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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
9:25 AM Thu, Sept. 20th

Ask the Contractor: Asbestos ceilings? Who you gonna call?

This past week a call came in from a local Realtor who inquired about “popcorn” ceilings.

Her daughter is purchasing a home in Prescott, and the home inspector in his report made mention that the popcorn ceilings should be tested for asbestos. The home was built in 1982.

According to our friend Wikipedia, popcorn ceiling (slang), also known as a cottage cheese ceiling, a stucco ceiling or formally an acoustic ceiling, is a ceiling with a spray-on or paint-on treatment. It was the standard for bedroom and residential hallway ceilings for its bright-white appearance, ability to hide imperfections and these ceilings’ noise-reducing acoustic characteristics.

I am sure all of us have at some time lived in a home with popcorn ceilings. In early formulations, popcorn ceilings often contained white asbestos fibers — chrysotile.

When the Clean Air Act of 1978 banned asbestos in ceiling treatments in the United States, popcorn ceilings fell out of favor in much of the country.

Inhaled in large quantities, asbestos fibers can cause lung disease, including scarring of the lungs and lung cancer. However, not all popcorn ceilings contain asbestos.

When the ban on asbestos in ceiling treatments began, existing inventories of asbestos-bearing texturing materials were exempt from the ban, to minimize economic hardship to suppliers and installers. As a result of this exemption in the law, it is possible to find asbestos in popcorn ceilings that were applied through the 1980s.

Following the ban, popcorn ceiling materials were created using a paper-based or Styrofoam product — rather than asbestos —to create the desired texture.

But do these later popcorn ceilings contain asbestos? You can’t tell by looking at these ceilings with your naked eye.

Without testing for asbestos, it is hard to know whether a popcorn ceiling is embedded with those 1970-era sparkles of asbestos. But if the ceiling is left undisturbed or contained, asbestos is not dangerous. Even so, however, many people don’t want asbestos in their home.

Determining the presence of asbestos requires sampling of the ceiling material. Western Technology in Prescott, 1040 Sandretto Drive, Suite C, tests for asbestos, and sampling procedures are three samples per site for representative results. The cost for sampling is $60 per individual sample collected.

On a separate topic, this past Monday morning, I received a call from a homeowner regarding an issue with her “high altitude” window glass breaking.

Now, I have heard of how high altitudes — from 3,500 to 5,000 feet or more above sea level — affect baking, compared to baking at sea level. When baking at high altitudes, a cook must reduce baking powder and sugar and increase liquid and oven temperature. Gadzooks! I’d rather make reservations.

I have also heard of high altitude sickness, a common condition that can occur when climbing to a high altitude too quickly. And the other high-altitude issue we all know about is the performance factor in the game of baseball, especially with respect to how far a batted ball will carry in the thinner air of high altitudes. Research has concluded that, assuming a constant air temperature, a baseball will travel between 3 and 7 percent farther in high altitudes, compared to a baseball struck with the same force at sea level.

But high-altitude windows?

I made a few phone calls to local window manufacturers to ask and learned that, yes, there are windows manufactured especially for use in high altitudes.

I learned that the majority of window manufacturers are located at elevations of 1,000 feet or less and use an inert gas, mostly argon, to improve energy efficiency (lower U-Values).

Argon, in dual-pane glass units, requires that the units be sealed to preserve the gas. This seal is accomplished by deleting the capillary tube found in air-filled glass units. Seal units are not able to equalize pressure, so when the windows are shipped to higher altitude locations the gas expands with the altitude gain. Without the breather tube, these windows will bow outwards at the center. The higher the altitude gain, the greater the pressure – to the point that the seal between the panes can weaken and/or fail, or the glass can break.

To address this issue, capillary breather tubes are inserted into the edge spacer of a window unit to allow the unit to breathe during internal and external pressure changes.

Capillary tubes and breather tubes are used in insulating glass units to equalize the pressure between the sealed panes, especially for installation of windows at high altitudes.

When a sealed insulating glass unit is constructed at low altitudes and then installed at higher altitudes (such as in Denver) the resulting increase in altitude causes the glass panes to bow out, creating a pillow-shape appearance. The glass bows out because the sealed pressure at the time of assembly is greater than the pressure at the higher elevation.

If the pressure change is large, the insulating glass panes can fracture and/or the sealant holding the glass panes can rupture, causing premature seal failure. Any change in elevation from the point of manufacture to the final installation site that entails an increase – or a decrease -- of 2,500 feet or more will require a capillary tube.

The rate of pressure equalization is almost as complicated as baking at high altitudes. The rate of pressure equalization for a window unit through a capillary tube can be slow, dependent upon temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, unit dimension, glass thickness, airspace width and the type of insulating glass spacer. Typically, the majority of pressure equalization occurs within 48 hours.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning at 7 on KQNA 1130 AM, 99.9 FM, 95.5 FM or on the web at kqna.com. Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and much more.

What a great way to start your weekend!