Who invented Popcorn Ceilings? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Popcorn ceilings were the rage from the 50s to the 90s in Canada and the United States. Thus, many existing old homes today will probably have popcorn ceilings. Contractors and homeowners preferred popcorn ceilings because they were cheap and easy to install. One benefit that stands out is the material’s ability to hide mistakes and flaws, cracks, marks, and shoddy masonry work.

Who invented popcorn ceilings?

No one can really say who invented popcorn ceilings. You can say that popcorn ceilings are more of an innovation rather than an invention. The first to create textured ceiling finishes was Artex Ltd. of the UK. The company manufactured textured coatings applied on ceiling surfaces during the 1930s. The idea became popular and contractors created different patterns, including the popcorn effect. 

The popcorn ceiling’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Artex Ltd. UK
    First textured finishes

    The British company was the first to develop textured finishes for ceilings and walls. Until today, Artex continues to manufacture textured finishes and other products for home improvement and buildings. The original name came from Asbestos Reinforced Textured Coating. The products they manufacture today are asbestos-free.

  • Canadians
    Banned popcorn ceilings in the 80s

    When popcorn ceilings reached North America, most Canadian homes from the 1950s to the 1990s followed the trend. However, contractors stopped using popcorn ceilings with asbestos in 1980. The Canadian government issued the ban because asbestos is a health hazard.

  • Americans
    Popularized popcorn ceilings

    During the 1950s to late 1970s, American contractors and homeowners helped popularize the use of popcorn ceilings. They were cheap and easy to install. Installing popcorn ceilings adds noise insulation to a room.

  • Masons
    Short learning curve

    Masons preferred using popcorn ceilings because they were easier to install. It only takes a few hours to learn how to apply the popcorn texture. It also cuts down on the number of hours masons will spend finishing ceilings. They also hide flaws and mistakes.

  • Interior decorators
    Dimension and aesthetic appeal

    Now that popcorn ceilings are asbestos-free, some interior decorators are happy to use them for aesthetic appeal. Adding colors and metallic finishes give ceilings more dimension.

When was the popcorn ceiling invented?

Popcorn ceilings became popular in the U. S. from the 1950s to the 1980s, after the idea of UK’s Artex Ltd. during the 1930s. Many old homes in the U.S. still have popcorn ceilings. Contractors and homeowners preferred them because they are budget- friendly, easy to install, and trendy. Some people called them acoustic ceilings because they can muffle sound. 

A brief history of popcorn ceiling

More than 70 years ago, nearly all homes had popcorn ceilings. And why not? They look great at that time. Popcorn ceilings were inexpensive and required minimal skills to install. Contractors spent less on labor because the application time was shorter. The spray-on technique, which produced the popcorn or cottage cheese effect, hid imperfections on the ceilings. The materials offered some fire resistance and dampened noise because of the thickness of the popcorn layer. But today, popcorn ceilings are outdated.

Popcorn ceilings started when a construction materials manufacturer in the UK produced a line of ceiling and wall finishes around 1935. The product they developed provided different patterns and textures, adding dimension and new aesthetic appeal to plain walls and ceilings. Exclusively used around the UK, the concept eventually caught on.

In North America, contractors thought of ways to use popcorn ceilings around the 1950s. Masons mixed drywall powder with water and added asbestos, to form the popcorn texture. Masons sprayed the mixture on the ceiling using a hopper gun. Others achieved the stippled effect using a sponge. Most houses built during that time used popcorn ceilings on basements, bedrooms, and entrance hallways.  

With popcorn ceilings, there was no need for paint. The material was often cream or white, although it turned yellowish with age. Popcorn ceilings became a cheaper alternative to painting the ceiling. The thick layer and the random pattern of the stipples or popcorn covered small holes and cracks on the ceiling. It was trendy for a house to have popcorn ceilings back then.

But about 20 years later, in the U.S. and 40 years in Canada, popcorn ceilings fell out of style. Authorities discovered that the binding agent used for popcorn ceilings was asbestos. The U.S. banned the material in 1978. The Clean Air Act declared asbestos as the primary cause of mesothelioma, deadly cancer that affects the tissue layer around the lungs and the stomach. Contractors halted the application of popcorn ceilings using the original material with asbestos. The government showed leniency by allowing the manufacturers to sell their remaining inventory to recoup losses.

People living in old houses built during the time when popcorn houses were popular worry about whether their ceilings have asbestos. Thus, they spend on having them removed. Still, some homeowners use these texturized finishing materials, although the binding ingredient now is paper fibers. Even if the popularity of popcorn ceilings fell, you can still find houses today that have them.

The popcorn ceiling timeline

  1. 1930s
    First mention of textured ceiling finishes

    The British manufacturer of construction materials, Artex Ltd., developed asbestos-based textured finishing materials for ceilings and walls in 1935. It became a popular medium because it gave an otherwise plain surface a new dimension.

  2. 1950s
    Canada and the U.S. started using popcorn ceilings

    The idea of textured finishes to ceilings caught on in Canada and the United States. Many contractors and homeowners preferred popcorn ceilings for easy installation and lower costs in materials and labor.

