Dear Barry,

My home has textured ceilings in the living rooms and bedrooms, and the material has tested positive for asbestos. A home inspector I know says he removed his asbestos ceilings by himself and that it was simple. He just wetted the surfaces. The asbestos material turned to mush and was easily removed. But when I tried to wet my ceilings, the water wouldn’t soak in. Why did this method work for my friend but not for me? – Allen

Dear Allen,

During the 1980s and early ’90s, removal of acoustic ceiling texture was commonly done for environmental safety reasons, because breathing asbestos fibers was known to cause various lung diseases. That practice became less common when it was realized that asbestos ceilings pose no health hazards if left alone. Air contamination, it was realized, only occurs when the material is disturbed, causing the release of asbestos fibers. In more recent years, removal of acoustic ceiling texture has become popular because the cottage cheese look makes a home appear dated.

When acoustic texture material is wet, asbestos fibers are withheld from release into the air. Therefore, wetting is part of the prescribed method for safe removal. But in some cases, as you’ve found, this procedure is not possible. The water resistance of your acoustic ceilings is probably due to paint on the surface. Unpainted acoustic spray readily absorbs water. When wetted, it assumes the consistency of oatmeal and is easily removed with a drywall knife, without releasing asbestos fibers into the air. However, many old acoustic ceilings have been painted, thereby encapsulating the asbestos-containing material and rendering it waterproof.

If you proceed to scrape the acoustic texture while it is dry, asbestos fibers could contaminate the air in your home. Therefore, removal should be delegated to a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to ensure safety. Unfortunately, the cost of professional asbestos removal is prohibitive. Because of this, some homeowners have opted to install a second layer of drywall over the asbestos surface, as this can be done for less money than asbestos removal. However, drywall application over an acoustic ceiling can cause abrasion, resulting in the release of asbestos fibers. Therefore, such work should only be done with the advisement of an asbestos abatement contractor.

For more information regarding residential asbestos, visit the web site of the Environmental Protection Agency at, or call the EPA at (202) 566-0500 and request the booklet, Asbestos in the Home.

Dear Barry,

The house I’m buying is more than 100 years old, and there appear to be some structural problems. The main support beam in the basement is cracked and has caused some sagging of the upstairs floor. The sellers have installed temporary supports and say that permanent repairs can be done at a later time for about $1,000. Should I consider buying this home or leave it well enough alone? – Chris

Dear Chris,

If you seriously wish to purchase this home, you should disregard the sellers’ assessment of the support problems, and have the foundation and framing systems professionally evaluated. Concerns regarding the structural integrity of a home should not be left to chance or to off-hand opinions. I strongly recommend that the post and beam problems be investigated by a licensed structural engineer. The property should also be fully evaluated by the most thorough and experienced home inspector you can find. Other problems are certain to be revealed, and with the sellers minimizing the disclosure of significant structural issues, some of these findings could be decisive.

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


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