Origins of Asbestos Popcorn Ceilings and Removal Process
September 6, 2021

Asbestos in the Housing Market – Popcorn Ceilings

Written by Alliance Environmental

Looking to do something about the popcorn ceiling in your older home? Make sure to take precautions against potential asbestos contamination – know the risks, and how to confront them safely and economically.

We all grew up with that generic white bumpy surface above our heads – that white stucco-like surface on every ceiling that you would stare up at while taking a bath or trying to fall asleep. These have come to be known as popcorn ceilings. For anybody born before about 1995, popcorn ceilings existed as a generic suburbia household default that was just part of life.

Eventually, home builders figured out how to make ceilings in new homes more aesthetically pleasing by introducing low cost texturization methods that gave the ceiling a more elegant look. For many owners of existing homes, re-texturizing is a nice low-cost way to spruce up a tired looking space. Unfortunately, if asbestos is present in the ceiling, a simple texturizing upgrade can render a home inhabitable. The good news is that there are professionals out there who can remove the toxic ceiling materials safely using a standardized asbestos removal p5 procedure.

How did popcorn ceilings become common, and why were they made with asbestos?

The use of asbestos in housing and construction goes back as far as the 1890s, when it was discovered that there was a subset of naturally occurring minerals that, when in a fibrous state, were highly effective at retaining heat, blocking out sound, and enhancing structural integrity. The term asbestos was adopted to refer to any one of the fibrous minerals that worked well in these applications.

After the Second World War, there was a big push in America to put up as many homes as possible, and build them as cheaply as possible, so that ordinary people would be able to own their own homes. It turns out that asbestos-based popcorn ceilings were one of the most cost-effective quality control techniques that were used in the process of mass producing the homes of the middle class. It was not uncommon for ceiling drywall to contain many little imperfections when it was being installed. The easiest way to solve this problem was to coat the drywall in a white, crumbly asbestos-based membrane that covered up all the drywall imperfections and was also effective at blocking out noise. The dry, hard white ceilings that resulted hence became known as popcorn ceilings.

This was widely used as the industry standard until all those buildings constructed with asbestos from the 1890s started requiring more and more maintenance. Every time a pipe needed replacing, the workers would have to cut through the asbestos-laced insulation around the pipes. They began dying in large numbers because the little bits of airborne asbestos particulate that they would inhale caused acute respiratory illnesses and aggressive varieties of cancer. By the 1970s, asbestos-free insulation and drywall coatings were brought to market as a safer alternative.

Why is it so difficult to remove or modify old asbestos-based fixtures once they’ve been installed?

Unfortunately, for all those old buildings with asbestos in the walls and ceilings, the asbestos itself was just about impossible to remove without at least some of the toxic particulate being accidentally ingested by someone. It was often the case that it was too dangerous to perform maintenance on such buildings, and so the functionality of many of these buildings was impaired. It took several decades of air quality filtration innovations, the adoption of special disposal techniques, and the harmonization of best practices and regulatory standards before asbestos could be removed and disposed of safely on a large scale.

Similar issues emerge when dealing with popcorn ceilings in private homes. When one tries to texturize a ceiling that contains asbestos, little bits of that airborne particulate go into the lungs of whoever is working under it, setting the stage for serious illness and potential lawsuits.

How calling the professionals can help?

The gold standard for safely removing asbestos is in the use of p5 procedures. These procedures use a systematic combination of HEPA air filtration devices, external air quality monitoring techniques, and standardized disposal protocols to ensure that all that harmful airborne particulate gets removed from the air as the asbestos is being removed. The companies that offer this service in domestic homes are simply scaling down and modifying the methods that have been used in commercial buildings to make them work in the home.

As you begin your search for the right team to remove your household asbestos, keep in mind the importance of the p5 procedure. Anybody out there who claims to be an asbestos removal expert who does not provide p5 procedure-based services cannot make any guarantees that they are adhering to county-specific air quality rules and regulations, as well as federal environmental protection standards.

If you live in an older home and think there might be asbestos in your popcorn ceiling, a good place to start would be an asbestos testing kit. If your ceiling does contain asbestos, your days of having to continually stare up at that ugly ceiling do not have to persist. All you must do is pick up the phone, and let the experts take over. After that, the possibilities for your ceiling are bound by nothing. You can texturize, you can paint, you can add tiles, wooden panels, or even baseboards. Or, if you are feeling a little overwhelmed by all the options, you could just go with a nice classic, asbestos-free popcorn finish. It’s easy to put on yourself and the fact that it insulates noise is practical. It seemed to work well enough for our parents.

Alliance Environmental has completed over 200 000 jobs over 26 years from residential duct removals to commercial asbestos abatement. Schedule a call with one of our skilled and trained estimators or request a quote.

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