October 12th, 2018 | Updated on August 6th, 2021
Have you heard of popcorn ceilings, stucco ceiling or cottage cheese ceiling? Well, these are names given to the spray-on textured ceilings that were the popular choice in old homes constructed between the 1950s and 1980s.
It was the time when asbestos was in high demand as a building material across the world and popcorn ceilings contained asbestos in varying proportion between 1 to 10 per cent.
If you come across homes that are more than 20 years old, there are high chances that you would find asbestos in some part of the building even if it does not have a popcorn ceiling.
Asbestos used to be a chosen material for insulation and older houses would have insulated ducts and pipes that contain asbestos.
Besides, acoustical tiles, floor tiles, cement asbestos siding and vermiculite attic insulation all contained asbestos in varying degrees.
From the 1970s, the world became aware of the health hazards from asbestos as it was a carcinogen, but it was already much prevalent in homes and offices as it was an important building material.
Very rarely would the asbestos remain exposed because the manner of use kept the asbestos embedded within other materials?
However, the threat of asbestos affecting human health remains. Evidence from studies in both people and lab animals has shown that asbestos can increase the risk for some types of cancer. Though this may sound somewhat frightening, there is no need to panic because there is no harm if the asbestos-containing material remains undamaged and does not cause asbestos exposure.
The chances of damage are much less if you leave the asbestos intact without disturbing it because the dangers are high when you disrupt the material that exposes the asbestos. As long as asbestos remains encapsulated, the risks are much less.
1. The Percentage Does Not Matter
Asbestos is bad for health in absolute terms, and its percentage is of no consequence. It is pointless to debate whether 1 per cent is better than 10 per cent because under no circumstances can you have asbestos in homes.
That puts us in front of another question – what do we do with old houses that already have asbestos within the building materials in various forms?
As mentioned earlier, leaving the asbestos undisturbed and preferably encapsulated is the safest way to live with it. As long as you keep it under wraps, the chances of endangering health are much less.
Indeed, a higher percentage of asbestos will do more harm, but that does not mean that you can compromise with lesser percentage asbestos. Staying away from asbestos is the best option.
2. Keep It Covered
If replacing asbestos in homes is not a feasible option, you must take all measures to ensure that the asbestos remains well covered.
While it might be easy to cover ducting and pipeline insulation, covering ceilings is not a very acceptable solution. Removal of crumbling ceilings is the only remedy to ensure that asbestos does not pose any danger to health.
Similarly, if you have vinyl asbestos floor tiles, you can walk upon it with the least risk as long as the surface does not wear away so much that the asbestos inside becomes exposed.
Never make the mistake of sanding or scraping such floors as it will cause the asbestos to come to the surface and affect health.
3. Living With Popcorn Ceiling
Despite knowing the dangers of asbestos, you can keep living under popcorn ceilings as long as the ceiling does not show any signs of damage.
Moreover, you should never commit the mistake of brushing asbestos popcorn ceiling with your hands because it would release toxic dust that goes inside your body.
The situation is as bad and dangerous as old asbestos pipe insulation or any other type of insulation.
To co-habit with asbestos ceiling leave it undisturbed never trying to fix screws, nails and tapes to it. Avoid any chances of shelves protruding into the ceiling that can scratch the surface and release toxic dust.
Be careful of children throwing some objects like toys and pillows to the ceiling that can damage the surface. If there are signs of moisture or dampness in the ceiling, it is a clear sign that you have to remove it.
4. Encapsulating Popcorn Ceiling
If there are some early signs of damage to popcorn ceilings which are very minute, you can try to retain the roof by encapsulating it. Just cover the surface from all sides so that there are no chances of releasing asbestos to the atmosphere.
Using gypsum board ceiling panels for covering asbestos popcorn ceiling is an accepted practice. You can fix the panels to the ceiling with screws but hiring the services of professionals is the best option to ensure that the covering is full proof with mud and tape.
Spraying the ceiling with special vinyl paint is another option to prevent the asbestos from coming to the surface. Although the paint will suppress the asbestos, the texture of the ceiling, if damaged will still be visible and spoil the good looks.
5. Removing Popcorn Ceiling
To remove popcorn ceiling or for that matter any building material that contains asbestos avail the services of commercial asbestos removal companies.
Asbestos handling is a specialised job that only licensed and insured contractors can undertake. The license is a certificate of asbestos removal business that entails contractors to carry out the task legally and safely.
Also, the contractor must have EPA license as well as public liability insurance. Before engaging the contractor, check the validity of the documents so that you fulfil your legal obligations in handling asbestos by entrusting the job to an approved contractor.
Vacate the place where the job of asbestos ceiling removal takes place and use plastic flaps to seal the doors and windows.
Turn off the HVAC system or cut it off from the room so that the asbestos dust does not circulate and spread to other parts of the house. Stay away from the place and even keep pets away until the contractor completes the work and hands over the room back to you.
Adhering to the guidelines of the local authority is essential for any asbestos removal project.