Safety: testing popcorn ceilings

‘Popcorn’ or ‘cottage cheese’ ceilings are made by spraying on a goopy substance. They were popular in the 1970s and early 1980s for who-knows-what reason. It’s said that they dampen noise and cover ceiling flaws, but most people nowadays – me included – hate them.

Prior to the banning of asbestos in house interiors 1979, most popcorn ceilings contained asbestos. Even after that, there were stocks of asbestos-containing ceiling coatings sitting around, which were legal to use until they ran out. So if your house has popcorn ceilings, and you’re planning to do something with them (remove, knock-down, or drill into), you should consider testing them for asbestos if the house was built in the 1970s or early ’80s.

Mine was built in 1982 and has popcorn ceilings in all rooms except the bathroom and kitchen, where it’s been knocked down. I’m planning on experimenting with removing it, so I decided to test for asbestos. It was pretty simple. I called a local environmental testing service that I picked out of an on-line phone book. They referred me to a lab service that does small-scale asbestos testing. I called that company, and they gave me basic instructions. I packaged it up and sent it off.

In order to get the sample – about a tablespoon – I sprayed some warm water on a small section of ceiling and waited a few minutes. I checked the texture and decided it needed to be a bit wetter. I re-sprayed and waited a few more minutes. Then I used a narrow paint scraper to chisel off a few chunks. I caught them in a small container. Since they were damp, I laid them out for a day to dry. Then I put them in a clean plastic zip-style baggie, put the baggie in a padded envelope, and sent it off with a note with my phone number on it.

A few days later the company contacted me, got payment ($40), and sent me an email with the result: negative, no asbestos found (yay!). Now I’m clear to work on the ceilings (which I’ll post here) in relative safety.

Here’s what the section looks like where I removed the sample. It’s right above the door on the inside, so even if I left the ceiling, it wouldn’t be too obtrusive.

Picture of popcorn ceiling with area scraped off