A Clean Way to Update Your Popcorn Ceiling

Do you have an old ceiling that needs updating?  “Popcorn”, acoustic tile and other types of textured ceilings can become brittle and contribute to bad air quality because they can hold dust and mold spores, as well as fall off in big or small chunks whenever they’re disturbed (think small flying toys, changing light fixtures, cleaning cobwebs or any type of paint touch-up!).  Worst of all, some ceilings installed before/through the 1980s may have asbestos in them (here is a helpful article if you suspect your ceilings may have asbestos).  Refinishing or replacing such a ceiling is a major undertaking that involves removing or covering all the furniture, blocking off the HVAC and doorways, and using personal protective gear to avoid inhaling the dust.  It’s daunting and expensive even for seasoned DIYer’s, and not a realistic option for renters.  

It’s important that homeowners or renters with older popcorn ceilings be aware that ceilings installed before the early 1980s may have asbestos in them. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil (Learn About Asbestos). According to the EPA, most uses of asbestos are not banned; however, it was banned from spray-applied surfacing materials (such as ceiling textures) in 1978. (EPA Actions to Protect the Public from Exposure to Asbestos).  So, it’s unlikely for any ceilings constructed/finished in the late 1980s to have asbestos.  Although professional removal of asbestos-containing materials is best, encapsulation of the ceiling by professional stretch ceiling installers is a (likely less-expensive) alternative. 

Stretch ceilings are a design idea that’s new to the US, but has been more popular in Europe and the Middle East for some time now.  Far from being relegated to the renovation industry, architects even specify them in some designs, and they are ideal for athletic and commercial spaces. 

There are two types of stretch ceilings: fabric or PVC.  Unfortunately, PVC must be heated during installation (usually with propane heat cannons) and it will start to off-gas and continue to off-gas throughout its life (up to 20 years).  (Two Kinds of Stretch Ceilings)  Therefore, in this article we will focus on fabric ceilings, which still have plenty of design choices, colors and aesthetics.  Fabric ceilings from Popcorn Ceiling Solutions are made from 100% knit polyester strands, infused with a water-based polyurethane (PU) coating, which makes them hydrophobic and mildew resistant.  They are VOC-tested and CE-certificated. 

According to stretch ceiling websites, there are many advantages to these installations.  Here are a few:

  • Lighting can be installed under or over stretch fabric ceilings.  Underneath, led lighting installations can be configured as spotlights or tracks in any design, with individual and dimmer controls available.  Traditional flush and pendant lights can be installed through the ceiling so that traditional design aesthetics can be maintained.  

  • Acoustic insulation can be hidden above a stretch ceiling, which is an obvious benefit for schools and athletic buildings to dampen noise.  You can also add it to your apartment or bedroom to get more privacy and peace.

  • Moisture and mildew resistance is a plus for humid environments like bathrooms, athletic facilities and indoor swimming pools. 

  • Many city apartment or condo buildings have concrete ceilings, which have limited lighting and design options.  A stretch ceiling adds many more possibilities.

  • Renters can upgrade their stained, dated ceilings by asking them (or asking permission) to install stretch ceilings. 

  • Stretch ceilings only lower ceilings by inches: the typical installation requires a minimum of 1” clearance, so substantial ceiling height is not compromised.

  • Cleaning with a mild soap and water are all that’s needed if the ceiling becomes soiled.  

  • Most installation companies give warranties that the ceiling will not sag or drop during the warranty period.

  • The fabric may be fire-rated.  According to Popcorn Ceiling Solutions, their fabric has the highest fire rating for building materials and a Class A. Fire and Smoke certificate is available upon request. (Frequently Asked Questions)

  • Multiple designs and colors are available; it’s even possible to paint your own ceiling (however it may void the manufacturer’s warranty). 

  • Stretch ceilings appear even smoother than skim-coated drywall and are completely level.

So, if you have a flaky or unsightly ceiling that may be contributing to bad air quality at home, check into fabric stretch ceiling installers in your area.  Then the ceiling will be one less source of dust and allergies in your home!