Homeowner worried about asbestos ceilings

Q. Our home was built in 1979 and has “popcorn” ceilings in most rooms. We started to scrape it off but stopped when someone suggested it might have asbestos. Our neighbor is a general contractor. He said we’re OK because asbestos ceilings were outlawed in 1973. But before resuming the removal, we want to be sure. Do you think our ceilings could have asbestos? How can we be sure? And if so, what should we do about it?

A. Faulty folklore about “popcorn” ceiling texture has become commonplace. Unfortunately, some of this misinformation has been spread by well meaning contractors. So here are the facts: In 1973, a number of asbestos building materials (such as air duct insulation) were prohibited, but ceiling texture was not on that list. It wasn’t until 1978 that asbestos ceilings began to be phased out. Notice, I said “phased out,” not prohibited. Here’s what happened.

As of 1978, it was no longer legal to manufacture asbestos-containing ceiling texture. But stockpiles of the material had already been produced and sold. Rather than force contractors and suppliers to throw out these materials, it was legal to use up existing supplies, and that is what happened over a period of several years. Even a home built as late as 1985 could possibly contain some of this material.

Before scraping off any more of your ceiling texture, take three random samples of the material from different rooms, put the samples in sandwich bags, and mail them to an EPA certified environmental laboratory. In a few days, and for a moderate fee, they will analyze the material with a polarized light microscope and will give you the answer. If no asbestos fibers are found, you can scrape away. If the material is confirmed as asbestos, special handling and disposal will be required.

Removal of asbestos ceiling texture by means of dry scraping is hazardous. Applying water prior to scraping makes the removal process safer, if the ceilings have never been painted. Unpainted acoustic texture readily absorbs water and assumes the consistency of mud, which prevents the release of airborne fibers. Ceiling texture that has been painted is impervious to water penetration. In such cases, removal by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor would be required.

Q. Our house has a tile roof. When we bought the property, our home inspector recommended bird stops, but we can’t seem to find a supplier. Where can we buy these things called bird stops, and are they necessary to keep the roof from leaking?

A. Bird stops are not essential to the watershed function of a tile roof. They are commonly installed at the edges of tiled roofs to cover openings that are large enough for bird nests. In some areas, they are also known as fire stops and are used to reduce fire exposure to the flammable materials under the tiles. To obtain bird stops, contact a nearby roofing contractor who installs tile roofing.

Ÿ To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

Action Coast Publishing

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