Question: My 1970s cottage-cheese acoustic ceiling has been lab-tested and found to contain asbestos. Is it legal for me as a homeowner to remove the acoustic material if I use the proper safety equipment and dispose of it per regulations? Or must I have a contractor do it?
Answer: Getting rid of those dated cottage-cheese or "popcorn" ceilings is often the first thing homeowners want to do in a remodel. The homeowners I've interviewed hired a company to do the messy and potentially dangerous removal job when testing revealed the ceiling contained asbestos.
Another option -- which also works for other toxic materials, such as lead-based paint -- is to encapsulate it. The asbestos is dangerous when it becomes airborne and sucked into your lungs. It's possible to cover the ceiling with drywall that is taped off and then painted, thus containing the asbestos.
With either removal or encapsulation, I think dealing with asbestos is a job best left to the professionals.
I asked Westlake Village contractor Bob Sturgeon, president of Westside Remodeling (www.westsideremodeling.com) for his views.
Contractor's answer: Removing asbestos from your own home is legal, but that's assuming you have the know-how and equipment for asbestos removal.
My professional opinion is that the cost saving of doing it yourself does not justify the potential health risks that the job poses. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity) and asbestosis, a condition in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The professional you hire must have a valid contractor's license and certificate for asbestos abatement work. You can check that at the contractors' state licensing board, at www.cslb.ca.gov, and download a 12-page asbestos-removal booklet. Whoever does the work will need the following protective safety equipment:
* Half-face, dual-cartridge respirators, each equipped with a pair of color-coded purple HEPA filters. (HEPA is an acronym for high-efficiency particulate air filter). Each person working within the containment area needs a respirator.
* Goggles for eye protection.
* Several pairs of disposable coveralls with built-in booties should be worn. One pair will be needed for each entry into the containment area. Every time a worker leaves a containment area during a removal, coveralls should be disposed of in sealed asbestos-disposal bags.
* Laceless, pull-on rubber boots without fasteners will protect coverall booties so they do not wear through. Rubber boots can be washed off later or disposed of as contaminated debris.
* Rubber gloves should be worn. Every time a worker leaves the containment area, these gloves should be disposed of in properly sealed asbestos-disposal bags.
* To build a containment area, 2- or 3-millimeter polyethylene sheeting for the walls and 6-millimeter sheeting to cover the floors in the work area.
* Asbestos waste disposal bags for containing contaminated materials. The bags are made of 6-millimeter polyethylene. Each should be printed with required asbestos warning.
* Duct tape for building a containment area and sealing waste disposal bags.
* Tank sprayer for wetting acoustic ceiling material.
* Putty knives with 4- to 6-inch blades.
* Plenty of rags and buckets.
* Encapsulant, a coating that seals and binds the asbestos fibers. It's used for coating walls and/or ceilings after asbestos materials have been scraped off.
After the acoustic ceiling material is removed, two coats of drywall mud should be applied to the joints and screw heads. Then the entire ceiling should be textured.
Also, before anyone starts removal of asbestos, the state agencies regulating the removal of asbestos -- the Air Quality Management District and Cal/OSHA -- must be notified. For more information, go to www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/asbestos.html.
Submit remodeling questions at www.kathyprice.com, or send to Real Estate Section, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012.