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QuestionI have a 1980 blown-in popcorn ceiling. While insulating the attic I accidentally stepped through it so we now have a 14-inch by 20-inch drywall patch. We tried acoustic spray-on texture out of a can, but roller or brush-on painting flattened it. We hate the thought of scraping all the popcorn off; can it be tiled over or repaired to match in some other way? Help!

AnswerPopcorn ceilings, also known as acoustical ceilings, were a fad in the early 1960s. I firmly believe popcorn ceilings were developed to speed up the wallboard/taping process so tapers didn't have to do a super job because a popcorn ceiling can certainly cover a multitude of sins.

However, before you proceed any further, I have an important word of caution. The application of sprayed-on coatings containing asbestos was banned in 1978, but a lot of popcorn ceilings installed as late as 1986 contained asbestos in the mixture. It's possible that your ceiling contains an asbestos level of 3 to 8 percent. Get the facts on asbestos in popcorn ceilings by contacting your local air pollution control authority or whoever regulates asbestos abatement in your area. They may offer a guidebook or other materials for dealing with popcorn ceilings.

Also, your state's Department of Labor and Industries may also require notification since certification for handling asbestos-containing materials is generally required. In my state of WA, homeowners and live-in family members are partially exempted from the certification requirement, but anyone else participating in the work (paid or unpaid) must be certified.

If you are unable to find information on the subject in your area, then I encourage you to read my article, "Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings," and follow up with sources identified in this column.

Once you have determined that your popcorn ceiling does not contain asbestos, follow these steps to restore the ceiling's appearance. After installing new wallboard (which I realize you've already done) in the damaged area, use a 4-inch taping knife to scrape off the dry acoustical material (popcorn) at least 14 inches wider around the new drywall patch. You will also need to scrape off any spray-on texture you already applied. The area where the new drywall meets the old ceiling needs to be taped using joint compound and tape.

When you are satisfied with your taping job and it is thoroughly dry, apply white shellac over the new area and overlap it into the existing popcorn ceiling by about 12 inches. I recommend shellac because I have run into quite a few jobs where patched and resprayed popcorn discolored once it was dry. White pigment shellac covers any discoloration and prevents future bleed-through.

On some ceilings the shellac blended so well with the color of the ceiling that I didn't have to paint the entire ceiling. If it doesn't blend in on your project, wait 24 hours for the shellac to dry and then paint the entire ceiling.

It is important to roll on the shellac with a siped sponge roller (a roller featuring slits cut into the sponge material); it makes a big difference over spraying. The same holds true for applying ceiling paint. A siped roller works the paint into the texture and prevents the popcorn from dropping. Inevitably, some popcorn will drop during paint application but not enough to worry about. Be prepared and protect the furniture and flooring with drop cloths.

Once the shellac is dry, spray the patch with a ceiling texture using a pneumatic spray gun and hopper (not spray texture from a can) available at your local rental or home center. You can also get a compressor and the ceiling texture in a bag (to mix with water in a 5-gallon bucket) as well.

Home centers sell Homax's premixed ceiling texture in a 3-liter hopper, which can also be used as a storage container. To use their prefilled hopper, you'll need their pneumatic spray gun and a compressor. I have both systems but I prefer to mix my own texture, even when I use Homax's system.

I suggest that you get a feel for the spray gun by spraying the texture on a scrap piece of drywall. A good place to experiment would be up against a garage door—protect the door by taping plastic with painter's blue masking tape to your testing area.

Here's a great trick: use push tacks to apply 6-mil plastic, 14 inches wide and long enough to completely encircle the patched area, to the edge of the existing acoustical so the 14-inch plastic hangs down. This will prevent you from spraying texture onto the existing ceiling and creating an obvious and unattractive build-up. It is important that you keep your distance from the work area and apply a very thin coat.

When the texturing is completely dry, apply a second coat. Again, let it dry thoroughly. Now remove the plastic and visually inspect the patched area. If you like how it looks (that is, it's level across from the new to the old), then you are done.

Depending on its appearance, you may wish to apply a third coat, making sure that you don't overlap any existing ceiling texture. After it dries completely, there is a slight possibility of some bleed-through or you discover the color of the new popcorn doesn't match the existing ceiling. If this should happen, apply shellac to the area as described above, let it dry, and see how it looks. If you want to apply a ceiling paint, use a good quality flat white paint.

Remember to be patient and apply the popcorn spray in a thin consistency. This type of project is not as easy as it looks, but I am confident that if you follow what I've outlined, your project will appear as professional as you expect it to be when you hire a pro—just a whole lot less expensive.

Click to Purchase Don't forget—before starting this project get your informative 10-page PDF article titled Asbestos In Popcorn Ceilings and Patching a Popcorn Ceiling. To order your downloadable .pdf printable copy, click here or click the purchase button to the left!

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Copyright © 2004, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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