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Q: How do I invisibly repair cracks in a textured ceiling?

— Hank Vassaux, Powell, Ohio

A: Tom Silva replies: That depends somewhat on the age of your house. Textured ceilings installed before 1979 or so may contain asbestos, a substance you don't ever want to mess with. So if your house is more than 25 years old, have the ceiling tested. If a test comes back positive, you can forget about the cracks because you'll probably be getting a new ceiling. A licensed asbestos abatement contractor will be able to tell you what your options are.

If the ceiling tests negative for asbestos or your house is less than 25 years old, here's how to proceed. First, remove your earlier repairs. Matching a texture is tricky enough, and having tape and compound in the way makes it even more so. Use a stiff putty knife to scrape off the ceiling texture right down to the drywall's paper surface. Then clear a space about 3 inches wide on each side of the crack. Fill the exposed crack with a paintable caulk and coat the repair area with latex primer.

To replace the texture, get one of the aerosol-spray texture-repair kits sold at home centers. They come in several varieties to match various ceiling textures, including splatter, orange peel, knock-down, and acoustic, also know as "popcorn." Follow the instructions, and practice your technique before you tackle the ceiling. I can't promise that the repair will be invisible, but your ceiling should be much improved.
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