In Defense of Popcorn Ceilings

A mid-century modern living room with popcorn ceilings

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Every home has its own unique design. From eclectic wall paintings to pastel tones, multiple levels to open-floor plans, choosing (or designing) the right home for your preferences is an important part of the process. And with this process comes considering all areas of your home—including the ceilings.

Over the years, people have had mixed feelings about ceilings and how they should look. Should they fade into the background? Stand out? Be bright or neutral? Be 'textured' like popcorn?

While there are, of course, many options when it comes to ceilings, the popcorn style ranks high on the list, despite other changes to design trends over the years. Here’s the what, the why, and the reasons popcorn ceilings are still a preferred choice by some when it comes to contemporary home design.

Meet the Expert

Jordan Fulmer is the owner of Momentum Property Solutions, a home renovation company based in Madison, AL.

What Are Popcorn Ceilings?

Popcorn ceilings (also called acoustic or stipple ceilings) are a type of textured ceiling style that, depending on the ceiling color (typically white, cream, or softer hues) resembles kernels of popcorn. Started sometime between the 1920s and 1930s, the original purpose was to create a barrier for sound (hence the acoustic-sounding name). The texture comes from layers of paint—spray on, sponge on, or paint-on—that create a varied, thicker look.

What Are the Pros?

The original purpose of popcorn ceilings was to make life a little easier. Popcorn ceilings began as a cost-effective means of making a home look nice without all the extra effort of fixing, painting, sanding, repainting, and general maintenance and upkeep.

“Popcorn and other types of textured ceilings originated to save drywall finishers the step of perfectly smoothing the drywall installed on ceilings,” says Jordan Fulmer, owner of Momentum Property Solutions. “After all, finishing drywall using joint compound is a tedious process, and popcorn texture hides any blemishes that would otherwise be visible.”

The popcorn texture not only saves time and money, but it also creates a surface that looks intentional. Rather than spot-patching in an attempt to make the ceiling look nice, the entire surface has this textured look—and over time, as the popcorn style gained popularity, it became the norm for many spaces.

Another benefit of popcorn ceilings is the absorption quality, specifically when it comes to sounds. “The rough texture of the ceiling dampens noises and reduces echoes,” continues Fulmer. “If you smooth your ceilings, don't be surprised if the acoustics change in your home.” 

And if you do want to give your popcorn ceilings an upgrade, it is possible to paint them so they fit in with the rest of your decor.

What Are the Drawbacks?

In the ’70s, and particularly in the United States, popcorn ceilings took a bit of a downturn. Studies found that asbestos, one of the primary binding agents in popcorn ceilings, was directly linked to mesothelioma, a type of cancer, and other complications. However, the U.S. passed the Clean Air Act in 1978, and since then, popcorn ceilings have been made with other, less harmful ingredients like styrofoam.

Although the odds have gone down over time, there is still a chance asbestos could be found in the popcorn ceiling of an older property especially when the material is disturbed. If you're concerned, it is best to play it safe and get your home tested for exposure.

In Defense of Popcorn Ceilings

Unfortunately, popcorn ceilings have developed a bad reputation, but despite the ingredients used in the past, there are quite a few more upsides than downsides these days.

When it comes to homeownership, keeping your space updated is challenging. Add in cracks and creases on the ceiling, and making your home look nice feels nearly impossible. With popcorn ceilings, the textured look gives grace to drywall mishaps, cracks, and uneven surfaces. Not to mention the removal process is extensive, costly, and potentially dangerous (especially if you suspect any residual asbestos on the surface).

Keeping your popcorn ceiling—even if you think it’s dated—may be a good idea to save you time, money, and a headache in the future.

To make the ceiling (and the rooms where you have this ceiling style) feel more contemporary and refreshed, you can rethink lighting, moving away from any ceiling-focused lights and onto other decor items, furniture, or art instead. You can also consider wiping down and repainting the textured surface. Although cleaning and painting the textured surface may be challenging at times, this could create a softer (or brighter) look to the room that makes it feel brand new.

Article Sources
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  1. Dahlgren, James G, and Talbott, Patrick J. Lung cancer from asbestos textured ceilings: a case study. International journal of occupational and environmental health, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 175-8, 2016. doi:10.1080/10773525.2016.1162952