The popcorn ceiling, also referred to as a stucco ceiling or the more colloquial "cottage cheese" ceiling, was once very popular in homes. Known for their trademark texture, popcorn ceilings were easy to identify but became infamous over the years for their association with asbestos. Once heralded as an incredible material because of its durability, low cost, light weight, and non-flammable properties, asbestos has now become a major symbol of the hidden dangers that can lurk within a house and a major reason for renovation. The hazards of popcorn ceilings are a cause for concern for anyone who currently lives in homes with them, plans to move into a house built before the 1980s, or worked in construction or factories in previous decades. Thankfully, learning about popcorn ceilings and their potential to harbor asbestos and taking precautions can significantly reduce the incidence of exposure to this dangerous material.
Popcorn ceilings have a rich history in American construction. They were in demand during the 20th century, and while some estimates put the height of their popularity between the 1950s and 1980s, these textured ceilings were being created for decades, going back as far as the 1930s, and continued to be installed as recently as the 1990s. At the time, they were considered an improvement over other types of ceilings for both aesthetic and practical reasons. A renovation to install these ceilings could provide a quick and easy fix when attempting to hide imperfections and unfinished work, and their physical properties had the advantage of absorbing noise and canceling echoes. These factors helped to create a home that was both pleasing to look at and comfortable to live in.
However, these ceilings are particularly dangerous because asbestos contains toxic fibers, and it's easy to damage and crumble. Homeowners should know that disturbing a popcorn ceiling by scratching, bumping, or even touching it can trigger asbestos's toxic particles to be released into the air, and inhaling these fibers can contribute to diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. The amount of asbestos used in the ceiling's construction can be irrelevant; ceilings constructed with a small percentage of asbestos pose the same risk as ones with a higher concentration of asbestos. Those who live in a house with a popcorn ceiling can reduce the potential for releasing asbestos by being mindful of their interactions with the ceiling; any type of contact with the ceiling should be avoided, including hammering and drilling. Homeowners can also invest in home improvement to increase the livability and safety of their houses.
While the government prohibited the use of asbestos to manufacture ceilings in 1977, the material still remains a threat to homeowners, construction workers, and the general public. Homeowners can be the most susceptible to the dangers of asbestos because of their proximity to it. Common daily living activities, such as applying tape, cleaning, or accidentally hitting the ceiling while rearranging furniture, can cause its harmful fibers to flutter down and be inhaled. Since asbestos can linger in the body for decades after exposure, construction workers who installed a ceiling using this material can fall ill many years after having finished the job. For the general public, avoiding walking into a home with a popcorn ceiling isn't enough to protect against this harmful material; simply being around the demolition of an older house can also make one susceptible to the illnesses associated with asbestos.
Fortunately, homeowners who are concerned with the presence of asbestos in their houses have a few options to help them identify asbestos and remedy the situation if asbestos is present. They may consider buying a home test kit, which can require manually collecting a sample from the ceiling and handling potentially hazardous materials, or they can hire professional inspectors. They can also attempt to contain the ceiling through an encapsulation process using vinyl paint or by performing a small renovation to cover the ceiling with new panels. While some of these methods can technically be performed by homeowners, many experts urge people to hire professionals to do the job because of the risk of asbestos exposure.
Visit the following resources to learn more about popcorn ceilings and asbestos:
- Learn About Asbestos
- Asbestos and Other Regulated Building Materials
- When Is Asbestos Dangerous?
- Asbestos in the Ceiling: Am I in Danger?
- How Does Asbestos Exposure Affect Health?
- Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases
- Health Effects of Asbestos
- Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk
- U.S. Federal Bans on Asbestos
- It's Time to Get Rid of Those Popcorn Ceilings
- Removing a Popcorn Ceiling Can Be Touchy
- Sweat Equity: Popcorn Ceilings Can Be Covered or Scraped Off
- How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling
- Properly Remove Spray-on Popcorn Ceilings (PDF)
- Popcorn Ceilings Looking a Little Stale?
- Avoid a Popcorn Ceiling Headache