Friday, November 18, 2016

10 Tips for Removing Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn is normally attributed to happy things such as the movies, or even decorations on a Christmas tree back in the day, but popcorn has come to mean one of the biggest projects I have ever undertaken or ever hope to undertake. Most people don't decide to remove almost 2000 sq ft of popcorn ceilings all at once though like we did, and because of all of that removal I have some tips to share with you for when you tackle this project big or small. Even though the project took dreadfully long, I am SOOOOO glad we did it. It is worth it people, it is worth it. 

One big advantage of removing popcorn ceilings is that it is very cheap to do. I am all about DIY projects and crafts that are cheap, so this one fits the bill. I also love projects that have wonderful before and afters. It is easy to get used to those popcorn ceilings, but once they are gone you would be amazed at how different everything feels and looks.

Check out this before and after from (link takes you to her awesome step by step tutorial on removing this awful ceiling texture).

I can't find where she posted this picture, but I found it prior to removing our ceilings and it was a major boost of encouragement. See the difference in the light reflected off of the ceiling, which in turn brightens the room? Each of those little popcorn peaks casts shadows (let alone gather dust, pet hair, dirt, you name it). Anyway, when I saw this picture I knew we had to tackle this project before we even moved into our home. Fortunately we had friends who had done this project before who came to help us almost.every.single.night for over a month. But it won't take you that long, and here is why it won't:

