What to Know about Popcorn Ceilings



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If you own a house built several decades ago, you may have a popcorn ceiling in one or more rooms. Popcorn ceilings—a style known for their distinctive lumpy texture—were a big trend from the 1950s to the 1980s. However, their old-fashioned aesthetic and association with asbestos have made them unpopular with many modern homeowners.

If your home contains a popcorn ceiling, it’s important to be aware of the potential safety risks and make an educated decision about whether or not to remove it. Here’s what you should know.

(Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical or legal advice and is only for informational purposes. If you think you have asbestos in your home, it is best to consult a professional.)

What is the difference between a popcorn ceiling and a textured ceiling?

Any ceiling that isn’t completely smooth is considered textured. While popcorn ceilings are a common variety of textured ceiling, they are not the only type. Some other ceiling texture designs include orange peel, skip trowel, stipple, swirl, and lace.

Popcorn ceilings can be easily distinguished from other textured ceilings by their prominent lumps and bumps, which look similar to cottage cheese.

Do popcorn ceilings contain asbestos?

During the time period when popcorn ceilings were most popular, asbestos was frequently used in buildings due to its low cost, durability, and fire resistant properties. As a result, the likelihood of a popcorn ceiling containing asbestos is high.

While not all popcorn ceilings are dangerous, most of them contain somewhere between 1 and 10 percent asbestos.

When was using asbestos in popcorn ceilings banned?

The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants placed a ban on asbestos in ceilings in 1973. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a home built after 1973 will be free of asbestos.

The 1973 ban didn’t apply to materials that building companies already had in stock, so many popcorn ceilings continued to be made with asbestos until well into the 1980s.

How do you know if a popcorn ceiling contains asbestos?

You can have your ceiling tested for asbestos by hiring a licensed contractor. The contractor will inspect your ceiling for visible signs of asbestos and scrape off a small piece to send to a lab for testing.

While DIY asbestos testing kits are available on the market, hiring a trained professional is safer and provides more accurate test results.

How much does it cost to test a popcorn ceiling for asbestos?

A standard test to determine the presence of asbestos in a popcorn ceiling typically ranges between $250 and $750.

Is it safe to remove a popcorn ceiling?

If you discover that your popcorn ceiling has asbestos, you will probably want to remove it. While it is possible to remove a popcorn ceiling yourself, be aware that this will lead to at least some asbestos being released into the air. The only truly safe way to get rid of a popcorn ceiling containing asbestos is to have a licensed professional handle it.

How do you remove a popcorn ceiling that contains asbestos?

Removing a popcorn ceiling containing asbestos isn’t just dangerous; it’s also difficult.

First, you’ll need to completely clear the room of any furniture and electrical fixtures and get into full protective gear, including a respirator. Then you’ll need to cover the floor and walls with plastic sheeting.

Next, you’ll need to thoroughly wet the ceiling to ensure that it is safe to remove. Failure to get the ceiling wet enough can lead to asbestos debris getting released into the air.

Only after completing these steps can you begin scraping your popcorn ceiling away.

How much does it typically cost to remove a popcorn ceiling that contains asbestos?

If your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, it will typically cost between $10 and $20 per square foot to remove. Combined with additional labor costs, you can expect to pay an average of $1,500–$2,500 altogether.

How do you find a good popcorn ceiling removal service?

If you want to have your popcorn ceiling removed, you can search HomeAdvisor for contractors in your area. After inputting some basic information about what services you require, the site will provide you with a list of popcorn ceiling removal contractors near you, along with price estimates and customer ratings.

Can you remove a popcorn ceiling yourself?

If a popcorn ceiling does not contain asbestos, it is safe to remove it yourself. Removal entails wetting the ceiling down until soft and scraping the popcorn texture away with a drywall knife or other similar tool.

While this process doesn’t come with any major safety risks, it can be physically exhausting, and many homeowners find that paying for professional popcorn ceiling removal is worth the effort saved.

