Want to modernize your home? Look up. If you have the dreaded acoustic ceiling called "popcorn" or "cottage cheese," you can start there. They give them house a dated appearance and affect a house's value. Buyers just hate them.
More than an eyesore
If you want to remove an acoustic ceiling, you'll first need to determine whether it contains asbestos. Asbestos was used as a binder in many construction materials before it was banned in 1978 for posing health risks such as cancer and respiratory disease. You're not required by law to test for asbestos, but the Environmental Protection Agency strongly recommends it.
If your home was built prior to 1979, the chances are very good that your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos. In fact, it's not uncommon to find asbestos in acoustic ceilings installed in the 1980s because existing inventories were exempt from the 1978 ban.
You can test for asbestos by submitting samples to a laboratory. The cost is minimal and labs are generally listed in the Yellow Pages under "Asbestos -- Consulting and Testing."
Obtaining a ceiling sample is not difficult:
- Using a spray bottle, thoroughly wet three or four small ceiling areas with water mixed with a few drops of liquid detergent.
- With a putty knife, carefully scrape about one square inch of "popcorn" from each area into a sealable plastic bag.
If the lab results are negative, meaning less than 1% asbestos was found in the sample, the EPA recommends taking two additional samples to confirm the analysis.
If you have asbestos ...
there are only two ways to deal with it safely and legally:
- You can encapsulate the asbestos with a new layer of non-asbestos acoustic sprayed over the top of the existing ceiling. This is the most economical solution to the asbestos problem, but still leaves your home with that dated look.
- The pricier solution is to have a certified asbestos-abatement company remove the finish and then have the wallboard retextured and painted. Cost for having professionals remove asbestos can run into several thousands of dollars.
- It is illegal to paint an asbestos-containing acoustic ceiling because rolling or spraying can release the harmful fibers into the air, where they can then be inhaled. Paint is not an efficient way to encapsulate asbestos fibers, according to the EPA.
While it is not illegal to remove your asbestos-positive ceiling yourself, there are no known safe levels of asbestos exposure and the EPA recommends strongly against doing so. If you decide to remove it on your own anyway, you'll need to use special HEPA filter respirators, disposable protective clothing, rubber boots and eye protection. And you must use special containment bags for all debris and dispose of them only at sites licensed for asbestos. (Full guidelines are available from most state health departments or air-quality agencies.)
What if the sample comes back clean? More to follow...