Popcorn Is for the Movies

by Elizabeth Dengler

My family and I are about to move into our new home in Suncrest. We began looking in February and found the perfect place in March. Our offer was chosen and we closed on the house in April. We’ve spent the last three weeks fixing up our new home before we move in. To find what we wanted at the right price, we knew we’d be looking at homes that needed a little TLC. When our Realtor showed us this particular house, we fell in love with the lot first, then we walked inside. Covering every ceiling was none other than popcorn. I took one look at those ceilings and grumbled to my husband, “that’s going to have to go”.

In the 70’s and 80’s the most popular ceiling choice for homes was an “acoustic ceiling”. It’s basically drywall mud mixed with little styrofoam looking balls and it was sprayed all over the ceilings to finish the drywall. Sometimes glitter was thrown into the mix, because the 70s were just a weird time. This type of ceiling texture is also known as “popcorn” or “cottage cheese” because, well that’s what it resembles in texture. The popcorn ceilings have since gone the way of bell bottoms, shag carpet, lava lamps and pet rocks. This type of heavily textured finish casts shadows and makes the ceiling look lower in addition to looking very dingy. You see, popcorn ceilings are dust magnets and they infamously absorb odors and become discolored, it can be especially awful if there was ever a smoker in the home. They easily crumble too and if you have to repair a section of the ceiling, trying to match the texture is a challenge. Not to mention cleaning them is almost impossible. Over the years to freshen up popcorn ceilings, homeowners would paint them for a brighter look.

After our offer on the house was accepted, I spent the following weeks as we awaited our closing date researching how to remove popcorn ceilings. I was confident after watching numerous YouTube videos that we could do it ourselves. As we walked through the house a second time, this time with our home inspector, I kept talking about how excited I was to take down the popcorn ceilings. Then, the home inspector overhearing my plans, rained on my parade. Turns out even though asbestos was banned in 1978 in the US, any residential building supply stockpile that contained asbestos was still permitted to be used. Our soon to be house was built in 1982, there was a chance asbestos could be present. I began looking at alternatives to scraping and disturbing the ceiling. We could drywall over the popcorn. We could hire an asbestos abatement team, but that was way too expensive. We could paint the popcorn ceilings bright white and just live with it. But we began by testing it.

After the home officially became ours, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I gathered a sample of the popcorn ceiling, making sure I scraped all the way down to the drywall and took it to Mountain Laboratories in Spokane Valley. All these folks do is test for asbestos. I learned that even though asbestos is no longer used in residential products manufactured in the US, it’s still used by China and Canada. Because of imported residential building materials, even new homes have to be tested for asbestos. We got a break. No asbestos was present!

If you’re interested in how we got rid of the popcorn this is what we did: We covered the walls, windows and floors of each room with plastic, we joked how the scene looked like an episode of “Dexter”. We got a clean weed sprayer, filled it with warm water and sprayed down the ceiling. We worked only one room at a time. After the water sat for 10 minutes, we did a second spray with water. After waiting another 10 minutes we climbed up on ladders and very carefully scraped off the ceiling texture using a 10” drywall knife. The popcorn texture that was never painted came off in cottage cheese crumbles as our knife scraped along. The texture that was painted came off in big strips. Even though we were planning to remove the carpet, we still chose to put down plastic on the floors as it made cleanup a snap. It was very easy to just roll up and throw away the huge popcorn mess, it was crazy heavy though.

4 days later the popcorn was gone. All that remained was drywall. We had a team come in that skim coated and touched up our “new” ceilings and then had them primed and painted “Ceiling White”. We opted for no texture to be applied to the ceilings. Texture has its place to cover up imperfections in a poor drywall instal, match other textures present in the home, or it can be a design choice to add visual interest. We, however, are done with ceiling texture, so we opted for a smooth finish for our ceilings. Now with the popcorn gone our ceilings look higher, cleaner and not at all noticeable. It was a lot of smelly, dirty work and well worth it. From here on out, popcorn will just be a tasty movie night snack in our home.