Humpday Hints: Popcorn Ceilings


by Roberta Murphy

popcorn ceilingsOh, the grief of popcorn ceilings! 

When showing mid-century homes in La Costa, Carlsbad, Encinitas and other North County neighborhoods, buyers love the larger lots and tree-lined streets that go with these older homes, but worry about costs of updating the home if prior owners haven’t already done so.

And few things can date any San Diego home as much as a dingy sprayed-on “acoustic” ceiling, more commonly of the popcorn and cottage cheese variety. I’ve heard from old school contractors that simplicity of application was the key reason popcorn ceilings were so predominant with builders in the last mid to late century.

Was told that most ceiling lights also disappeared during the same timeframe because lights mounted on ceilings would tend to accentuate imperfections in drywall sanding and finishing–which requires more expertise. It was easier to spray on a bumpy so-called “acoustic” finish and encourage people to use lamps instead of overhead lighting.

What are solutions for removal of popcorn ceilings?

There are a number contractors in the San Diego area that will come in and remove all popcorn from your ceilings in a day’s time–and haul the wet debris off as well. It is also possible to do the job yourself if armed with a pump sprayer, scraper, sheets of plastic to catch the mess–and lots of muscle. The task basically amounts to soaking the sprayed texture and scraping it off, down to the original drywall. But that option may not be advisable if the home was built prior to 1978 because asbestos was commonly used in many of the sprayed ceiling coatings from 1935 to 1978, when its use was outlawed because of Mesothelioma and Asbestosis hazards.

So what to do before proceeding to remove those popcorn ceilings on a pre-1978 ceiling? One solution is to drywall over the potentially toxic ceiling, effectively “encapsuling” it because asbestos only becomes a hazard when it produces dust and becomes airborne. Many of these older and potentially hazardous ceilings have been painted over the years and present no real health hazard–but the aesthetics can haunt.

Should you have any questions about any safety hazards with the texture on your older ceilings, you might want to send a sample to NVLAP approved testing center before starting a removal project. You want to be sure you aren’t dealing with asbestos hazards.

Ironically, we just showed a vintage 1978 Carlsbad home with popcorn ceilings and suggested the prior remedies. It is a problem that is not uncommon with San Diego real estate, but is certainly a curable one.