Brian Jennin…, Home Buyer in San Francisco, CA

What should I know about asbestos?

Asked by Brian Jennings, San Francisco, CA Fri Jun 29, 2012

How do you know if your ceiling has asbestos? If I have "popcorn ceiling" does that mean I have asbestos? Is it necessary to remove or can I live with it? How do you get rid of it? Is this something I can do myself or should I hire a professional?

Lots of questions. :)

Help the community by answering this question:


Hi Brian:

"How do you know if your ceiling has asbestos?"
"If I have "popcorn ceiling" does that mean I have asbestos?"

Most homes built before 1978 will contain asbestos materials in varying percentage levels both inside and outside the structure. Confirmation and percentage level of asbestos can only be assured via sample testing. is a lab clients of mine used to do asbestos testing in Hayward (I'm sure you can find one closer to your location). They drove a sample to the lab and received the results in less than 3 hours; charge was $35. Test results showed a 2% asbestos concentration.

"Is it necessary to remove or can I live with it?"

I suppose this depends on how risk averse you are. The primary concern is when the asbestos becomes airborne. The first "line of defense" is to encapsulate the asbestos. Many homeowners choose to paint their "popcorn" ceilings. If this is a viable option for you I would suggest the use of a paint sprayer as opposed to a brush or roller that might agitate and/or release asbestos fibers. Additionally, over saturation of the ceiling by brush or roller may cause the "popcorn" to fall off the ceiling. If you are not a do-it-yourself painter I'm sure you can find a contractor willing to help.

"Is this something I can do myself or should I hire a professional?"

Well, there's no law preventing an owner from removing asbestos themselves that I am aware of (the homeowner must still follow the Rules & Regulations of the Dept. of Environmental Quality for disposal); however, there is legal exposure of not disposing of asbestos properly. The more important consideration is your own asbestos exposure while doing so, which I, and I’m betting all who respond to your question, will personally feel is not at all worth it. However, be aware that removal is costly and often seen as the solution of last resort. Here's a link for finding certified professionals to remove the "popcorn":

Here a few more informational links:

2 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 29, 2012
If you have asbestos, it's really important that you have them removed as soon as possible. They can actually really damaging to your health. I would call a company and have them remove them for you as soon as you can. Good luck and I hope everything works out for you!
Flag Wed Jan 14, 2015
Thank you for such an informative response. I have been worried about asbestos in my ceiling. My home is over 40 years old, and it has the popcorn design. I was going to paint over it, but I don't want to take the risk. After hearing your advice, I think it would be best to get it completely removed.
Flag Fri Dec 19, 2014
Hey Brian,

The government has some great information on the issue, it's actually pretty serious and if you think you might have it, you may want to consult a professional!

In fact, when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems.

Here is some information on how to find state and regional asbestos contacts:

I hope that helps!

Ali, Community Manager
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 29, 2012
Asbestos was widely used in a great many building products. Sometimes for really good reasons, and maybe other times just to increase profits. When you research asbestos, you will find it is present in multiple forms:
1> Naturally occurring in the air we breathe at very low levels.
2> Non friable - does not easily release the microscopic killer particles.
3> Friable - which is the most hazardous form.

Reading up on this you'll find differences of opinion on what is safe, and how best to deal with it: which is usually some form of encapsulation vs. removal.
Whether it's a lab test you are doing, or hiring a professional for abatement,
this is not a place to be looking for a discount. Contracting is an area where
people are regularly scammed. You don't want to pay a person a substantial deposit, have them tear up part of your property, and never show up again having left your house badly contaminated with air born fibers! This happened to one of my customers once. We paid for it.
Flag Fri Oct 17, 2014
You are asking a forum of real estate agents to give you health advice! We can't really advise you on whether or not you have asbestos in the popcorn texture, or if you can live with it or not. We also would hate to advise you to go ahead and remove it only to be sued in thirty years when you develop cancer.
I'd suggest you ask a painting contractor or an asbestos abatement company.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 29, 2012
Jed Lane, Real Estate Pro in San Francisco, CA
Asbestos removal is best done by a professional. The biggest risk for having asbestos in your home is if it is damaged and the fibers are breathed in. If you're removing it, that's almost guaranteed if you don't have the right equipment. Personally, I'd have it removed as soon as possible by a company that specializes in that stuff.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Apr 22, 2015
Hire a professional. Anything built before 1978 MAY contain asbestos. You can have it professionally tested. They take a very small piece of the material and run tests. Often asbestos is not removed it is encapsulated. That is acceptable,. When removing this material the dust gets all over the place.
Leave the job to the professionals
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jan 14, 2015
I've heard that there's a lot of people out there that are inspectors. That can be one of your better options. They will be willing to take it out probably too. I think it's good that you are trying to get rid of it.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jan 14, 2015
There are two types of asbestos, friable and non friable. Here is a link to asbestos information provided by the EPA
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jan 6, 2015
The only way to accurately determine if you have asbestos is by having the home tested. As far as I know, a little bit of asbestos is not a bis concern. However, it's generally a good idea to have it removed. generally you should leave that job to a professional. The whole job really should be run through a company that can be trusted to test and treat it properly.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jan 6, 2015
Asbestos can be found in many older homes that have popcorn ceilings. It is toxic if it is breathe in. This happens most often when homeowners do remodeling and scraped it off on their own. I strongly recommend people to hire a professional to do this. There are companies out there that specializes in this.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Nov 21, 2014
You should get this checked by a professional. They will be able to tell you if you have asbestos. There are other services that deal with asbestos removal as well. You will want to get in contact with them if you have asbestos in your ceiling.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Nov 19, 2014
Asbestos is not usually dangerous unless it is disturbed. If you have asbestos, you should probably have it looked at. If you decide it needs to be removed, then you should get the removal done by a professional. Trying to do it by yourself without the proper knowledge or tools can be dangerous for you and others in the home.