Note that if you simply dislike the appearance of your popcorn ceiling, you don’t necessarily need to remove it. You can also cover it up with paint or a variety of other materials.

How do you remove a popcorn ceiling without asbestos?

To scrape a popcorn ceiling without asbestos, you’ll need a scraping tool, a spray bottle, goggles, a dust mask, and lots of plastic sheeting.

First, remove all furniture, including wall and ceiling fixtures, from the room, and cover any vents or outlets. Then, open any windows in the room for airflow and put on your mask and goggles.

Once you’ve made these preparations, you can begin removing your popcorn ceiling. Simply spray the ceiling with water and wait about 15 minutes for it to soften. Then, scrape the ceiling until smooth, continuing to wet it down as needed until you have covered the whole room.

How much does it typically cost to remove a popcorn textured ceiling that does not contain asbestos?

Popcorn ceilings are much less expensive to remove if they do not contain asbestos. On average, you can expect to pay $2–$2.50 per square foot for removal.

Is there a popcorn ceiling removal tool?

While you can remove a popcorn ceiling with a drywall knife, it’s easiest to work with a tool that’s specifically designed for use as a popcorn ceiling scraper. A standard popcorn ceiling removal tool usually costs about $20–$40.

You can buy a Homax ceiling scraper on Amazon for a relatively low price. Or, if you want a tool with a built-in vacuum for easier cleanup, you can buy a POP EEZE scraper with replaceable blades.

How do you make repairs to a popcorn ceiling?

If you want to fix blemishes in a popcorn ceiling, you can get canned popcorn texture spray at your local hardware store. Simply scrape away the damaged parts of the ceiling in the manner described above, and spray on the new texture.

Be aware that spraying evenly can be tricky, so it’s a good idea to practice on a piece of cardboard before you begin working on your ceiling. Also note that because popcorn ceilings often become discolored over time, canned sprays may not be a perfect color match for your ceiling. You may need to paint over the repaired areas after they dry to ensure that they are the right color.

Can you paint over a popcorn ceiling?

If your ceiling does not contain asbestos, you can safely paint over it to give it a smoother texture. Many homeowners prefer this option over popcorn ceiling removal, as it is cheaper and less labor intensive.

Acrylic latex paint is the best type to cover a popcorn ceiling, and unless you are painting in a kitchen or bathroom, you should opt for a paint with a flat finish for maximum coverage of the popcorn texture.

Painting a popcorn ceiling is easiest with a sprayer, but you can also use a roller if its product description says it is designed for use on textured surfaces.

Is it possible to cover a popcorn ceiling without removing it?

Painting over a popcorn ceiling is not the only way to cover it up. The cheapest way to cover a popcorn ceiling is to cover it with wood panels. Other options include using faux ceiling tiles, fabric, or corrugated tin.

As long as your ceiling doesn’t contain asbestos, you can feel free to cover it up in whatever style best matches your personal tastes.

Can you sell a house with a popcorn ceiling?

If the look of your popcorn ceiling is the only thing you dislike about your home, it makes much more sense to remove or cover the ceiling than to sell the whole house. However, if your ceiling tests positive for asbestos and you would feel safer moving out, you can legally sell your house as long as you disclose the presence of asbestos to the buyer beforehand.

Popcorn ceilings with asbestos are a turn-off for the average buyer, so you may have difficulty selling on the traditional market. If you want to get rid of your house quickly, consider selling to AMI. We buy homes in all conditions, including homes with asbestos in general and via popcorn ceilings. Contact us today for a no-obligation cash offer.

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Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman is the owner of AMI House Buyers and a seasoned real estate investor with a heavy focus on the Houston & Katy, Texas areas. She has done numerous flips, has owned multiple rental properties, and is also a licensed real estate agent in the state of Texas. She is heavily experienced in the area of foreclosures, burnouts, and inherited properties, and works with distressed homeowners in all types of situations to help them understand their options and find potential solutions.


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