Popcorn ceiling/overhead radiant heat?

ctlady_gwJuly 18, 2005

We have a somewhat complicated situation. We bought this house last fall. Noticed the living room ceiling was far more heavily textured than others (some of which are lightly textured, some not at all) and guessed it was an effort to hide repairs to the hydronic radiant heat (45+ years old) running IN the ceiling. As early as a few months after we moved in, the ceiling began to crack (the popcorn) and now the cracks are becoming chasms. None has actually fallen off yet but it looks as if one could peel it like a clementine! It has separated from the existing ceiling enough that we can see that under it is the OLD textured ceiling (not smooth plaster). These ceilings are plaster, with the copper heat pipes "sandwiched" between two layers of plaster and lathe. Questions: Why is the heavy popcorn layer lifting off? We do notice that you can see the lines of the copper heating pipes in the ceilings on humid days (assume they are sweating? the house is not air conditioned). How hard would it be to remove it, given there is not a flat surface beneath it but an older textured one? If we assume the previous owners chose the popcorn route because they had patches in the plaster they didn't/couldn't disguise, what other options do we have if we don't want to texture again? Can we do 1/4 sheetrock? Is there anything that will resist the moisture/humidity issues better than the plaster and popcorn? Are there decorative ceiling tiles that we could affix without removing the older texturing (which is nowhere near as thickly done as the newer stuff, and which seems to be similar to the lighter texturing that exists in other rooms). Anyone have any suggestions as to creative alternatives, if, as we fear, we find that the reason for the thick popcorn is much repair/patch/damage to the old ceiling? Many thanks for any advice or suggestions!

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Sorry to add to add a further complication to this difficult situation, but you need to get a sample of that ceiling analyzed before doing anything with it. Older popcorn ceilings ofter had large quantities of asbestos in them, and disturbing or tearing them out can create a serious health hazard for anyone living in the home.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2005 at 2:05AM
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Kudzu9 -- thanks, we did think about that. We're virtually certain this texturing was done within the last two years (based on comments from neighbors AND the fact that the ceiling looked fine when we bought the house last summer and in the course of less than a year, has developed huge splits and is almost hanging off in places). Our guess is that it was a fast coverup job designed to make the house look good for sale. But you're right that it should be checked, especially the older texturing beneath, if we decide to try to remove that as well. It looks (peering beneath the sagging pieces of the newer stuff) like classic "orange peel" texturing, which I might not mind. However, I'd like to know if we have other options, and whether there's anything we can do to protect whatever we do from what appears to be a chronic moisture/humidity problem stemming from those copper heating tubes filled with (in the summer cold) water running through the ceiling.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2005 at 8:46AM
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Sophie Wheeler

At 45 years of age, my bet is that your ceiling pipes area coming to the end of their lifespan. I think it's time you thought about replacing the whole system, not just a bandaid on the cosmetic issue. And yes, cold water in those pipes will cause condensation that will peel anything you apply to it over time. Air condidtioning the house to control the humidity level won't hurt (and you'll like it too) but the bigger issue is most definately the age (and technology) of the system that is currently in place. I forsee a replacement of all of the HVAC in your future--and soon.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2005 at 10:58AM
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Your posts are over a year old and I'm wondering if CTLADY will share an update with us as to the resolution of her problems. I'm looking at buying an older home with radiant ceiling heat and any thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 1:19PM
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Hi Quietwalker, We had painters strip the popcorn(ing) off the living room ceiling entirely (revealing a patchwork of plaster repairs covering most of the ceiling -- leading us to believe that MANY repairs were made over the years and the heavy popcorn was the cheapest way to cover the evidence!) They repainted (after an oil primer) with a slightly textured (sand) paint -- they had thought they could get a smooth surface, but that was impossible with the amount of plaster repairs that surfaced. Aside from a hairline crack that has developed across the ceiling, it has gotten through the summer (which was when we saw the most evidence of moisture when the popcorn was there -- it literally swelled like a sponge, from condensation in the pipes) with no evidence of trouble. So so far, we've dodged any further bullets in that room, but we know it is only a matter of time until we have more problems. And we are seeing less serious, but still noticeable, problems in the ceiling paint in a number of other rooms, leading us to believe the seller must have repaired and repainted all the ceilings immediately prior to listing the house.

Having lived here two years now, my overall response is that I very much wish we had more carefully considered the ramifications of living an aging ceiling radiant system, and would NEVER again buy such a house. Not only do we worry about those solder joints every minute, but we can't hang light fixtures, ceiling fans, etc., for fear of puncturing a pipe! Why on earth running copper pipes full of water through the ceilings to generate heat EVER seemed like a good idea is beyond me!

I would advise you, if you love the house, to perhaps consider having more than one inspector (get people with a LOT of experience with older radiant heat) to assess the status of what's there (look VERY closely for evidence of past repairs -- a heavily textured ceiling would be a real red flag to me now!), and I would also suggest you talk with a heating contractor to determine what your options (and cost) would be if you were to choose to disable the ceiling heat and replace it with an alternative system. Just so you know what you're potentially getting into... Oh, and bargain hard if you DO go for the house, keeping in mind that you may well have significant costs with the heating system maintenance or repair, plus it's likely the sellers are having a tough time finding buyers willing to take it on. We knew a number of deals had fallen through on this house before we bought it ... we now believe some if not all had to do with buyers getting nervous (and wisely so!) about the heating system! So proceed with caution. We would probably have bought this house anyway, but we would have offered less had we better understood what we were taking on.

But it IS nice not to have radiators! ;)

Hope this helps?

    Bookmark   September 8, 2006 at 9:01AM
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ctlady, do not think you are "stuck" once a house sale is "closed". HVAC is a major home subsystem, and if fraud/deception/non-disclosure is involved, in most states you can make claims against the title insurance company, the inspector's bond agency, and--depending on the $$ amount and your tolerance for lawyers--the old sellers themselves! SURPRISE the scammers! (*evil grin*)

Agree with you on the absurdity of hot water heat in ceilings. Once had the electric coils in the ceiling version--ceilings that were 11-15' high, LOL! Luckily there was also a modern air-tight woodstove, and THAT is what got me through the winters. GOOD LUCK!

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 2:58PM
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My home was built in 1965. The bedrooms have the original radiant heat in the ceilings along with the original popcorn. In the front of the house, the radiant heat wires were broken by a previous resident so it didn't work. Those ceiling were scrapped, with little difficulty and a min-split AC/Heater installed. My question is, how effective would the radiant heat be in the bedrooms without the popcorn ceiling? I've been told by several people that it won't work! Any comments...?

    Bookmark   January 20, 2015 at 10:07PM
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If your radiant heat is still functioning, it will transmit heat. The complication is that, since heat rises, you ideally have it installed in the floor, not the ceiling. Also, if the ceiling is uninsulated, you may have a lot of the heat going to unheated space rather than where you want it. I suggest you get a professional to help scope this out.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2015 at 12:01AM
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My 1955 house has radiant heating (not water, though!) in the ceilings of every room with a non- textured finish. It has not been used for decades but has caused zero issues- we just keep the breakers turned off and don't worry about it. I hung decorative things over the thermostats in each room.

If you try you can tilt your head just right and make out where the lines run, but only when the light is just right and you make an effort.
So not a big deal for us at all.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2015 at 8:20AM
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