March 17, 2013 in Features

Do It Yourself: Popcorn loses its appeal in ceilings

Gene Austin McClatchy-Tribune
 

Q. Our house was built in the early 1970s and has popcorn textured ceilings. The ceilings have been painted. I know the ceilings might contain asbestos, but how do I clean the cobwebs that have collected on them? I am afraid of disturbing the asbestos.

A. You are correct that the ceilings might contain asbestos. Popcorn textured ceilings with asbestos were sprayed on the ceilings of countless homes and apartment buildings in the 1960s and 1970s. Asbestos was banned in 1978, but any ceiling installed prior to about 1980 should be suspect.

Your first step should be to test one of the ceilings to make sure you do have an asbestos problem. It is best to have testing done by a certified professional, but you can also buy an asbestos test kit at some home centers or on the Internet; instructions for taking a sample and sending it to the laboratory are included. If the popcorn tests positive for asbestos, you have a bigger problem than cobwebs, but more about that later.

It must be stressed that there is no way to guarantee absolute safety in tampering in any way with asbestos; you must be the judge of whether your ceilings are firm and stable enough to attempt cleaning. The paint might add some stability.

If these were my ceilings and I felt the popcorn was firm and stable enough, I’d get a stepladder, a spray bottle that produces a fine mist of water, and a paint brush about three inches wide with very soft bristles.

I’d mist the area around a cobweb (damp popcorn is less likely to flake) and very gently and carefully try to remove the cobweb with the brush, touching the cobweb only and not the ceiling. I would also wear a good dust mask preferably a respirator-type mask, eye protection, a head covering, and immediately wash the clothes I wore after removing the cobwebs.

If the popcorn showed any signs of crumbling or flaking, I’d stop at once.

You might get suggestions from some sources to use a brush attachment on a wet-dry vacuum cleaner, but I don’t recommend this; these vacuums suck in dirt, but spew some particles into the air while doing it.

But the bottom line isn’t just removing cobwebs. If you plan to sell the house at some point, the popcorn ceilings will be a major drawback. Removal by accredited experts would be very expensive and is not recommended except as a last resort if the popcorn is damaged (the Environmental Protection Agency says the best way to treat asbestos-containing materials in good condition is to let them alone).

Some asbestos materials can be encapsulated or covered up, but this is difficult with popcorn ceilings because almost any treatment, such as covering with a layer of drywall, is likely to be a health hazard by causing the popcorn to break up and put particles in the air.

One possibility is suspended ceilings, which consist of large removable tiles in a metal grid below the existing ceiling. But the popcorn would still be there and you would need to disclose its presence at sale, although it should solve your cleaning problems and make the rooms more attractive.

Painting is not considered a good option, but some people paint anyway. If paint is used, it should be oil-based and applied with a low-pressure (HVLP) sprayer. Latex paint applied with a roller can cause popcorn to loosen and fall off.

Q. There are some fairly large cracks in my concrete driveway. I think I know how to repair them, but I’d like to make the patches blend into the rest of the driveway. Is there some way to give the patching cement a darker color so it looks old?

A. Quikrete, a maker of concrete products sold at many home centers, has a line of liquid dyes that can be used to color concrete.

The dyes are sold in 10-ounce bottles, and one of the colors is charcoal. With some experimenting, you should be able to use this to approximate the appearance of your driveway.

You might be able to buy the dye at a home center near you, or you can search the Internet with the words Quikrete Concrete Colors to find a source. The dye is mixed with the water used to prepare the patching material.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at gaus17@aol.com. Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.


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