Claire Reynolds ||
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Aug 20, 2014
I think that you would be safe as is. I would look into some asbestos abatement though. You would be able to find information and decide if you aren't safe. You'd also be able to figure out how much you'd need to be safe, but you don't need to move.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jul 31, 2014
A lot of older homes have asbestos somewhere in them. Having a "popcorn ceiling" doesn't necessarily mean that it is asbestos, though. I would suggest hiring a professional to come take a look and measure how much asbestos your home really does have. Then they can advise you if you need to have it removed or not.
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jun 12, 2014
Great question, and there are some great answers here.

Basically, most older homes have asbestos in one form or another (exterior materials, popcorn ceilings, duct work etc.) It's generally not a big deal to have in your home as long as it isn't becoming airborne, like some other commenters mentioned.

If your popcorn ceiling does have asbestos, and its flaking off, or it frequently gets bumped or hit causing any pieces to fall, that's when it could cause an issue to your health. However, it wont necessarily cause an issue - there is a small amount of asbestos that humans can be around without harm. I don't know the exact parts per million that is the maximum "safe" amount, but that information is out there if you search for it.

The best way to find out if you have asbestos, and if you need to have it safely removed, is to hire a professional to come and view and test your home. Under no circumstances would I ever recommend doing this type of work yourself. Removing asbestos is when it can become most airborne, and therefore most hazardous to your health.

If you'd like a referal to a contractor who can help with this, I know some great people in the bay area who have done similar work for me.

Hope this is helpful!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri May 23, 2014
You could always check out asbestos abatement in Tri Cities WA. They could help you figure out if you have asbestos and what to do about it.
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Nov 20, 2013
Like many have already said, having a popcorn ceiling does NOT mean that you have asbestos. However, there are plenty of other reasons to get rid of popcorn ceilings, such as smells, allergies, and even the cost of your home. This article is pretty interesting:…
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Aug 22, 2012
This will give you some pretty in depth info:…
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 11, 2012
Most "popcorn ceilings" were applied when asbestos was used from the 1950's-early 1970's.
It is best to have a specialist trained in asbestos removal do the necessary work to test and quote a price. That kind of removal is only for qualified people due to the amount and fragmented nature of asbestos. It only takes one fiber inhaled and lodge in your lungs to create mesothelioma.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jul 8, 2012
A common "rule of thumb" regarding asbestos is to assume that any home built prior to 1979 has some form of asbestos in it: asbestos insulation wrapped around the heating ducts, asbestos underlayment in flooring, asbestos in the plaster of lath and plaster wals and ceilings, and lastly in "popcorn" ceiling texture. Given this, if your house has "popcorn" ceiling texture, was built prior to 1979, then it has asbestos in it. It's not necessary to remove your ceiling, or for that matter to remove the asbestos in any of the other locations that I mentioned. As long as you are not touching it, or getting the asbestos fibers airborne, it's fine. Regarding getting rid of it, DO NOT attempt to do this yourself. Hire a licensed asbestos remediator for this and no one else.
Thomas Buchanan
Hammerhouse Construction, Inc
415 516 7399
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jul 2, 2012
Having a popcorn ceiling does NOT mean you have asbestos. Typically, homes built before 1978 have asbestos, homes built afterward do not.

I don't believe it's absolutely necessary to still see many homes with it still intact. Many people of had it scraped off for cosmetic reasons (myself included). There are people who will take it off for approximately $1 per square foot...just look in the services section of Craigslist. I definitely suggest hiring someone who has experience doing this - it will affect the appearance of your home.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jul 2, 2012
Always use an asbestos abatement removal specialist when removing acoustic ceiling materials.Never use a company who is not certified for this work.When the material is being removed it becomes airborne,the only state in which it is harmful.When it settles it gets into the ducting registers,atop door trim,in carpet,etc.When the job is complete and the family returns use of the heating and cooling system could again put these asbestos fibers into the air for your family to breath them in.A professional abatement team will turn your home into a hazmat scene.The work one room at a time, sealing the room with plastic and duct tape, only to leave one opening for their shop-vac which runs the entire time sucking every fiber into it's filtered container. In addition two man teams work on scraping the ceiling, one scraping and the other holding another vacuum up to the scraping tool capturing every fiber and dust particle that is scraped off.Don't put your family at risk,use certified pros...
Flag Sun Feb 10, 2013
Hi Brian,
Trulia asked me to add my professional opinion.
I am a home remodeling contractor and my advice is to have a professional look at it.
If it is intact it is not a serious issue, as soon as it is disturbed it may become air born and that is when you can breath it in.
Age of the home is a good hint, pre 78 = high risk.
An Abatement contractor may not be as expensive as you think, good luck,

