Q. When we remodeled our home, we wanted to get rid of the "cottage cheese" ceilings, but we didn't want the mess of scraping them off. Instead, we covered the ceilings with a second layer of drywall. At the time, that seemed like a good idea.
Now that we're selling the property, the buyers' home inspector noticed textured ceilings in the closets. He assumed we had removed the texture from the rest of the house and advised the buyers to verify that we had tested for asbestos before removal. We had no idea that textured ceilings might contain asbestos, but since we did not remove the material, there should have been no reason for testing.
The buyers are very troubled by this disclosure, and we're not sure what to do. Was it OK for us to cover the ceilings without testing for asbestos?
A. For many years, from the 1950s through the 1980s, acoustic ceiling texture was a standard feature in many homes. In those days, it gave homes a "modern" look. Today it looks old fashioned, and many people are having the stuff removed. Until the late 1970s, asbestos was a common component of "cottage cheese" ceilings because it made the material easier to apply with a spray gun. Fortunately, this type of asbestos material is not regarded as a significant health hazard unless it is disturbed. However, when removal takes place, testing is required. When the test results are positive, handling and disposal by licensed professionals is mandatory.
The home inspector who observed ceiling texture in your closets made a reasonable assumption about the main-room ceilings having been textured, although he erred in assuming that the material had been removed rather than being encapsulated.
Unfortunately, encapsulation of acoustic ceiling texture with an additional layer of drywall is not an approved procedure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. There are two reasons for this prohibition:
• When drywall is applied over a textured ceiling, surface abrasion and nailing can cause dust to be released into the air. If the ceiling texture contains asbestos, contamination of the air inside the home is likely to occur.
• When asbestos is concealed behind a layer of drywall, future remodeling of the home could result in contamination of the air if someone were to remove the ceiling. This could pose a health hazard to unwary workers and occupants.
For these reasons, your buyers should be informed about the encapsulated ceiling texture so they are fully aware of the situation. Your next step should be to have the ceiling texture tested to determine if it does, in fact, contain asbestos.
It is possible that it does not because asbestos was not always used in textured ceiling applications. If the material does contain asbestos, you'll have to work out an agreeable solution with your buyers. They may be willing to accept this condition as is, but they may not. Either way, they should be able to make an informed decision.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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