Dear Barry,

Our home was built in 1970 and has a textured ceiling and paneled walls in the living room. We started to remove the paneling, which caused some of the ceiling texture to be scraped off. It then dawned on us that the ceiling texture might contain asbestos. We bought a mail-order test kit and sent the sample to an asbestos lab. The lab reported that the acoustic texture contains 5 percent asbestos. So now we must decide whether to pay an asbestos contractor $3,000 to remove the stuff or simply spray some paint over it. Since we may already have released asbestos into the air in our home, maybe we should go ahead with the expensive removal. What do you recommend? –Jeff

Dear Jeff,

The small amount of scraping that occurred at the ceiling edges when you removed the wall paneling is not likely to have created a significant health hazard in your home. Theoretically, some asbestos fibers may have been released. However, the type of asbestos commonly used in acoustic ceiling texture — chrysotile asbestos — is less likely to produce airborne fibers than other forms of asbestos. To determine whether asbestos contamination now exists in your home, you can hire a qualified asbestos consultant to take air samples from your home and submit them to an asbestos lab. If airborne asbestos is found, the amount of contamination is likely to be miniscule, and you can decide at that point whether to pay for professional cleanup of the interior.

As for the acoustic texture that remains on your ceiling, spray paint is a common means of encapsulating it. Paint will saturate the texture material and bond the entire surface into a solid crust. Once painted, pieces of the material no longer break off easily when scraped or rubbed. Another common method of encapsulation is to install a second layer of drywall onto the ceiling, thereby sandwiching the acoustic texture between the old and new drywall layers. But this method can cause further release of asbestos fibers when the new drywall is being installed.

An important consideration when encapsulating asbestos texture with drywall is disclosure to future buyers of the home. Buyers would need to know that the ceiling contains asbestos, in case future remodeling should involve ceiling demolition.

Finally, it is important to weigh the actual risks of low-level exposure to asbestos. It should be noted that short-term, incidental exposures have never been proven to cause asbestos-related diseases. Documented cases of lung disease involving asbestos have involved professionals who were subject to large or prolonged exposures, such as those who mined, manufactured or installed asbestos materials.

If you still prefer to remove the ceiling texture in your living room, but want to avoid the high cost of removal, be aware that homeowners can legally remove asbestos materials from their own homes in most states. However, if you choose this approach, be sure to follow all of the EPA guidelines so that the removal will not result in air contamination. And be sure to hire a licensed asbestos abatement contractor for disposal of the material after it has been removed.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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