Q: My husband and I live in a high-rise condo on Russian Hill in San Francisco, which we bought in 1975 and have updated over the years. However we have not tackled the popcorn ceiling problem.

The contractor who remodeled the building’s lobby a few years ago is going to upgrade our apartment (replace carpet with tile), and we broached the subject of the ceiling with him.

Removing the asbestos popcorn is, as you have suggested, not a good option. The ceiling has been painted several times, but it’s still popcorn. We raised the possibility of drywall. The contractor said that although code would allow it, the code could change — implying that we might be in some kind of trouble down the road. We would also need to disclose the concealed asbestos if we were to sell the apartment.

In this building, the majority of new owners do a complete tear-out, including walls and any past improvements such as ceiling treatments. The disclosure would alert a prospective buyer of additional cost and time for that process. We don’t have any problem with that. But are we putting ourselves in a bad situation?

It’s also been suggested that remudding and painting the ceiling would do the job. We would very much appreciate your opinion on the options and anything else we should consider.

A: Our opinion remains that the best way to modernize the popcorn look is to cover it with drywall. Remudding and painting is the last thing we’d suggest. In our early days we tried it on one of our houses and found that even though the popcorn was painted, little nodules of corn came off when we dragged the mud knife over it. That made it impossible to produce an acceptable finished product, not to mention that it was incredibly frustrating.

Codes do change, but work done under the current building code is generally grandfathered in when it does. The exception would be if the work presents a health or safety issue.

In the late 1970s the use of asbestos in building products was banned because of health risks. Asbestos is dangerous only if it’s friable. That is, if it is producing dust. Encapsulated asbestos is safe. Currently, the asbestos in your ceiling is encapsulated by coats of paint. If you take our suggestion and drywall over the popcorn, you’ll only make it that much safer. For more information on asbestos, check out the Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

We can’t see any reason why a building inspector in the future would make you tear out the ceiling whether it’s drywalled or left alone.

As far as disclosure goes, whether you rock over the ceiling or remud it, the popcorn will still be there, and you will have to disclose it. If the new owner wants to do a tear-out, he or she will have to deal with the asbestos. The only way to avoid having to disclose the asbestos is to remove it. Unfortunately, since there are several coats of paint over the corn, it might be just as easy to pull down the drywall and start afresh. From our viewpoint this is more work than you need to do.

It is an opportune time to take care of the ceiling. With the carpet and tile up and the furniture out of the room, the path is clear for the drywallers to get in.


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