Thursday, February 9, 2017

Test Popcorn Ceilings For Asbestos Before Removing Them

I have never worked with a client who seeks popcorn ceilings in a property.  This spray-on texture, used commonly in American architecture between the 1950's and 1980's, is not only a pain to paint but tends to be viewed as dated in the eyes of most Buyers.  

That being said, as I peruse Pinterest to discover numerous DIY removal tutorial images like this...
... I shudder.  

I mean, SHUDDER.

While much of what I do here on CDN in the City is fun, this is a subject that I take seriously and am passionate about. Hence, this post.  If you have popcorn ceilings and are considering removal, I urge you to PLEASE put down the scraper, finish reading this post, and do a little research before you continue on with your project possibly putting your health (and your family's health) in jeopardy. 

WARNING: turn back now unless you are prepared for me to get real.

I rarely get deeply personal here on my blog, but I lost my father in 2010 (his obituary) to a devastating terminal pulmonary disease at the young age of 69.

It was a drawn-out death that I would not wish upon anyone, let alone someone who I deeply love.  His pulmonary disease, and a handful like them, are directly correlated to exposure and breathing fibrous materials like asbestos.  Asbestos was widely used in everything from siding to flooring as honestly, it was an incredibly durable material. It was also used in textured coatings, popcorn ceilings included.

When fibers of asbestos become airborne and are breathed into the human lung... they stick there and stay like a splinter.  The body's natural healing response is to inflame and build scar tissue around the shards and as that process continues... the person loses their ability to breathe and absorb oxygen as the lungs become thick and stiff with scar tissue.  

That is what happened to my father and happens to MILLIONS of other Americans each year, hence why asbestos is no longer legal. That beings said, it remains in millions of homes around the US- in floor tile, wrapped around pipes, on ceilings, and on siding.  When possible, most abatement companies just wrap and encapsulate the material.  As long as it isn't airborne in loose fiber form, it isn't dangerous. If a homeowner decides to REMOVE asbestos, however, it is a somewhat tedious process to ensure safety and follow EPA guidelines.

I have said before on the blog that my while my father was a local high school teacher... he and my grandfather were real estate investors, as well.  His initial exposure, however, likely occurred at a very young age, even long before he began high school.  The reality is that he grew up in a working class home where from the time he was in diapers, he spent time in my grandfather's workshop.  He learned how to weld, upholster, and do other various blue collar skills by the time he was a young man.  Yes, all without a mask.

In fact, as part of his physical to wrestle at Purdue, he had to get a lung x-ray where doctors noted that they saw scarring in his lungs at the age of 18.  It takes years for scarring to become troublesome or symptomatic.  My point?  The air that your children breathe is paramount.

The fact is, in the 50's these conditions were not known and my father had ZERO breathing difficulties his entire life.  This is not uncommon.  Real symptoms for pulmonary diseases like Pulmonary Fibrosis don't onset for several decades and 50% of all people die within 3 years of diagnosis.  My father was diagnosed at the age of 67 when he developed a persistent cough and then it went quickly.  

He passed away within 1.5 years of diagnosis.

In fact he, my paternal grandfather, AND my paternal grandmother all passed away from terminal pulmonary diseases.   It makes you think.

I realize that this post is a MAJOR downer, but I write it for a reason.  The end result of sitting by my father's side until the very end is that I am extremely cognizant of what Steve and I breathe, and what our children breathe in our family home. Sadly, most contractors are unaware or ignore certain material risk, so it is YOUR responsibility as a Homeowner to do your due-diligence in protecting the air quality of your own home.

While the use of asbestos in ceiling material was banned with the passing of the Clean Air Act of 1978, the existing inventory was used in construction projects well into the mid 80's.  As long as the material is undisturbed, you are perfectly safe!  However, this post is for your DIY-ers, myself included, contemplating removal of suspect asbestos popcorn material.  Protect your own health and the health of your family, before accidentally introducing something into your home that may cause them harm.

Our home has popcorn material that lines our basement stairs.  I have been hesitant to disturb it until recently when we gave our basement a facelift. The good news? Keeping your family safe is EASY, friends.  It only requires ONE EXTRA STEP and $35.

I ordered THIS asbestos testing kit from Schneider Laboratories Global. Within a couple of days, the kit arrived including all of the tools needed to safely remove sample material. I sent it off in the pre-labeled box and within 5 days we had a report emailed to us with a full breakdown of the material...

... NO FIBROUS MATERIAL.  Hurray! This test was fast, simple, and delivered the "green light" for us to safely proceed. NOTE:  If your home tests positive for asbestos, knowledge is power.  Hire a professional to safely remedy it, by either encapsulating or abating it. Do NOT attempt this by yourself under any circumstance.  Period. 

Whether you use this kit or another, just please use SOMETHING.  I must also note: once you begin the project, please be kind to your lungs by keeping the dust to a minimum! 

My Tips:
  1. Turn off your furnace or AC during the removal to reduce air circulation in the house.  You don't want this stuff in your ductwork!
  2. If it is a multi-day project, plastic off that room and cover any air-intakes/vents so them don't circulate until the dust is cleaned up.
  3. Thoroughly wet the material prior to scraping.  It not only reduces dust but makes the popcorn WAY easier to remove.
  4. If doing this project over floor vents, COVER THEM so material doesn't drop in.
  5. Shop-vac continuously and wear a mask.  
  6. Do NOT use your family vacuum cleaner, your Dyson will thank you.
  7. Protect your kiddies and have them mask up, as well when they peek their heads in to see what the heck you are doing
  8. When all else fails, no matter what the project is, just wear a mask.
Those of you following my adventures on Instagram have seen a lot of this...

I practice what I preach, I promise.  Safety first!