October 15, 2014

How To: Popcorn Ceilings Undone


Hi folks. This one is a doozy. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in. You can even take a break somewhere in the middle. I will understand.



When we first purchased our house, we decided right off the bat to depopcorn our ceilings. I had read somewhere during the home buying process that removing the popcorn from the ceilings could raise the worth of a home by $1000 per room. While this may be a severe overestimate, we bought our home in pre-foreclosure and got it for a really good price. The other thing is... well, honestly, popcorn is so drab looking in my opinion. Each little popcorn piece creates a shadow, making a room look dark and dreary. And hello spider webs! Have you ever tried to dust a popcorn ceiling? We figured at the very least, depopcorning could only help us in the long run if and when we choose to sell. Naturally, the best time to do this kind of project is before you move your stuff in. 

So in the weeks during the closing procedures, I researched the best method for removing stucco. I watched Hugo Correa's Youtube video on smoothing out ceilings (here) and read a handful of how-to's. As far as videos go, I am particularly fond of Hugo's tutorials (like his one on how to paint a room in ten minutes: here) because he gives very good tips and advice and is very thorough. As it turns out, I am less thorough. I should have listened. But we'll get to that. 

After reviewing the information, searching Pinterest, gathering ideas, and talking to my dad (who has tried his hand as basically EVERY home repair you could think of), I thought that this would definitely be something that Matt and I could accomplish ourselves. Piece-o-cake. This idea was reinforced by the fact that someone Matt knew had hired professionals to do the work for them. And it cost $4000. Big NOPE. Nopes all around. We were not about to dish out that kind of cash. Nope nope nope. Not in the budget. We were definitely going to do it.

This is the part where I mention that our house was built in the early 2000's. If your house is older and was built before 1978, you will need test your popcorn for asbestos. Test kits like this one are available at hardware and home stores like Home Depot. Please don't skip this step if you have an older home. And if you do have asbestos in your ceilings, hire professionals. Your body will thank you.

Anyway, when we started our ceilings all looked like this:



And now they look like this:



And it makes a WORLD of difference.

I was in Connecticut at the time of the closing, so Matt took it upon himself to jump in feet first the day after he signed the dotted line. We still had two and a half weeks before our lease was up, so there was a lot of bouncing between houses and we hoped to get things finished quickly. He started in the Master Bedroom so that 1) if he messed up, we were the only ones who would likely see it and 2) we would be able to sleep in the new house as soon as possible. 

We purchases supplies. I recommend the following:

What You Need

What You Do

1. WATCH HUGO'S VIDEO AND FOLLOW HIS SUGGESTIONS ABOUT THE PLASTIC TARPS.

Too lazy to scroll up? Here. I cannot emphasis this enough. One of the things he does is tarp off the entire room. We didn't do this. We spread the tarp out to protect the carpets and taped a quarter of the way up the wall (and only intermittently). We assumed that tarping all the walls was an added measure to protect the paint underneath. We still needed to paint, so this wasn't a concern for us. BE YE NOT SO LAZY. The truth behind it is that the stucco dust goes EVERYWHERE - in the carpet, between the cracks of the hardwood floor, in the air vents, in closed cabinets, draws and rooms, despite your best efforts. Not only that, but stucco and/or dry wall dust is almost certain death for a shop vac or regular vacuum that doesn't have the right filter. Invest in the right filter. Seriously. 
This right here? This is me not taping the cabinets. Don't do this. I am an idiot. 
2. Dampen the ceiling. We were concerned about this part because if you over-wet the drywall under the stucco it can cause peeling which can damage the drywall, causing it to crumble and fall apart. On the other hand, not wetting the stucco enough makes the process more of a challenge. My recommendation is to wet it completely but not to let it sit too long. Between three and five minutes should do ya. 
  • A note: if the stucco has been painted over, it is recommended that you try using a paint stripper instead of water to make it easier. The other alternative is using warmer water and more muscle. It's up to you.
3. Scrape. This is the simplest part. It should come off fairly easily. Despite that, you will be sore (your head, neck, shoulders and some muscles in your back that you didn't know were there).
Once you remove the popcorn, the sheet rock should be visible
4. Let it dry. Patience, patience, patience.

5. Use joint compound to cover any peeling and/or not totally flat areas and let dry. Keep in mind here that all the joint compound will need to be sanded down and when you're dealing with a surface over your head, everything becomes 10x harder. Decide what imperfections you can live with.
6. Sand. This was the worst part for me. We actually had a friend come in and help us with this step because I did not have enough upper body strength to move the pole sander easily across the ceiling. It would have taken me MONTHS to sand a room by myself.  

7. Roll up the tarps and throw them out. Make sure you're totally finished before you do this step. For reasons why: refer back to step 1. 
8. Wipe down the ceiling and walls with a damp rag or sponge to remove residual dust (I used a damp broom to brush off the ceiling).

Matt estimated it would take a few hours to scrape the ceilings in the bedroom, that he would do a light sanding, and would be done in a day.


Ha. 


Ha ha ha.


Long story shorten a little, it took us the whole two weeks to take the popcorn off our tray ceilings in the Master Bedroom, Eat-in Kitchen and Living Room areas. We've also completed the hallway and office, while the bathrooms, guest room, stairwell and FROG have yet to be finished. Because we didn't tarp appropriately, I still find traces of popcorn dust in the carpet and on the various horizontal surfaces that get neglected when I clean (light fixtures and window panes in particular). But we primed with one coat of Bullseye Latex Primer (here) and topped them with Valspar Ultra Flat White Ceiling Paint (here). The end result is fabulous and totally worth it. The room is brighter, and the ceilings look much cleaner. Highly, highly recommended.




Happy Scraping!

XOXO

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