Q: My daughter just bought a fixer-upper. Do you know of any fairly inexpensive, somewhat-easy solutions for dealing with 1970s blown-on ceilings – you know, the kind that looks like flat popcorn?
A: Blown-on acoustical ceilings were all the rage in new homes in the ’60s and ’70s. For the life of us, we can’t understand why. We don’t imagine they deadened sound to any great degree. As far as adding any architectural interest, well, fuhgeddaboutit.
This ceiling came in two flavors that we’ve seen – plain and sparkles. We suppose someone thought the sparkles looked like starlight. How tacky!
About the only good thing we can say about these ceilings is that they go on quickly. That was good for the builder.
What we’ve come to know as a popcorn ceiling is really a cellulose concoction blown on with a sprayer. In new construction, before the carpet is down and the paint is on the walls, a little masking where wall meets ceiling, and voila! A worker can blow on the ceiling of a normal room inside an hour.
As we see it, there are three ways you can minimize or eliminate the popcorn effect. All are relatively inexpensive but somewhat labor intensive.
First, paint it. Second, scrape the popcorn off, re-texture the ceiling and then paint. Third, Sheet-rock over the popcorn.
As you consider these options, be aware that some of the old popcorn textures contained asbestos. Depending on the age of your daughter’s home, you might want to have the ceiling tested. The older the ceiling, the more likely asbestos is present.
If the ceiling does contain asbestos, scraping is not an option. Asbestos is a serious health hazard when the tiny particles become airborne, also known as friable. Asbestos should only be removed and disposed of by a licensed, bonded asbestos removal contractor.
If asbestos is detected, Options 1 and 3 are left. Painting or covering the ceiling with new Sheetrock encapsulates the asbestos and prevents fibers from becoming airborne.
The easiest way to spruce up the ceilings is to paint them. Use a thick-napped roller cover or a sprayer. Textured ceilings soak up paint like you wouldn’t believe. We’d suggest you start with a good coat of oil-based primer. Let that dry thoroughly and then apply one or two finish coats. Plan on two to three times the normal coverage. If you go this route, the ceiling will be a clean color of your choice, but it’ll still look like colored popcorn.
When we’re faced with this situation, we opt for re-covering the ceiling with drywall. Re-rocking provides a new surface and the option of a smooth or textured effect.
Drywall comes in either 4-by-8-foot or 4-by-12-foot sheets. The pros usually work with 4-by-12s because there are fewer joints to finish. We prefer 4-by-8s because they’re lighter and a few extra joints are no big deal on a small job.
To begin, first locate the ceiling joists. A hammer and a nail work well for this. Mark the joist locations on the wall where the wall and ceiling meet. Go to the opposite wall and repeat the process. Snap a chalk line on the ceiling connecting the marks you’ve made on the walls. The lines should be your ceiling joists.
Use 1/2-inch- or 3/8-inch-thick drywall and use drywall screws, not nails, to attach the sheets through the popcorn and old ceiling into the ceiling joists. Use either 1 5/8-inch or 2-inch drywall screws depending on the thickness of the ceiling. To find ceiling thickness, cut a small hole in ceiling, enough to get the end of a ruler or tape measure through, and measure it.
To make life easier, go to your local rental store and rent a drywall lift. This is a neat machine that allows a piece of Sheetrock to be placed on a vertical table, which is then rotated to horizontal and cranked to the ceiling. The lift allows the drywall to be positioned without having to hold it in place with hands, head or a homemade T-brace.
Hang the drywall perpendicular to the ceiling joists. We’ve found it best to snap a chalk line on the ceiling 4 feet away and parallel to a wall. This will ensure that the first sheet hung is square to at least one wall. If the room is a true rectangle cutting is kept to a minimum.
Once all the drywall is screwed in place, tape and mud the joints. Either paper tape or fiberglass tape will do. If you opt for fiberglass tape, use a powdered joint compound such as Durabond 90 for the first coat.
For a textured finish count, apply three coats of mud with a light sanding between coats prior to texturing. If a smooth finish is desired, we’ve never been able to do a job we’re satisfied with in less than four coats.
We know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But we think it’s well worth the effort to banish the popcorn forever.
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