Q: My house was built in the 1960s and has popcorn ceilings. I read your article regarding drywalling over it, but I’m wondering if I can use ceiling tiles to do this? Also, since I don’t have a grid system, would it be OK to apply them directly onto the popcorn? Would this work, or would they just fall down?
A: This is a really bad idea. Try it and you’ll end up with a job rough as a cob, or worse.
There’s no way you’ll be able to set all the tiles so they lie flat and uniform. You’ll have more lumps and bumps than a country road.
The best thing that could happen is the glue won’t stick and the ceiling tiles will eventually fall off with a little of the textured ceiling attached. Worse will be if the glue sticks to the ceiling texture, but does not adhere to the drywall beneath. Sooner or later the tiles will loosen and fall, taking big patches of popcorn with them. At that point you’ve got a big mess, and a big problem.
A popcorn ceiling in a tract home built in the 1960s almost certainly contains asbestos. Textured ceilings were installed for several reasons, one of which was the aesthetics. People thought they looked modern.
Two more practical reasons drove the movement. First, it was cost-effective for the builder. Spraying popcorn texture on ceilings was cheaper than having the drywall fully taped, textured and painted. The builder could get by with two coats of joint compound on the seams of the drywall and none of the painting.
The other selling point was fire resistance, hence adding asbestos to the mix. Asbestos acted as both a fire retardant and a binder. The asbestos fibers held the mix together.
So with asbestos a virtual certainty, you’ve got three choices: Paint it, scrape it or rock over it.
Painting is the least expensive alternative, but you’ll still be left with the stippled popcorn look. We recommend renting an airless sprayer for the job. It’s a do-it-yourself project. Make sure to mask everything off you don’t want to paint, use plenty of drop cloths and run a 2-foot-wide length of painter’s paper along the walls from where they meet the ceiling.
Also dress appropriately — long pants, long-sleeved shirt, latex gloves, a hat, and, most important, a respirator rated for painting.
If you want to get rid of the corn, we think your best bet is to put drywall over it. A pro drywaller coupled with a pro taper should be in and out in a couple of days. While this can be a do-it-yourself job, the learning curve is pretty steep. If this is your first "rodeo," hire professionals.
Scraping entails testing, and probably asbestos abatement, which is much more expensive than either painting or drywalling. Also, a job best left to professionals.
There is a fourth choice. If your heart is set on ceiling tiles, you must install a grid system. If you glue tiles to the existing ceiling, you’ll just be opening a big can of ugly.