  3. 1970s
    The U.S. government banned asbestos-based popcorn ceilings

    The U.S. government started banning the use of asbestos in construction materials. They found that inhalation and exposure to asbestos could cause mesothelioma, a deadly type of cancer. 

  4. 1980s
    Canada banned popcorn ceilings with asbestos

    Canadian authorities banned the use of asbestos-based popcorn ceilings for the same reason the U.S. authorities gave. 

  5. 1990s
    Paper fibers replaced asbestos

    Manufacturers continued to produce materials to create popcorn ceilings. However, instead of asbestos, they started using paper fibers to achieve the same effect.

Where was the popcorn ceiling invented?

If you consider the first mention of textured ceilings, then it will be in the 1930s when Artex Ltd., a company in the UK developed different textured coatings for ceilings. In terms of use, contractors in the U.S started using popcorn ceilings from the 1950s until the 1980s. They followed the idea Artex developed, and created various textures, including popcorn ceilings for ceiling treatments. 

The importance of popcorn ceiling

  • Acoustic or cottage cheese ceilings

    Initially, masons created popcorn, acoustic, or cottage cheese ceilings to muffle the sound from rooms on the upper floors of a house. Masons achieved the texture using drywall mud sprayed on the base material.

  • Hide imperfections and flaws

    Popcorn ceilings became popular because they can hide flaws and imperfections on ceilings, including tape marks, poor workmanship, cracks, seams, and damage.

  • Economical ceilings

    The popcorn ceilings cost less because masons do not have to spend time smoothing the surface of the ceilings. They require very little skill to make. Also, popcorn ceilings do not need paint. Contractors forego hiring experienced plaster or drywall installers to have smooth ceilings.

  • Easy to install

    You can install popcorn ceilings by first painting the ceiling base with a primer and let it dry. Then you can mix the texturing medium with water at the right consistency. Load the mixture on the texturing gun and spray the mixture on the ceiling.

  • Decorative feature for interior décor 

    Although most people say that popcorn ceilings are outdated, some interior designers use popcorn ceilings as a decorative feature to add dimension and texture to the ceiling or achieve a retro look.

Popcorn ceiling by the numbers

  • 30The number of years popcorn ceilings with asbestos were used in many homes in Canada and the United States from the 1950s to the 1980s.
  • 27 It took 27 years before authorities finally banned the use of asbestos in constructions materials. Popcorn ceilings have vermiculite, a type of asbestos that can cause serious health risks, as it is carcinogenic.
  • 20The number of hours it will take a professional remover to remove popcorn from 500 square feet of ceiling.
  • 1 to 2It represents the average cost of removing popcorn texture per square foot.
  • 3 to 7A professional popcorn remediation company will charge the homeowner the average cost of $3 to $7 if the popcorn ceiling has asbestos. The average price is for every square foot.

Five facts about popcorn ceiling

  • Presence of asbestos

    Popcorn ceilings created in the 1950s up to the 1980s can contain asbestos. While the U.S. banned asbestos in construction materials during the 1970s, the government allowed manufacturers to sell their remaining inventory. Authorities banned asbestos because it was carcinogenic.

  • Removers needs professional training

    You should not attempt to remove popcorn ceilings yourself. Removers receive professional training to do the job because asbestos exposure is hazardous. Some companies offer professional popcorn ceiling remediation services to remove textured materials from ceilings.

  • Difficult to maintain

    Popcorn ceilings have raised textures. They are dry and brittle, making it difficult to clean ceilings with popcorn texture. It is not possible to use wet cleaning solutions either because that can damage the popcorn ceilings or may even cause them to fall.

  • Need for proper disposal

    Aside from hiring a professional to remove popcorn ceilings that may contain asbestos, proper disposal of the waste materials is necessary. They should be placed in tightly sealed bags and brought to an asbestos site to safely dispose of the waste materials.

  • Dampens ambient noise

    Popcorn ceilings can dampen noise, so they are also called acoustic ceilings. Installing popcorn ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms can reduce the noise level, making them suitable for the living room or reception areas.

FAQs about popcorn ceilings

  • Are popcorn ceilings dangerous?

     Popcorn ceilings, per se, are not hazardous unless they contain asbestos, a construction material banned in the late 1970s. Authorities found asbestos to be a health risk. Exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer affecting the tissues around the lungs or stomach. 

  • How can you tell if the popcorn ceilings have asbestos?

    You can carefully scrape a small sample from the ceiling and place it in a plastic bag. Make sure that you have a protective facemask so you cannot inhale the material. Bring the scraped sample to an accredited EPA laboratory for testing. 

  • How can you remove popcorn ceilings from your house?

     If your popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, hire a professional remediation company to remove the ceilings and replace them with new materials. The company can also scrape the textured coating and apply paint over the base. 

  • Are popcorn ceilings still used today?

     There are still homes that have popcorn ceilings. However, the modern materials use paper fibers instead to give the ceiling material the popcorn texture. Some decorators still use popcorn ceilings to achieve a retro look. Others used a variety of paint treatments to achieve the style their clients wanted. 

  • Why did they invent popcorn ceilings?

    Contractors developed popcorn ceilings to reduce reflective noise. Also, they are suitable for covering tape marks and seams on wallboard ceilings. They are also cheap, easy to install, and do not need the more laborious process of achieving a smooth surface finish. 

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