If you see a popcorn ceiling in an apartment you’re considering renting, it’s worth making sure that the ceiling doesn’t contain asbestos. Not all popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, but any installed before the mid-80s run a higher risk. Because of the health problems that can result from asbestos, making sure that the ceiling is newer is important. In many older buildings, ceilings containing asbestos have since been removed. Simply asking when the popcorn ceiling was installed can give you a good idea of whether there might be a problem.
John Lala, a general contractor based in Virginia, describes how easy it is to tell if a popcorn ceiling was applied properly. “Popcorn is ‘wet applied’ — it is sheetrock compound, tiny foam pellets and water. It is mixed to a pea soup consistency and sprayed onto the ceiling. When it is done improperly or when it gets wet it will lift off or come off on your hand when touched,” he says. So if you can simply touch the ceiling in an apartment you’re considering renting, you should be able to tell immediately if the ceiling is in good shape.
If you are considering renting an older apartment, ask about whether asbestos has been removed from the building. Because there is some variation in removal procedures, as well as local laws regarding the handling of asbestos, it may be wise to double-check with your state’s department of health if you are concerned that the removal was done improperly. You can also arrange to have building materials tested yourself. Lala notes that it is easy to arrange, saying “…there are tons of material testing labs that can be located online or in the phone book. Typically, when we have a question whether a certain material is hazardous, we call out a marine hygienist. They will come out and take multiple samples of the suspect material, take it back to their lab and test it. Then they print out certified and very detailed findings of the status of the test they performed.” You can also take your own samples to a testing lab.
It is worth noting that some buildings choose to leave asbestos in place if it is encapsulated and is not a risk. This is because it can actually be riskier to remove the asbestos in some cases. Ask your landlord or building manager about asbestos in your place to make sure you are safe.