Is removing popcorn ceiling dangerous?

Popcorn Ceiling is something we have all encountered at some point in our lives. Whether we've had them in our homes or seen them at another—the unmistakable texture is really hard to miss. So what exactly is popcorn ceiling? What is the purpose of it? Is it functional or just a fad? Well, the answer is—it's a bit of both.

What exactly is popcorn ceiling?
Popcorn ceiling goes by many names. It's also referred to as cottage cheese ceiling, acoustic ceiling, stucco ceiling and stipple ceiling. Basically, it's a ceiling surface that has a thick and bumpy, almost lumpy texture to it. These surfaces are bumpy because the texture is achieved through spray-on paints with mixtures of styrofoam and/or stucco to give them that characteristic "popcorn" look; although many might argue that it bears a stronger resemblance to cottage cheese. It's also called an acoustic ceiling because of its sound-absorbing abilities as the special mix aids in reducing noise. So o answer to the question of "Function or Fad", we'll begin with its primary function.

What is the purpose of popcorn ceiling? Is it functional or just a fad?
Although it has the ability to absorb sounds, it is not an effective sound-proofing solution. In fact, it only manages to muffle noise rather than totally block it out.
The main reason people opt for popcorn textures is that it serves as an effective way to cover up unsightly flaws in their ceilings. It is both cost-effective and time-saving as it is a cheap and quick way to hide signs of damage as well as wear and tear. Furthermore, there was barely any prep-work needed beforehand. Aside from applying a coat of primer, there was little need to do anything else like fill cracks or holes because the texture would end up masking everything.

So while it definitely does fall under the "functional" category, we can also safely say that it most definitely was also a fad. About 50+ years ago, popcorn ceilings were all the rage. It's important for us to know this fact because, 50+ years ago, a prominent ingredient often used in spray-on paints was asbestos! Several houses built between the 1930s all the way up to the 1980s boasted asbestos-filled popcorn ceilings, which is why it's recommended that homes built during this time test for it. Once asbestos was found to be a carcinogen—a cause of cancers, asbestosis, and other diseases, it was banned by the EPA. However, manufacturers were still allowed to use up their existing supply of these asbestos-filled spray paints, which is why it exists in houses built in the 80s.

Whether you've bought a new house that has this type of textured ceiling or whether your existing home contains it—it's important to test for asbestos in case you want to do some remodeling. Popcorn ceilings that contain asbestos are not likely to make you sick unless the fibers come loose and are released into the air. Inhalation of these loose or "disturbed" fibres—usually at times of remodeling—increases your risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases.

Is removing popcorn ceiling dangerous?
If it contains asbestos and you are not properly trained in popcorn ceiling removal, then yes, it can definitely be dangerous.
Before undertaking any remodeling in this respect, experts recommend getting your popcorn ceiling tested to see whether it contains any asbestos and if so, determines the percentage of the material contained within your ceiling. You can test a popcorn ceiling for the presence of asbestos by carefully scraping a small sample into a plastic bag and having it tested at an EPA-accredited lab—DO NOT scrape the sample without wearing a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) mask for protection, and plastic gloves to avoid contact with the ceiling surface.

If your popcorn ceiling does not contain asbestos, then you can take a call on whether to remove it yourself or to hire an experienced professional.

However, if your popcorn ceiling does contain asbestos, then you need to be aware of the risks, dangers, and responsibilities of its removal.

Important points to note before removal:
  • Federal law does not prohibit you from removing popcorn ceiling asbestos yourself, but you need to check your state and local laws for the rules in your area.
  • Although the legal aspects may vary from state to state, and even from locality to locality, it is dangerous to remove and dispose of asbestos yourself.
  • If you do remove the asbestos yourself, you take on the legal liability of containing, transporting, and disposing of the asbestos appropriately. The Clean Air Act specifies the procedures to be followed for the removal process.

Now that you are aware of the clear and present health risks of asbestos removal, here are the basic rules to follow for removing popcorn ceiling:

1. Wear protective gear.
Wear a respirator mask—different from a regular mask—gloves, and as much clothing as possible to minimize your skin's exposure to external particles.
Cover your feet, eyes, and head too to protect them from dangerous particulates.

2. Move your pets out of the room.
It is extremely important to relocate your pets to a safe space away from the room where the removal is taking place. Not only is it harmful to pets, but they also tend to step in the particles and spread them throughout the house.

3. Use drop cloths and floor covers.
You need to cover all flooring from falling particles. Dropcloths are the best option as plastic sheeting can be slippery, causing unnecessary risk.

4. Moisten or dampen the ceiling.
You can use a water spray to lightly mist the ceiling before starting work. Be sure to work on small sections at a time.

5. Properly scrape off the popcorn ceiling. 
Experts recommend using a push pole with a blade to efficiently scrape off popcorn ceiling. This device eliminates the need for a ladder and is easier than scraping by hand. Remember not to stand directly under the plaster as you loosen it with the push pole to avoid injury.

6. Fill up cracks and holes.
After the ceiling dries, use a joint compound to fill in any gaps, cracks, and holes. Allow this to completely dry and then use a sander to smoothen the surface. Note that you may need to apply several coats of joint compound to achieve desired results.

Voila! You've successfully removed popcorn ceiling. While this procedure may sound simple enough, remember the hazards that come with handling asbestos.
Most importantly, when asking the question: "Is removing popcorn ceiling dangerous?" the answer is a hard YES if it contains asbestos.



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