When we were kids the ceilings in our turn-of-the-century Mediterranean-style home were 12 feet high. They were made of finished-in-place plaster, coved at the perimeter and adorned with ornate plaster moldings for architectural interest. A decorative picture mold traveled from corner to corner on each wall about 18 inches down from the ceiling as a neat finishing touch.
Our home was old and void of many of the modern conveniences that our school chums enjoyed in their homes. When visiting them we were envious of the wall-to-wall carpeting, the "modern" olive green, harvest gold, copper tone or turquoise appliances, central air conditioning and attached garage. By contrast, our home had a detached garage, a single-window air conditioner, an oil-burning furnace and white appliances. Their homes had metal window frames. Ours were wood.
In the early 1970s, our 60-plus-year-old family home that served four generations got in the way of progress. Its fate was sealed by Urban Renewal and, thus, it was demolished to make room for some of the newer homes that we envied. Our folks relocated to another part of town into a new home that had central air, an attached garage, metal-frame windows, olive-green appliances and low, single-plane acoustically treated 8-foot ceilings.
We were thrilled at the time, but when we became adults we realized that our old family home was irreplaceable. It might not have had many modern conveniences, but it was overflowing with character and charm.
Character and charm aside, home construction has vastly improved over the years. Buildings are more energy-efficient, safer and have features that make life around the house more comfortable. There is, however, a shift in design that mimics the homes of yesteryear both inside and out. Low ceiling heights have, in many cases, risen to 9 or 10 feet. Decorative moldings and other architectural ornamentation are more popular as are wood-frame windows or window frames that are trimmed with wood at the interior. Gone, too, is the "cottage cheese" acoustical ceiling treatment that was standard equipment during the '60s, '70s and most of the '80s.
Billed as a means of deadening sound in a home, acoustic ceiling treatment really was a cost-effective alternative to more costly traditional ceiling finish techniques. Acoustic ceilings received a black eye in 1978 -- the year the federal government banned the use of asbestos in all construction products, including spray-on acoustic products.
If you have an acoustic ceiling that was installed before 1978 chances are good that it contains asbestos. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos-containing building materials do not require abatement unless they are a potential health hazard. The EPA suggests that asbestos-containing building materials that are "friable" or flaking could potentially release asbestos fibers that are hazardous to one's health. You can determine if your acoustic ceiling contains asbestos by using a test performed by a certified testing agency, which you can find by contacting your local chapter of the American Lung Association.
If the material contains asbestos and you would like it removed, this work should only be done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. If the material contains asbestos that is in good shape and doesn't pose a threat, there are ways to improve its appearance.
Water stains from roof leaks are an unsightly problem. In addition, a persistent roof leak can cause the acoustic material to peel. If this occurs, remove the delaminating material and apply a shellac-based stain killer to the area. It will prevent the stain from bleeding through to the new finish. Next, patch the missing acoustic by using acoustic touchup in an aerosol can or a pump sprayer. These products can be found in the paint or patching-products section of your hardware store.
Chances are good that the patch will be much whiter than the rest of the acoustic ceiling. This is especially true if the ceiling is many years old or smokers have lived in the home. You have two choices to effect a uniform color -- darken the patch or paint the entire ceiling. We opt for the latter since a bright ceiling will reflect natural light and make the interior of your home lighter and more cheerier.
The first step in painting an acoustic ceiling is to seal stains and patch the acoustic material using the materials and techniques described earlier. Then, paint the ceiling using a high-quality interior low-sheen oil-base paint. Never use a water-base paint as it can cause the acoustic material to peel. The paint can be applied with a sprayer or roller. In either case, great care should be taken not to disturb the acoustic material -- asbestos or not.
A sprayer will make the painting process easier and quicker. It's the prep work that's difficult, as every square inch of area will need to be covered to prevent damage by airborne paint particles. Rolling is tougher and time-consuming, but doesn't require the preparation. It's your choice.
If you choose the roller route, use a long-nap roller cover and very light pressure to avoid disturbing the textured surface. One coat of high-quality oil-base paint will usually do the trick. However, a dirty ceiling or one that is covered with smoke might require more than one. In this case we suggest a base coat of a shellac-based stain killer along with an oil-base finish coat.
If your acoustic ceiling simply has a few minor stains here and there, try bleaching them out using pure liquid chlorine bleach in a spray bottle. You can also use an acoustic ceiling cleaning product available at most hardware stores. Be sure to use eye protection, wear old clothes including a hat and long sleeves, rubber gloves and have plenty of ventilation. Cover all furniture and flooring that could be damaged by bleach. A little spritz is all that is usually needed to remove minor stains. Let the area dry and repeat the process if needed. Don't soak the surface as it can cause the acoustic to peel.
For more home improvement tips and information visit our Web site at www.onthehouse.com.
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