How to handle a "popcorn" ceiling that may contain asbestos

Popcorn ceilings, cottage cheese ceilings or Stucco ceilings—whatever you call them, they're not only an eyesore, they also may contain a carcinogen known as asbestos.  The ceiling treatment was commonly used from the late 1950s into the 1980s in homes across the United States because of its ability to hide imperfections in handiwork and its acoustical characteristics. 

The Clean Air Act of 1978 banned the use of the ceiling material, but manufacturers were allowed to use up their existing inventory, so popcorn ceilings continued to crop up across the country well into the mid-'80s.

How do I know if my ceilings have asbestos?

Your best plan of action is to test your ceilings for asbestos. You can either DIY this process by purchasing a testing kit and submitting material samples to a certified testing lab, or you can hire an asbestos testing specialist. State agencies have the most up-to-date listings of asbestos experts in your area.

Gathering a sample requires you to scrape away a portion of the ceiling material, and it’s important to note that asbestos poses a health risk when it’s friable, or crumbly, releasing tiny fibers, which can be inhaled. If DIY is your style, be sure to follow these guidelines, and send your samples to an asbestos analysis laboratory or contact your state or local health department.

If you (understandably) don’t want to expose yourself to risk, hire an expert.

My ceilings have asbestos. Now what?

First, don’t panic. If your ceilings are in good shape, you don’t need to worry—your ceiling likely will not release hazardous fibers. If you notice damage, or abrasions, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might compromise the ceiling, you’ll need to take action.

Removing the popcorn yourself is a messy and potentially dangerous job, so this option is not recommended. Instead, you’ll need a certified asbestos abatement contractor to remediate the contaminated materials using recognized procedures. This will ensure the safety of everyone involved.