Project: Removing Popcorn Ceilings

This is one of the most ambitious projects I am attempting on my own.  I readily admit I’m not too handy, and many times, I start a project only to later call a professional to fix it all up.  But this one seemed achievable to me.

To be on the safe side, I’m going to start in low-risk areas so if I do mess it all up, or if I don’t do that great of a job, the results won’t be as noticeable.  The first attempt is the master bedroom closet.

I had purchased the recommended popcorn scraper w/catch bag bracket and I had a garden sprayer already.  I purchased paper floor covering just in case.  On a whim, I purchased an extension pole for the scraper.  After everything was purchased and ready to go, I charged right into it.

I laid down the floor paper and sprayed the ceiling.  Sat through the waiting/soaking period and tentatively tried out the scraper on the pole.  It sucked.  I took the pole off, climbed up on a step stool and scraped again.  Better, but I still didn’t have the hang of the technique yet.

One of the drawbacks to the scraper is that it couldn’t go all the way to the wall, so I had to use a 4” putty knife anyway.  The wall edges were really difficult.  Because they are wall seams, there’s a lot of joint compound and tape in there.  It’s a real balancing act to not scrape off too much.  Since it was my first attempt, I scraped off too much plenty of times, exposing the tape and in one case, a screw.  I also gouged the ceiling in a few places and ripped up the drywall paper a few times.  All technique stuff that you have to learn as you go.

Then I had to wait a day for everything to dry before the next step.  The next step was sanding and patching.  I muddled through that and in some case, left things worse off than when I started, especially with the wall edges.  I’m very inconsistent with drywall patching.  A lot of times, I put the spackle on and it just seems like a glob.  So I sand it down and it’s no better.  So I spackle again and sand it down again and keep doing this over and over until I just give up.  The problem with that process is it takes so long for the spackle to dry (probably because I’m globbing it), so I only do one cycle in a day.

Because my stages were so long, I decided to parallelize and do a couple other closets: the master linen closet and the pantry.  Both of them had that terrible ClosetMaid shelving installed.  So I pulled out all the shelving before starting, since I was going to repaint the walls anyway.

The pantry is an embarrassment. When I first moved in to the house, I had some left-over tester paint from a room I terribly painted.  I figured I’d just throw the paint on the pantry walls to use it up.  What a disaster.  I never took off any of the shelving hardware, so they all had this dark green paint all over them.  This time around, I insist on doing things better.  So I removed all the plastic hardware and soaked it in hot water for a day.  Then I used a scrubbing sponge to remove all the old paint.  Tedious, yes, but I deserve it for screwing it all up in the first place.

Back to the ceilings.  Removing the popcorn from the other two closets was pretty easy.  I just used the 4” putty knife since the rooms were so small.  I limited the amount of destruction this time around, too.  I patched the ceilings up and waited for them to dry up.

Back in the master closet, I was getting anxious to get the project done.  I was stuck in a place of “Is it good enough?”  Yes, I could feel some roughness around the edges, but did I need the ceiling to be glass-smooth?  So, for better or worse, I jumped to the next stage – priming.  I had purchased oil-based Kilz (odorless, thank god) for this step.  Since it’s been a long time since I’ve painted, I felt like a complete idiot fumbling with all the different pieces involved: paint cup, paint cup liner, brush, paint tray, paint tray liner, roller, roller cover, paint can, paint can opener, rubber mallet, paint drips everywhere, cleaning rag, drop cloth, extension pole.  I didn’t have any logical workflow or plan to work with all these things efficiently.  So I got a little frustrated even though I tried to go slowly.

I started cutting in on the ceiling, standing on a step stool with the paint cup and brush.  Immediately, I remembered how much I suck at painting.  In my favor, I am going to be repainting the walls, so it didn’t matter if I got primer on the walls.  So, slap, smoosh, smear all over the wall and ceiling corners.  I was surprised at how quickly the primer disappeared, or at how much it felt like I had to put on.

After going around the edges twice, I poured the remainder of the primer into the paint tray and got the roller with the extension pole going.  Yup, I still really suck at this.  Whatever, it’s just primer.  Again I was surprised at how quickly the primer went and had to refill the tray.  When I finished, I was pretty fed up with the whole task, so I just left everything and took off.  Hours later, I realized I never washed the paint brush, so that’s probably ruined.  I did wash the roller, but I suspect that won’t be usable a second time.

But after those few hours, I went back to see what I had done and how badly I had done it.  You know what?  It’s not too bad at all.  Having the ceiling a uniform color really helped me see where this project was going.  With the exposed drywall and seams and patches, I wasn’t able to visualize how this would end up looking.  Now I did.  And yes, I did clearly see the spots where I knew I had more patching to be done, but I knew about those.  The part I was more worried about was the areas where I didn’t know if more work was needed.  And it doesn’t seem it was needed.  Having 8’ ceilings, you can’t see that level of detail, and further, once I have the wardrobe cabinets installed, you won’t be able to see the wall edges at all.

The takeway from this is that it isn’t all that hard to do (just really time-consuming and nerve-wracking).  So now, I can clean up the patches in the other two closets, prime them, patch up the master closet one last time and prime it, then I can actually paint the ceiling and walls for real.

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