How Common is Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings in Homes?

Posted on behalf of Peter T. Nicholl in Mesothelioma & Asbestos Published on August 5, 2022 and updated on February 1, 2024.

tool to scrape popcorn ceiling awayIf you live in a home built before 1980 or are considering buying or renting a home built before 1980, you need to learn if there are any asbestos exposure risks.

For example, many popcorn ceilings installed before 1980 contain a small amount of asbestos – one to 10 percent of the ceiling contained asbestos. Many building materials that were used before the 1990s contained asbestos because of its strength, fire resistance and low cost.

Our experienced Maryland mesothelioma lawyers discuss the asbestos exposure risks presented by old popcorn ceilings and what steps homeowners and renters can take to deal with the danger. Even though ceilings may be relatively undisturbed, homeowners should get asbestos removed as soon as possible due to the health risks. Breathing in asbestos just one time could increase your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease later in life.

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis because of exposure to asbestos, we may be able to help you seek compensation for your damages. You can schedule a free legal consultation to learn more about how we may be able to help you.

The Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl has been helping asbestos victims for decades, recovering millions on behalf of our clients. We have taken on some of the largest corporate employers in the nation. If you are worried about the cost of hiring an attorney, it is important to note that there are no upfront fees for our services. We do not get paid unless we win your case and secure compensation for you.

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What Is a Popcorn Ceiling?

A popcorn ceiling is a type of textured paint that contains small, popcorn-like kernels that look like pockmarks. The depth of the popcorn effect is often varied. The popcorn is vermiculite and polystyrene particles, which help to absorb sound.

Popcorn ceilings are also known by the following names:

  • Stipple ceiling
  • Blown-on ceiling
  • Cottage cheese ceiling
  • Stucco ceiling
  • Acoustic ceiling
  • Spray-on ceiling
  • Textured ceiling

Popcorn ceilings were usually applied in the following colors:

  • White
  • Beige
  • Off-white

It may seem unbelievable to many homeowners today, but popcorn ceilings were quite popular between 1950 and 1990. Homebuilders appreciated how easy, fast and cheap it was to spray on this material and how a popcorn ceiling helped to soundproof a room. Popcorn ceilings are also known for being fire-retardant.

Many builders used popcorn ceilings in apartment buildings and schools because of how well it reduced noise.

Do Popcorn Ceilings Still Have Asbestos in Them?

Homes built in the last 25 to 30 years do not contain asbestos. Even though asbestos has not been completely banned in the U.S., homebuilders stopped using asbestos-containing materials in the 1980s and early 1990s.

It is older popcorn ceilings people need to be concerned about:

  • Most popcorn ceilings that were applied before 1980 contain asbestos.
  • If you own a home that was built before 1980, or your home had a significant remodel before 1980, there is a good chance the popcorn ceiling contains asbestos.
  • If there is any other textured paint in the home, and it was applied before 1980, it may also contain asbestos.
  • There may even be some homes built in the early 1990s with popcorn ceilings. However, this is rare.

Do I Need To Test My Popcorn Ceiling For Asbestos?

Yes, you should have your popcorn ceiling tested to determine if it contains asbestos.

There is no way to tell if a popcorn ceiling contains asbestos simply by looking at it. The asbestos fibers in popcorn ceiling paint are 1,200 times thinner than a single human hair.

You need to have your popcorn ceiling professionally tested to determine if it contains asbestos. If you try to do it yourself, you may miss some steps and expose yourself or your loved ones to asbestos dust. You could also do the test incorrectly, leading to inaccurate results.

What if I Do Not Disturb the Popcorn Ceiling?

You may want to put off testing because you think the ceiling will not get disturbed. However, this is not a long-term strategy for avoiding asbestos exposure. In the short term, keeping the door to a room closed and avoiding that room is a good idea, but you do not want to take the risk of asbestos being accidentally disturbed without you realizing it.

It is easy to disturb asbestos and put you and your family at risk, such as by:

  • Lightly scraping the ceiling while cleaning
  • Killing a bug on the ceiling
  • Installing hooks or nails in the ceiling
  • Installing a ceiling fan
  • Hitting the ceiling from the top bunk of a bunk bed
  • Water damage to the ceiling

Your air conditioning could circulate the dust throughout the house.

