DEAR BARRY: My home has textured ceilings in the living room 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 wet the surfaces; the asbestos material turned to mush; and it was then 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: When acoustic ceiling texture is wet, asbestos fibers are withheld from release into the air. Therefore, wetting is part of the prescribed method for safe removal, as recommended by your home inspector. But this method works only if the acoustic ceiling texture has never been painted.

Unpainted ceiling texture is soft and permeable. It soaks up water as readily as a sponge. When wet, it is as mushy as oatmeal and can be easily removed with a drywall knife, without releasing asbestos fibers into the air. But when the texture has been painted, it becomes totally waterproof. The paint seals the material so that water penetration and easy removal are no longer possible.

During the 1980s and early ’90s, removal of acoustic ceiling texture was commonly done for environmental safety reasons, because breathing asbestos fibers was found 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, 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years, removal of acoustic ceiling texture has become popular because the cottage cheese look makes a home appear out of date.

If you scrape off the acoustic texture while it is dry, asbestos fibers can contaminate the air and interior surfaces in your home. Therefore, removal should be done by 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.

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 be done only with the advisement and supervision of an asbestos abatement contractor.

For more information regarding residential asbestos, visit the website of the Environmental Protection Agency at, or call the EPA at (202) 566-0517 and request a copy of the booklet, "Asbestos in the Home."

DEAR BARRY: We want to build an addition on our home but can’t get a permit because of an easement on the property. The original purpose of the easement was to provide access to two homes situated behind ours, but those properties now have their own driveways. Is there any way this easement can be removed? –Beth

DEAR BETH: If the easement was established for purposes that are no longer necessary, there should be a legal way to nullify it. The neighbors with the new driveways will probably have to approve this, and as long as they are reasonable people, there should be no reason for them to refuse. To determine the necessary legal procedures, consult your local building department. You may also need some advice from a real estate attorney.

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