Q: How should I refurbish a rental condo after a tenant of some 13 years has departed? The ceilings have a "popcorn" finish, which I’m sure contains asbestos. The complex was built in the early ’70s.

Should I have a "hazmat" (hazardous materials) service evaluate or just bring in a contractor to remove the old and replace with current market materials?

A: Over the years we’ve written quite a bit about popcorn ceilings and the potential hazards of asbestos. The fact is, dealing with a popcorn ceiling that contains asbestos can be as messy — and expensive — as you want to make it. If we were in your shoes, just trying to get a rental unit looking good again, we would encapsulate.

No hazardous-materials service is required unless you want to remove the cottage cheese. In that case, take a small sample of ceiling material from an out-of-the-way place and have it tested at a lab. For a list of accredited labs, go to http://ts.nist.gov/Standards/scopes/plmtm.htm.

Asbestos is a mineral composed of microscopic fibers that look similar to fiberglass. Because of its strengthening, heat resistance and soundproofing qualities, asbestos was used to make pipe insulation, ceiling and floor tile, paints and coatings, caulking, fire-resistant fabrics, and clothing and brake pads.

It was outlawed for most residential uses in 1978, although builders were allowed to use stock on hand, so it’s possible that homes built as late as the early ’80s can contain asbestos.

Asbestos is a health hazard when it decomposes and releases dust. When it’s covered or encapsulated, it’s safe.

We see three options to deal with the material. Removing the ceiling is a mess, and if the test is positive for asbestos, you’re looking at a team of pros in moon suits, lots of ventilation, plastic and a hefty bill.

Your second choice is to drywall it. In the past, we’ve recommended installing drywall to cover the material, giving a more modern finish and eliminating the chance of toxic dust. Because this is a rental, you may not want to incur the work (if you do it yourself) or the cost of a professional job.

By far the easiest way to encapsulate the ceiling is to paint it with an airless sprayer.

Because this is the first rental turnover in 13 years, we’re guessing the whole place needs painting. So gown up, cover everything you don’t want to paint — such as cabinets, windows, and flooring you’re going to save — and let her rip.

Use non-slip, nonabsorbent drop cloths for floors. Wear old shoes and socks, long pants, latex gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, a respirator (not a dust mask) and full head covering. Paint stores sell lightweight head socks made especially for this purpose.

The popcorn will soak up paint like a sponge, so start with a good-quality primer coat to retard absorption. Also, plan on two to three times the normal coverage on the ceiling and allow a full day’s drying time between the primers and finish coats.

The ceiling may take as many as three finish coats. Wait at least four hours before recoating to ensure uniform coverage.

Finally, make sure to adequately ventilate the area and take frequent breaks to get some fresh air.

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