From the 1950s until the early 1980s, popcorn ceilings were very popular in the United States. During this time, asbestos was also very widely used as a construction material. It is therefore no great surprise that many popcorn ceilings contain asbestos. Since this style of ceiling is so crumbly, it is very dangerous when it contains asbestos, especially compared to asbestos vinyl tiles or other non-crumbly asbestos containing materials. Asbestos containing popcorn ceilings are very friable: even softly brushing the ceiling with your hands releases toxic dust into the air. This property makes it just as dangerous as old asbestos pipe installation, maybe even more so considering its accessibility.
Why did popcorn ceilings stop being built? When the Clean Air Act of 1978 was passed, it banned spray on asbestos products since they are a huge hazard for those applying it. But since the law allowed companies to use up their inventory, the use of asbestos containing popcorn ceilings continued well into the 1980s.
How do I know if my popcorn ceiling contains asbestos? The only way to tell if a popcorn ceiling contains asbestos is to have it tested. Although there are test kits, they are not recommended at all. It is a really good idea to get a professional to test for asbestos. If the ceiling contains asbestos, many precautions should be taken to ensure that toxic dust is not released into the air. Because of this it wouldn’t make sense to disturb the ceiling to test for asbestos, especially if you are not experienced. Many people recommend testing the ceiling for lead paint while you’re at it. Once the tests come back, keep in mind that the percentage asbestos is not what matters, it’s the crumbliness. I am mentioning this many times because it is very important—popcorn ceilings are extremely crumbly.
If my popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, what can I do about it? There are many precautions you can take to avoid exposure, but they are only temporary. You should remove or encapsulate the ceiling to prevent it from releasing toxic asbestos dust. Removal is exactly what it sounds like; the ceiling is removed and then replaced. Much care is put into this to keep everyone safe. People removing asbestos wear special suits and masks. They also make sure to get clean before going outside in order to avoid exposing others to asbestos. The other option is encapsulation. To encapsulate an asbestos containing material is to cover it such that it can no longer release asbestos fibers. An asbestos popcorn ceiling can be covered with new ceiling panels or vinyl paint. Encapsulation is not a permanent solution, but is a good and safe temporary one. Eventually, the encapsulation will wear down and stop working. Then you will either need to remove the ceiling or encapsulate it again. If you ever remodel, renovate or demolish the area, the ceiling will first need to be removed.
While the ceiling has not yet been dealt with, there are a few safety precautions that need to be taken to ensure that your family doesn’t get exposed to asbestos. The main theme of every precaution here is not to disturb the ceiling in any way, as disturbance would make it so that dangerous asbestos fibers could be released into the air. Make sure that in the rooms with the popcorn ceiling there aren’t any tall bookcases. If there is any danger at all of the items on the shelves touching and disturbing the ceiling, the bookcase should go in another room. If you move furniture in the room, be extremely careful not to touch the ceiling. Don’t let children (or adults for that matter) throw anything to the ceiling. Don’t disturb the ceiling with nails, screws, or tape. If a bunk bed allows someone to touch the ceiling, put it in a room without a popcorn ceiling that contains asbestos. As soon as the ceiling begins to show damage, there is no choice, it has to be encapsulated or removed.
If you own your home and do not end up removing the ceiling, you have legal obligations to tell the next person to buy your home about the asbestos you found. For many homeowners, hiring a professional for asbestos testing and removal is mandatory. For others, it is highly recommended. It is always much more difficult to deal with asbestos contamination after the fact than to properly deal with asbestos from the beginning, which is one of the reasons that professional removal is so important. In most places, it is legally required for asbestos to be dealt with professionally if you live in a commercial building or multifamily home. Usually those who own single family homes are legally allowed to do their own asbestos abatement, but it is not at all recommended. Everywhere there are different regulations. It is always safest to leave the job to the professionals.
If you think that you have asbestos in your home or building, let us know. We test for, remove, and encapsulate asbestos. Or if you have a popcorn ceiling which needs to be tested for asbestos, encapsulated or removed, contact us. You can reach us at (708) 367-3381.