Martin Duggan,
San Francisco,
Licensed General Contractor,
(415) 640 1148
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jul 2, 2012
Age of home will have a lot to do with it.
You can look it up online and find out when popcorn acoustic ceilings used asbestos.
Bottom line it gets spendy. It may be wise to have a professional look at it. If you do research the professional and MAKE SURE THEY HAVE WORK COMP THAT COVERS ASBESTOS!!! If it is peeling you may have to do something with it. If not you may be able to wait. If you or people who stay in your home have allergies, or breathing issues,... you may want to get them out of there until it is done and over with.

If you do see the pros in action it will look something like a HAZMAT party.

Harold Sharpe - Broker
So Cal Homes
(951) 821-8211
California Department of Real Estate Broker License # 01312992
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sat Jun 30, 2012
Hello, Great question! You do not know by looking at it if it has asbestos. Asbestos was banned by the government in 1978, but it is my understanding that contractors were allowed to continue to use the stock they had, legally until it ran out. It is possible but not very probable that a ceiling sprayed up to ten years after 1978 could still have asbestos.
Will it hurt you? Not if it is not disturbed. It is the dust or powder that harms you. If it is not disturbed it is what is termed "encapsulated"
What to do? Send it to an environmental lab for testing. Once they receive it it is usually a 2 or 3 day turn around to get it back. The cost is, typically, in the SF bay area, about $35 or a little more.
If it comes back positive, meaning it has asbestos, it will say a percentage. If the percentage is low that is better. There are self test kits but i have been of the opinion that it is better professionally done. Just ask the lab how much they need and how to get it. Typically a quarter size amount is plenty. They may want it from two areas. The lab we use is:
Asbestos Control Center
32 Hamilton Drive, Suite A
Novato, CA 94949
Phone: 415-883-7856
Toll Free: 800-499-7856
How to remove it if it has asbestos. Have a licensed contractor remove it. There are contractors and that is all they do. The problem is it can cost about or up to $3 a square foot. That adds up. It is a good idea to get more then one quote.
They way it is removed is to get plastic sheeting and drape it over everything from the ceiling down taping continuously to the top of the walls and laying it out on the floor. 2 mil on walls and 4 mil on floors works well. Then you get a garden sprayer and start to soak it, keeping it wet for a few minutes and start to scrape it. If it has been painted it may take a long time and much more work. Before you do this make sure you have a proper respirator, a Tyvek suit & helmet and over shoes (purchased from a professional hardware store, call first), gloves and safety goggles. You can scrape it with a 6 inch putty knife into a dustpan or something or use two layers of plastic on the floor so you can scrape it and it falls directly to the floor. Then you pick it up in the top layer of plastic and roll it up. tape this completely and call your local waste management to see where it can be taken. This is something some people choose to do themselves, but if you can afford it it is better to hire some one that you check references on first. Good luck,
Bill Isaak
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 29, 2012
Real estate agents should know that simple exposure to asbestos is not a serious matter. Asbestosis and mesothelioma affects people who have had prolonged exposure to large amounts of airborne asbestos, such as miners and factory workers.

Still. This doesn't mean that you should have it lining your air ducts or hanging from your ceiling. Popcorn ceilings can be spray-painted, they can be covered with drywall, and there is a safe method for scraping them off.

Lead and carbon monoxide are much more hazardous to home dwellers than asbestos.

Thank you, Steve & Allison, for the links!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 29, 2012
What you should know is that it is a naturally occurring mineral in rocks and in fact is in the state rock of California.
The stuff in your ceiling might have asbestos as part of its materials. Asbestos was used extensively in construction up till the time when it was banned. The problems for humans are when the asbestos is broken up and particles become airborne. If we breathe it in it stays in the lungs and can cause cancers to form. It also is damaging to the lining of the lungs.
When it is removed is usually wetted so that it can't become airborne. When an abatement company removes it they will set up a perimeter of plastic sheeting and a negative airflow that is filtered to capture any materials that do become airborne.
Asbestos can be found in the tape used in sheetrock, the wrappings of furnace ductwork, exterior sheathing, roofing materials, and the notorious "popcorn" high texture ceiling surfacing.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 29, 2012
Jed Lane, Real Estate Pro in San Francisco, CA
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