You know sometimes as creators and designers, we say, “I have a love/hate relationship with… *insert design thing here*…” followed by an explanation or rationalization for the ambivalence.
When it comes to popcorn ceilings, however, it’s a design element that I’ve had more of a tolerate/hate relationship with.
While I understand why popcorn ceilings were once upon a time a thing, no one can convince me now that they’re anything more than an eyesore…and sometimes a literal pain. I remember the basement of my sister’s house having popcorn ceilings — really LOW popcorn ceilings. I still have scars from many of the times my knuckles scratched the sharp popcorn ceilings every time I stretched. I am happy to report, by the way, that those popcorn ceilings have long been dealt with.
When we bought this house, we noticed that many of the rooms had popcorn ceilings — not the sharp, jagged type, but popcorn ceilings nonetheless! We knew it was something we were going to want to deal with immediately or sooner; and by deal with, I mean get rid of.
Oh, how naive we were!
Both my husband and I started to do some research on what our options are when it came to dealing with and/or removing popcorn ceilings. We quickly realized that it was not going to be the easy-peasy project we imagined. It was a crash course in all things popcorn ceiling — lessons neither one of us expected but information is power.
WHAT IS POPCORN CEILING AND WHY WAS IT EVER A THING?
I’m sure all of us here know exactly what popcorn ceilings are when we see them. It’s a heavily textured ceiling treatment — think stucco — that’s most commonly sprayed on. While us millennials may not ever care for popcorn ceilings now, they had a purpose once upon a time. In most cases it was done for one of three reasons:
- Aesthetic – because some people actually like popcorn ceilings
- Acoustic – since the heavy texture can have sound absorption properties
- Application – making it an easy solution for covering up imperfections
Because it’s such an old school technique, with it, now comes the added concern of asbestos aka the reason most people don’t even think about touching popcorn ceilings — the last thing anyone ever wants to do is disturb asbestos.
ASBESTOS INFO: If you do end up having asbestos in your ceiling DO YOU RESEARCH (especially if you are going to DIY). Every state has different rules for how to properly dispose of it and you also have to wear a respirator.
Taking into consideration the house, we knew there was a slim chance that there would be asbestos in our ceilings — the Clean Air Act banned asbestos in ceiling treatments and the house is from the 80s…but anything is possible.
DECIDING IF TO DESIGN AROUND OR REMOVE POPCORN CEILING?
The house has popcorn ceilings in all the bedrooms, the living room, the dining room, and the study (even though at the time, it was supposed to be the media room). The living & dining room (and entryway) share a high pitch, while the other rooms are simple flat ceilings. When we quickly considered all the removal/cover up options — I’ll get to that later — we knew that tackling all 5 spaces at once would be astronomically pricey & even more than that…inconvenient. In a perfect world, this is something we would’ve preferred to have done before moving in, while the house was still empty. Living in the house, however, changes what we wanna tackle. Since our timeline between closing and moving in was cut drastically short, tackling on the popcorn ceilings at once was off the table. Instead, we decided we would do it in phases…
Phase 1: Media Room (DONE!)
This room would be painted dark, so the popcorn ceiling would have to go to accomplish to look. It would not only look more seamless, the last thing we want to do is risk it looking janky trying to apply black paint over a heavily textured popcorn ceiling.
Phase 2: Living/Dining/Entry
Since we have plans to eventually paint this area, getting the ceiling done along with the walls would make the most sense — cover the furniture one time & be done with it. This would also be the perfect way to punctuate other upgrades to the main level, including the kitchen renovation and pulling up the carpeting.
Phase 3: The Bedrooms
This was a simple decision to be last because these are the rooms we sleep in — we are definitely in no rush to mess with ceilings in the rooms where we sleep. Asbestos or no asbestos, we want to enjoy our bedrooms for a long wall before having to be displaced from them for ceiling work.
Breaking it down this way made sense for us living in the house, to manage the scope and the costs.
TO REMOVE OR COVER UP?
After some research we discovered there were a few ways to deal with the popcorn ceiling for phase one —
- Have it sprayed and scraped off – the most permanent (and maybe messiest) of the choices — by literally scraping off the texture for a fresh start
- Apply putty to smooth over the popcorn texture – the most arduous technique — making it ready to prime & paint; but the texture is still there making the ceiling thicker
- Drywall over the entire ceiling – likely the quickest technique — in effect creating a drop ceiling and an instant new, smooth surface for the 5th wall
To tackle it ourselves, only the first two options would be an option for us — we do not mess with drywall work! — and to hire it out, we’d likely have it drywalled. Having a professional drywall for us would give us peace of mind for the living & dining rooms, considering the height of the ceilings; and for the bedrooms so that they could get in and out.
