Popcorn Ceilings – Are They Really So Bad?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on April 10, 2011 · 105 comments

Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn Ceiling

As I was suffering with allergies last month, praying the medicine would work, and wishing I could at least start to half-breath again, I took respite on my living room sofa and laid there for a while, like a zombie, staring at my ceiling, meditating and trying to will my sinuses into operation.

As I did so, I made an odd observation. “This is one of the nicest popcorn ceilings I’ve ever seen!”, I thought. I continued examining the ceiling, from corner to corner. Not a blemish, stain or evidence of previous repair or patchwork anywhere. No discoloration around the A/C vents. No defects at all. The popcorn ceilings in my house are, in a word, pristine. Not bad for a late-1970s ranch-style home that’s spent over half its life as a rental.

Many home owners scrape their popcorn ceilings (aka Acoustic Ceilings). If you hire someone to do it, it costs roughly $1.00 per square foot to remove and re-texture, depending on various factors such as the ceiling height, the type of paint that’s been applied to to ceilings, and whether it has asbestos (as much popcorn did up until the 1970s).

When we list homes in Austin with popcorn ceilings, and seek feedback from Realtors who show the home, we’ll often hear “the buyers didn’t like the popcorn ceilings”. Often, a listing in 1970s Austin neighborhoods will boast of the popcorn removal. In our Austin MLS right now, there are comments in listings that say (actual quotes):

… popcorn removal & paint 2007
… NO popcorn here
… ceiling popcorn removed
… owners have gone through the trouble to remove the popcorn ceilings
… NO POPCORN ceilings
…etc.

People hate popcorn ceilings. But as I look at my own vintage 1978 popcorn ceilings, and how perfect they are, I wonder what all the fuss is about.

I mean, really. What’s the big deal? Sylvia and I are getting ready to install hardwood floors this summer, and I know the popcorn ceilings will drastically reduce the echo noise produced by hard surface flooring. This sound dampening provides a more pleasant acoustical experience in the home, being much easier on the ears. This, in fact, is why it is technically called an “acoustical texture”. The term “popcorn” came into use because it describes the appearance. But have you ever been in an all-tile or all-wood home where the ceilings have been scraped flat? It’s noisy and echoes badly.

So, when you’re up watching Letterman, your spouse shouts from the bedroom “turn down the TV!”, and you respond “it’s already down to number 4, and I can barely hear it”. You have your scraped ceilings and wood or tiles floors to thank for this unwelcome sound travel throughout your home. Throw rugs will help a bit, but are not nearly as effective as popcorn ceilings at dampening sound.

Some people think the popcorn ceilings have asbestos and are dangerous. Partially true. Some of the 1950s and 1960s popcorn had asbestos, but these ceilings emit no vapors or fumes that can be inhaled. As long as they are covered with paint, and you don’t disturb and breath the dust, you are not exposed to anything toxic.

I do agree that once the ceilings have had a few roof leaks, been painted, and start to look funky, the popcorn can become unattractive. But so can a flat textured ceiling that has suffered the same fate.

That all being said, Sylvia dislikes the popcorn. When we replace the flooring, she’ll probably say “shouldn’t we go ahead and scrape the popcorn while we’re doing the floors anyway?” (Project Creep) My response, “remove this perfect, pristine popcorn?! Are you crazy?! I love these ceilings!”

Please, somebody agree with me and let’s admit that this obsessive neurosis about the texture and appearance of a popcorn ceiling is nothing more than “texture snobbery”.

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