  1. Allow yourself a good chunk of time for each step of the project. The prior owners were nice (and totally crazy) to let us come into their home and do this while they still living there. They had removed their basement's ceilings years before and knew what a big job it was, and since most of their furniture was no longer upstairs (it is a ranch home, so a little more than half of the square feet is "upstairs"), they let us come each night after we had fed our kids dinner. We would get there around 6:30 and leave at 10:30. If we could have allotted full days we could have saved a TON of time prepping and cleaning the many steps this project takes.
  2. Realize that this is a 4 step project, and rather than focus on the time, focus on the progress and the end goal. After watching YouTube videos, I thought each room would take 20 minutes from beginning to end. Nope. This project starts with Removal, moves to Repair, then Primer, then Paint. Each step takes time if you are going to do it right. Here's how to save yourself time:
  3. Prep and clean as little as possible in between steps. If your home was built prior to 1978, you need to check if the popcorn contains asbestos. There are kits out there, but save yourself the $9 and scrape off a TB of popcorn into a Ziploc bag (after wetting it well so that it isn't dusty). Then find a lab to drop it off at or mail it to, (I found this one, which charges $30 for the first sample and $20 for additional samples. They were cheaper than ones locally, and had great reviews. Ignore their rudimentary site, they are fast and professional, and the cheapest I could find). Anyway, if your home has asbestos I can't advise you to tackle this project yourself, since there are a lot of protocols you will have to follow. However, if you are free and clear of the annoying cancer causing agent, then prep well before you start, and clean at the very end.
  4. For prepping, buy tons of the cheap plastic rolls at Home Depot or Lowes and lots of painters tape. For around $20/box, you can plastic a room or two (or three) depending on the room sizes. Buy more and take back the boxes you don't use. Tape all along the very top of the wall, so that only the ceilings are exposed. Cover the ground in thicker plastic dropcloths, or tarps. Make sure no wall or flooring is exposed. We kept cleaning up every time we left at night, and then repeated this step every day. Also, we didn't tape from the top of the walls at first, and that ended up in a later disaster. Just do it right the first time, and then you will only have to once.
  5. Wet, wet, and wet that popcorn. At first we were being conservative spraying the ceiling before scraping. Don't be conservative, water is cheap. Use a garden sprayer, or an pesticide sprayer (that has never contained pesticides), and spray a workable section really well, just shy of tons of water dripping off of it. Then, take your scraper and at a very slight angle, scrape off the popcorn that mimics oatmeal now. If it hesitates, and you really have to work at it, the ceiling isn't wet enough. For the best scrapers we found that they were between 6-10 inches in width. Too wide and it doesn't scrape well, and too small it is just too tedious. Plastic ones didn't work well, and the metal popcorn scraper that has a bag attach to it doesn't work well either. However, try out different things to find what works for you.
    See, we didn't plastic very well. It is fine only on the floor until it comes time to texturing. Why not do it how it needs to be for texturing at the very beginning? Save yourself the supplies and the time.
  6. Be prepared for a mess. We tried all different mess preventing methods such as trying to catch the wet gunk in a bag, letting it fall on a large piece of plastic bag-like material that we moved around, etc., but in the end it just makes a mess. For the fastest method you just let it fall on your covered flooring. You can then gather big chunks and throw them away as you go.
  7. Pay for someone to texture for you. We tried the texturing route with a hopper in one of the rooms, and it ended in a huge mess that caused a disaster, (I won't go into that since you will be taping plastic from the ceiling down and thus will avoid this). The texture in that room looks ok but I am so glad we didn't decide to muscle that hopper around the whole house, because when we paid someone to do the rest of the rooms they made it look like this home was brand new! You can also go the stamping method, but our walls have that stamped texture pattern and I am not a fan. In the end we found a company who brought a big texture truck out and within 45 minutes the whole house had light orange peel textured ceilings. Since we went through a contractor to find them, we paid $900. I ended up finding out that the ceiling crew only charged the contractor $350. Oh well. If you can find a team willing to do this for you, and not go through a middle man, that is awesome. Even then, best $900 spent. Amazing. 
    This is what "light orange peel" looks like. So much better than popcorn huh?
  8. Prior to texturing you really should repair the ceilings. I am all about fast and easy and this step seemed so unnecessary to me. Once we had the ceilings textured I could see so many areas we didn't repair well enough, and thus I was glad we made the rest of the ceilings much better with the repairs that we did. Take a drywall sander and sand away any rough areas on the ceiling prior to texture. Use "mud" and repair any gouges, nicks, dents, etc. Then sand those areas when dry. Make sure any areas where the drywall pieces are taped together don't have obvious, bulging seams, or you will see those once the texture is up. Also, when choosing a texture, choose orange peel, not "light" orange peel like we did. That way more of your ceiling's imperfections will be hidden. (And no matter how much effort you put into this step, there will be imperfections still. Even brand new homes have them you just don't notice them since you didn't work on them ;) ). 
  9. Prime ceilings before paint to save yourself money. I didn't want to have to pay for primer because I wanted the project to be as cheap and fast as possible. However drywall and texture are very absorbent and they will suck the first layer of whatever you paint on to them. Primer is much cheaper than paint, so why not have that first layer that is sucked up be the cheaper stuff?
  10. Paint your ceiling with flat paint. This is very normal to do, but the reason is that the less shiny your paint's finish is, the less blemishes you will see. Semi gloss paint bounces light off of every imperfection, whereas flat does not. This rule of thumb also applies to walls. For this reason we are painting over every wall in our house that has semi gloss paint, with eggshell (just a tad shinier than flat). Paint quality has improved, and flat and eggshell are more washable than back in the day. Plus if you have to paint touch ups in small areas, the non reflective paints hide these areas better than if you were to paint over semi gloss areas.
And those are my 10 tips. I feel like I left a ton of gaps in the whole how-to process, but I suggest reading the referenced tutorial from for more specific steps. Plus, please ask any questions you have in the comment section below and I am more than happy to help!

In the end I am glad I didn't know what this project entailed because I might have been too scared to attack it. However, we want to live in this home forever and would love to get rid of the dated, yucky, dirty, shadow casting material so that we would never even think about our ceilings again.

Here is the room before we bought the house:

And here is what it looks like so far, (we are in the process of using gel stain for the painted white wood beams...tutorial coming on that soon):
Grainy picture courtesy of my instagram post. You will see that we painted the brick fireplace, the walls around the fireplace, the wood trim around the windows, as well as the fireplace doors with high heat spray paint. The power of paint never ceases to amaze me. Notice the nice white ceiling? Don't see any dark shadows anymore huh?
Hope this little tutorial helps! 

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