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Do it yourself.

Q. Our building dates to the early 1970s and has popcorn-textured ceilings. The ceilings are painted. I know the ceilings might contain asbestos, but how do I clean the cobwebs that have collected on them without disturbing the asbestos?

A. You are correct that the ceilings might contain asbestos. Popcorn-textured ceilings with asbestos were sprayed on the ceilings of countless homes and apartment buildings in the 1960s and 1970s. Asbestos was banned in 1978, but any ceiling installed prior to 1980 could include asbestos. Your first step should be to test a portion of the ceiling to determine whether you have an asbestos problem. It is best to have testing done by a certified professional, but you can also buy an asbestos test kit at some home centers or online; instructions for taking a sample and sending it to the laboratory are included.

If the popcorn tests positive for asbestos, you have a bigger problem than cobwebs (more about that later). It must be stressed that there is no way to guarantee absolute safety after tampering in any way with asbestos; you must be the judge of whether your ceilings are firm and stable enough to attempt cleaning.

Paint might add stability. If these were my ceilings and I felt the popcorn was firm and stable enough, I'd get a stepladder, a spray bottle that produces a fine mist of water, and a soft-bristled, three-inch-wide paint brush. Mist the area around a cobweb (damp popcorn is less likely to flake) and very gently and carefully try to remove the cobweb with the brush, touching the cobweb only and not the ceiling. I would also wear a dust mask--preferably a respirator-type mask--eye protection, a head covering and immediately wash the clothes after removing the cobwebs.

If the popcorn showed any signs of crumbling or flaking, you should stop immediately. Some might suggest using a brush attachment on a wet-dry vacuum cleaner, but I don't recommend this; these vacuums suck dirt, and can spew particles into the air while doing so.

In this specific instance, the bottom line isn't just removing cobwebs. If you plan to sell the building at some point, the popcorn ceilings will be a major drawback. Removal by accredited experts would be very expensive and is not recommended except as a last resort if the popcorn is damaged. (The Environmental Protection Agency says the best way to treat asbestos-containing materials in good condition is to leave them alone.) Some asbestos materials can be encapsulated or covered, but this is difficult with popcorn ceilings because almost any treatment, such as covering with a layer of drywall, is likely to be a health hazard because it could cause the popcorn to break up, thereby putting particles into the air.

One alternative is suspended ceilings, which consist of large removable tiles in a metal grid below the existing ceiling. But the popcorn would still be there and you would need to disclose its presence at sale, although it should solve your cleaning problems and make the rooms more attractive. Paint is not considered a good option, but some people paint anyway. If paint is used, it should be oil-based and applied with a low-pressure (HVLP) sprayer. Latex paint applied with a roller can cause popcorn to loosen and fall off.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send pasta mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.
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Title Annotation:Common Repairs
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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