The only way to make sure asbestos is not disturbed is to seal off the area and make sure no one goes into the room. However, this is impractical, which is why it is often better to have the asbestos-containing material safely removed from your home.

If you suspect asbestos is in your popcorn ceiling, or there is a positive test for asbestos, avoid using the room until it has been professionally and safely contained or removed. Do not touch the ceiling, because you risk scraping it.

What Are the Health Risks of Exposure to Asbestos?

Asbestos is a cancer-causing mineral that has been linked to severe, deadly diseases like:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Asbestosis

You could be exposed to asbestos for years without realizing it, as it often takes decades for victims to start experiencing symptoms. For example, there is a study about a woman who was diagnosed with lung cancer after living in a house with an asbestos-containing ceiling for three decades. She developed a bad cough in the 1990s but was not diagnosed with lung cancer until 2010.

While people who are exposed to asbestos over many years have a higher risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, any exposure increases your risk of getting sick.

Some of the early symptoms of an asbestos disease include:

  • Dry coughing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Who Has the Highest Risk of Asbestos Exposure From a Popcorn Ceiling?

Homeowners and renters and their families likely have the highest risk of being exposed to asbestos. However, construction workers and professionals who renovate or demolish old buildings also have a high risk of being exposed on the job. These workers could get asbestos dust on their clothes and potentially expose friends and loved ones.

How To Protect Yourself and Your Family From a Popcorn Ceiling Containing Asbestos

You should hire licensed professionals to safely seal away or remove the asbestos in your home’s popcorn ceiling.

Here are some best practices when looking for an asbestos abatement company:

  • Carefully review their credentials
  • Ask for references from others who have used the company
  • Ask them to explain how they remove asbestos
  • Consider talking to multiple companies to find one you are comfortable working with

You may want to ask these companies about the protective measures they take for their clients. Common examples of these protective measures include:

  • Closing air conditioning vents to prevent the spread of dust
  • Sealing up doors and windows
  • Collecting all asbestos dust in sealed waste bags
  • Keeping asbestos materials wet to prevent fraying
  • Using plastic to cover up light fixtures
  • Working with a disposal service to collect and remove the asbestos-containing materials

Typically, asbestos abatement professionals will do one of three things to deal with asbestos:

  1. Encase the area
  2. Encapsulate the asbestos
  3. Remove the asbestos

Encasing the Area

For example, this may involve:

  • Putting new ceiling tiles over the popcorn ceiling
  • Installing some other type of physical barrier to prevent the release of any asbestos dust. However, you need to determine what the risk of asbestos exposure would be.

Encapsulating the Asbestos

This refers to sealing up the asbestos-containing materials with a binding substance like paint. However, encapsulation can be challenging, particularly because there is a risk of releasing small popcorn particles into the air. That is why encapsulation should only be done by a trained asbestos abatement professional.

Encapsulation is often the best option when the asbestos has low friability, which refers to how easy it is for the asbestos to crumble and get into the air.

Removing the Asbestos-Containing Product

Often, the best way to deal with the situation is to have the asbestos removed from your home. If you only encapsulate the asbestos or encase the area, you may still need to take additional steps in the future. For example, if you decide to remodel or sell your home. You are required to tell potential buyers about the presence of asbestos, and this may affect your ability to sell it. Buyers may want you to lower the asking price.

Highly friable asbestos is extremely dangerous, and it is often best to completely remove this material from the home. Encapsulation may not be enough to protect residents from breathing in asbestos fibers.

We Are Here To Manage the Legal Process. Call Today

We have helped many asbestos victims secure compensation for medical expenses and other damages. Our firm has the resources, experience and extensive knowledge of the law to manage every step of the complex legal process for you. We are prepared to seek full and fair compensation for your losses.

Our services come at no financial risk to you. We do not charge upfront costs or other fees while working on your case.

Getting started is as easy as calling to request a free consultation. Call our trusted law firm today to learn more about your possible legal options.

Have legal questions? Give us a call today: 410-297-0271.