are trained in the safest way to to remove asbestos without toxic fibers contaminating the rest of the house.

How to Remove Popcorn Ceilings

Always test your popcorn ceilings for asbestos before removing. If your ceiling contains asbestos, leave the removal to the professionals. Here is a video outlining the extensive safety precautions a professional will take to avoid contaminating your home.

If your ceiling does not contain asbestos, then removing the texture could be a DIY job. Check out this video for tips to removing your popcorn ceiling. I cued it up to avoid the annoying introduction.

Tools Needed for Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Pre-Taped Plastic: Its the plastic and tape combined in one product to make taping off areas super easy.

Popcorn Ceiling Scraper: removes popcorn ceilings fast

Variable Speed Drywall Sander:  makes quick work of the sanding

Sandpaper Rounds: for the power sander 

Respirator & Eye Protection:  because safety is paramount

Hand Pump Sprayer: for wetting and containing the dust

Tips for Living With Existing Popcorn Ceilings

Here are some tips if you decide to leave your popcorn ceiling.

Don’t attach, or remove anything from your ceiling. Any disturbance of the popcorn ceiling can release asbestos fibers.

Keep high shelves away from popcorn ceilings. Removing and placing items on the top shelf may disturb the ceiling.

Avoid bunk beds. Kids will undoubtedly touch the ceiling or even put their feet on the ceiling.

bunk beds near popcorn ceilings can be dangerous

Do Home Inspectors Check For Asbestos

InterNACHI (International Association for Certified Home Inspectors) is the largest and most respected home inspector association. They state that home inspectors are not required to inspect, or test for, any environmental hazards. This includes asbestos ceiling materials. That being said, many home inspectors do point out items that they suspect may be ACM (asbestos containing material). However, there are millions of products that contain asbestos and home inspectors only perform a limited, visual inspection.

Likewise, it would be impossible for a home inspector to know every material which may contain asbestos let alone test every suspected material.

Bottom Line on Asbestos Popcorn Ceilings

They were awesome. They were aesthetically pleasing, easy to apply, and reduced sound transmission. However, they may contain asbestos and cause cancer or other asbestos-related diseases.

They only way to know if your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos is to test for it. I recommend leaving asbestos abatement or removal to the professionals.

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