What's the Deal with Popcorn Ceilings?

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Popcorn ceilings were all the rage in the 1970s. Today, it’s not uncommon to see eager homebuyers walk out of open houses disappointed at the discovery of these lumpy and bumpy ceilings. It’s not a secret that popcorn ceilings are no longer in style, but you shouldn’t write them off so quickly. Like most design trends, popcorn ceilings have their merits, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first glance. 

Read on to learn more about why popcorn ceilings get such a bad rap, what benefits they bring to the table, and how to remove them if the cons outweigh the pros. 

What are popcorn ceilings?

Popcorn ceilings are a type of textured ceiling that looks very similar to their movie theater snack namesake. This style of ceiling was immensely popular in the late 1970s for its ability to hide drywall mistakes. It’s difficult to get drywall surfaces perfectly level with no imperfections, but with the addition of a popcorn ceiling texture spray, those mistakes aren’t visible. 

Why are popcorn ceilings bad?

The reason behind why popcorn ceilings exist is pretty sound, so why all the hate for these textured ceilings? 

While some homeowners oppose popcorn ceilings because of their appearance, there are other very legitimate reasons why plenty of people don’t want popcorn ceilings in their home. Let’s examine those reasons:

  • To eliminate asbestos. In the past, the creation of popcorn ceilings involved an unfortunate ingredient — asbestos. In 1978, the Clean Air Act put a stop to this practice, but homes built before them very likely have asbestos in their popcorn ceilings. The EPA believes that if the ceiling is still intact, you won’t be in danger of inhaling any asbestos, but it’s understandable why someone would want to remove the popcorn ceiling texture altogether. 
  • To soften the light. A less scary, but still unpleasant, reason that many detest popcorn ceilings is because of the harsh light it introduces into a room. The bumpy surface causes light to bounce off the ceilings and create harsh shadows. 
  • To eliminate discoloration. Popcorn ceilings discolor overtime which leads to a dingy look that begs for a makeover. If you can’t remove the ceiling in the near future, a fresh coat of paint is a temporary fix that will hide that discoloration. 
  • To keep dust at bay. Unfortunately, popcorn ceilings are a magnet for dirt and dust. This means you need to dust your ceilings frequently, which is probably the last thing you want to spend your time doing — especially since cleaning dust off the ceiling will often leave some to fall on your furniture and floors, causing even more of a mess. 
  • To avoid disintegration. Popcorn ceilings don’t last forever and they do eventually disintegrate. When this starts to happen, you’ll see white flecks fall from the ceiling onto your belongings. This debris does damage surfaces, so it’s important to replace or remove popcorn ceilings soon after any disintegration begins.
  • To fix ceiling damage. Accidents happen and you may end up with a hole, dent, or disfigurement in the ceiling that requires repair. You can’t patch a popcorn ceiling, instead you need to redo the entire ceiling to make it match. At this point, it will make more sense to simply replace the ceiling with a more modern option. 
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Is it hard to get rid of popcorn ceilings? 

Most homeowners want rid of their popcorn ceilings. Sadly, the removal of popcorn ceilings is quite the undertaking. Get ready to spend a pretty penny if you hire professional help and to have a lot of fine white dust on your hands (both figuratively and literally) whether you hire someone or choose to do it yourself. If the ceiling is free of asbestos, you can tackle this DIY project on your own, but it will take a lot of work. 

Here’s a quick look at the steps you’ll take to remove popcorn ceilings: 

  1. Remove all furnishings or cover them with a drop cloth.
  2. Spray a small section of your ceiling with water and then let it sit for 20 minutes.
  3. After the 20 minutes is up, scrape off the texture that comes loose.
  4. Once you remove all of the texture, you will prime and paint the ceiling.

The cost to get rid of popcorn ceilings adds up quickly, especially if you live in a sprawling home. If you choose to go the DIY route, you’ll save a lot of money and will only spend about $30 to $200 for the materials necessary to get the job done. 

If you hire a professional to tackle this project, you’ll pay around $1 to $3 per square foot for their labor and materials. Expect to pay more if you have a ceiling that tests positive for asbestos. A professional will likely charge $3 to $7 per square foot in the event of asbestos. This cost will be well worth it, as you don’t want to accidentally expose yourself to the asbestos if you make a mistake while doing the removal yourself. 

Does removing popcorn ceiling increase home value?

To remove or not to remove, that’s the question every seller has on their mind. You will greatly increase the value of your home if you remove the popcorn ceilings, as you’ll give the home a more modern look and alleviate asbestos concerns in one fell swoop. 

The size of your home will also play a factor here. The larger your home is, the more likely it is that buyers won’t want to take on a project of that size. This is even more likely if they can find another similar home in the area without popcorn ceilings. 

If you remove your popcorn ceilings before you put your home on the market, you may see your home value increase by $2,500 for a moderately sized home of about 1,400 square feet. For much larger homes, you may see an added value of $25,000 to $35,000.

Take a look at other similar homes for sale in your area to see how many have popcorn ceilings and if you need to remove yours in order to compete with them.

Is it worth it to remove popcorn ceiling? 

Are popcorn ceilings really that bad and is it worth it to remove them? This depends on who you ask and what quality the popcorn ceilings — and the rest of the home — are in. Popcorn ceilings come in handy when you want to cover up drywall imperfections. If you choose to DIY your drywalls, you may really appreciate the mistakes you can cover with a quick and affordable drywall spray. 

You may also find that you get a bit more peace and quiet when you live in a home with popcorn ceilings. Popcorn ceilings help cut down on sound, which makes them a great choice for rooms with high ceilings that tend to echo. 

At the end of the day, popcorn ceilings are more of a true concern if the ceilings date back to before 1978 when asbestos played a role in their creation. Even then, if the ceilings are intact, you don’t have too much to worry about, so take your time to decide how you want to proceed and how much time and money you want to spend on the removal of popcorn ceilings. 

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