The media room, on the other hand, we decided we’d tackle ourselves since it’s one of the first projects we wanted to cross off our list & it has a manageable square footage.
DIY POPCORN REMOVAL
My husband looked into a few different techniques, which is how he decided on either scraping it off or applying putty. His first vote was for the latter — putty over the popcorn ceiling — to avoid having to actually scrape the ceiling. Plus it meant we wouldn’t be disturbing the popcorn ceiling — it had already been painted over, so continuing to cover it up would be a problem when it comes to asbestos. With a lightweight ready to use joint compound, my husband began the experiment. Of the three choices, I mentioned it is TRULY the most tedious. The application is pretty straightforward though — like spackling — so that made it relatively easy; but because of how tedious it is after a day, he knew this was not going to be as quick as he’d like.
Full disclosure: my husband has a full-time job outside the house so we try to budget his time on projects in a way that keeps him from feeling burnt out & overworked.
After scouring the internet a little more, he found what seemed like another “to good to be true” DIY solution. He picked up a 2 gallon pump sprayer, filled it with a vinegar & water solution, and got to experimenting. I can’t say exactly what the vinegar to water ratio was, but the internet says 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water, and that feels about right.
Before he could do anything though, since now we would actually be messing with the popcorn, we had to test it for asbestos. We purchased a testing kit to test a small sample. We received the results about a week later & as we suspected, there was no asbestos present.
To prepare, we had to cover the floor and plastic off the room to keep dust as contained as possible. Starting at the opposite side of the ceiling — opposite to where he’d applied the putty — he sprayed & saturated sections of the popcorn ceiling then used a scraping tool to remove the texture. Once the texture fell off, he’d sand the area (hence the dust concern) then rinse & repeat.
You guys! You guys! I dunno that I can fully express how easy this was!
His only regret at this point was not trying this sooner because he eventually had to go back and scrape the part of the ceiling that he’d already puttied.
But you live to learn.
Going section by section, he was able to remove nearly all of the popcorn ceiling in the room as a weekend project.
And I say nearly because he hadn’t removed the crown molding, which was applied after the popcorn ceiling so that perimeter was still there. The removal was followed by priming and painting the ceiling.
WHEN TO HIRE OUT AND WHEN TO DIY
I have said on more than one occasion that we are not DIYers so our first instinct will always be to hire a professional, but we are always mindful of what’ll cost us in terms of time & money.
In asking around, hiring a professional could cost us anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to thousands depending on the method and square footage. This room being around 350 sq. ft. could easily cost us close to $2,000 on the low end, just over $9,000 on the high end. Instead, it cost a weekend and less than $50. Pretty worth it right?
But this was only one room! One room that wasn’t in use… one room with flat ceilings… one room that confirmed that for the other rooms, we’ll be hiring it out & you’ll see why.
The remaining popcorn ceiling spaces, as I said, we’re going to tackle in phases; but having done one room ourselves gave us insights into why the cost of professional removal is what it is, and helped us better assess which methods we’d want in the other rooms. As it stands, considering how messy scraping really is — the dust from sanding is like sand after a trip to the beach… it gets into everything, everywhere! — we’re thinking drywalling over it will make the most sense. The remaining rooms all have higher ceilings, even if only by a little, than the room we did; so the additional drywall still wouldn’t make the ceiling feel too close.
In the meantime, the ceilings are basically out of sight, out of mind… well except in the bedrooms where the ceiling fans are also an eyesore. In the dining room, on the other hand, we’ve replaced the chandelier so it takes away from the popcorn ceiling — we welcome distraction.
Since the ceiling was previously painted over — which was likely done to refresh the look of the ceilings — it makes the textured look and feel slightly less obnoxious…about as annoying as the textured walls. Translation: they’re not on our 2021 design bucket list.
How do you feel about popcorn ceilings? Love em? Hate em? Willing to live with em?
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Ellie Lillstrom | From: What Happens When You Design Your Living Room and Then MOVE?? You Make It Work… Albie’s New Living Room Round One!