Tuesday, April 30, 2013


What in the world is a popcorn ceiling?  The above photo shows what one square yard looks like.  It is also derisively call the cottage cheese ceiling or more accurately, stucco.

This type of ceiling became popular all over the U.S. in the 1950's through the 80's. It was used in newly built tract homes because it was easy to apply and supposedly reduced echo and enhanced sound. It also, so they said, gave rooms a bright and airy reflective light.  What they didn't know back then was that the mixture which was sprayed on, contained asbestos. 

In the 70's asbestos became The popular reason for all kinds of health ailments and so the use of it was made illegal.  However, contractors or others who were using it as part of making a living, were allowed to use up any existing supplies they owned.  Consequently its use continued on into the 80's.

Another negative to this past popular feature was that it collected dust  and very soon became a marker of a dated home, making it a difficult to sell a home or having to reducing the selling price. So the next logical step was to remove such ceilings before selling.  But this was (is) a very messy, expensive and hazardous procedure.  Removal of popcorn ceilings entailed first, very carefully removing a sample and sending it away to a lab to be analyzed for traces of asbestos.  Then if it was positive, the process of removing it could cost up to $5,000 dollars per 100 square feet, (smaller than most rooms,) done by a team of specialists who would be dressed in protective suits from head to toe including rubber boots and specially designed face masks.

Some companies came up with ways of just spray painting over it, which in turn became just a temporary measure because great clumps of painted ceiling would eventually fall off.  It seems the 'popcorn' was not too difficult to actually remove.  Others simply sprayed the ceiling with water, waited a while and then scraped it off . Still a messy job.  Yet others came up with the idea of  installing a false ceiling over it thus lowering the ceiling and removing the airy feeling -- this in a time when cathedral ceilings were a selling feature.

To cap the whole venture, the word spread that it was illegal for the owner to remove the ceiling himself.  I haven't been able to determine if this is true or not as the web sites detailing this caution are also the ones who stand to make a lot of money by providing the costly and complicated services of asbestos removal.

Even so, having grown up playing with the asbestos on my mother's ironing board and lived in houses that had sheets of asbestos installed around gas stoves, water heaters and ovens, I am not particularly alarmed at the thought that I may have been living for 40 years surrounded by asbestos in our old house. I'm also suspicious enough to suspect that all the alarm surrounding the topic is a very convenient way to build another whole industry.  I'm quite sure all kinds of plastic, vinyl and fireproofing, not to mention nylon, polyester, and PCP will eventually be declared hazardous, just as lead products and mercury, x-rays and even vaccinations have been in recent years. I wonder how long it will be before the new-fangled coiled light bulbs will be discovered to emit harmful substances, not to mention all those cleaning items we use to keep our homes safe.

Our world seems to propelled by alarms and fears of all kinds but since I have already lived beyond my allotted threescore years and ten I think I'll just muddle along using as much common  sense as I may have been given to live my bonus years.

So don't ask what we did about our popcorn ceilings, please!


This is my entry for ABC Wednesday, that popular project set up by Mrs. Nesbitt and is now in the midst of its 11th round.  Please click HERE to see the many other original and informational presentations.


Carver said...

Interesting post. I remembered when I used to see popcorn ceilings all over the place. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

Jane and Chris said...

Our last house built in 1996 had cottage cheese ceilings. As for the coiled light bulbs? They contain mercury and have to be disposed of carefully, not in regular garbage...and we thought we were saving the planet.
Jane x

Roger Owen Green said...

we almost bought a stucco home, but it failed the inspection; I'm glad in the long term
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

snafu said...

O should be for Oh dear! I think you need to be in long term direct contact to be affected. My son-in-law worked in the ship building industry and was exposed to asbestos for several years. He has been diagnosed with pleural plaques which, if he is unlucky, can lead to lung cancer.
I think you are right we will be finding more and more hazards in the things we use. I wrote a long article on the dangers of low energy light bulbs a while back. They are not at all 'green' in the sense of saving the earth, they are nasty. LED lamps are much more friendly.

Mac n' Janet said...

It's like lead paint, unless you're actively chewing it off the walls you're probably ok.

kaybee said...

Fascinating subject that I knew little about...thanks for all the info!

Ann said...

Wow, I know we have lived in houses with these ceilings. Lots of good history to learn from. I WON'T ASK.

Alan Burnett said...

We, like most of our neighbours, used to have an asbestos garage next to our old family house. And yes, I remember that asbestos sheet my mother used to keep the iron on.

Martha said...

Thank you for your comment on the ABC Wednesday post. I'm with you, sin is the real problem, and without Christ there is no remedy.

Gattina said...

Same in Europe ! It's a miracle that we are still alive and more and more people make it over 100 ! Despite asbestos and cigarettes, lol !

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