Category: Walls & Ceilings

How To: Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceilings can make a room appear dated and dark. Fortunately, you can remove all that textured coating to reveal the smoother surface below. Here's how.

How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling


For a significant chunk of the 20th century, from the 1950s through the ’80s, the ceilings in many new homes—particularly in bedrooms—came with a rough, stippled texture that become known as a “popcorn” finish. People tout the sound-dampening properties of popcorn ceilings, but I think they really caught on for a pretty simple reason: They hide imperfections and made life a little easier for professional builders. One major drawback is that, because they don’t reflect very much light, popcorn ceilings tend to eat up the light in a room. Another con is that many homeowners consider popcorn ceilings to be just plain ugly. Fortunately, it’s easy to remove popcorn ceilings, and although it can be a very messy and labor-intensive affair, the transformative results can make the effort well worth it.

- Plastic sheeting
- Masking tape
- Dust mask
- Protective goggles
- Wide putty knife
- Ladder
- Garden sprayer
- Metal file
- Paint

Before doing anything else, it’s critically important that you get the popcorn tested by an EPA-certified laboratory. In homes built before 1982, asbestos was a main ingredient in spray-on ceiling textures. If yours turns out to contain asbestos, then I very strongly advise you to bring in trained professionals who are licensed to deal with hazardous materials. If, on the other hand, the test indicates that your ceiling has a paper-based popcorn treatment, you can handle its removal the do-it-yourself way. Because the process involves water, however, it’s prudent to cut electrical power to the room where you’re going to be working.

How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling - Detail


There’s no getting around it: To remove a popcorn ceiling, you’ve got to make a mess. By properly preparing the room beforehand, however, you can minimize the amount of cleanup required once the project is completed. After you have removed all furniture from the room, cover the floor—and the bottom 16 inches of each wall—with thick plastic sheeting. Secure that sheeting in place with masking tape.

Upper walls too must be protected; do so by applying a strip of tape around the perimeter of the room, one quarter-inch below the ceiling. Then fasten plastic sheeting to that initial strip by means of an additional tape layer. Bear in mind that ceiling fixtures may hinder progress, so if there’s a ceiling fan, medallion molding, or hanging light fixture in the room, you may wish to take it down at this early stage.

Divide the ceiling into four-foot-square sections. Next, using the garden sprayer, thoroughly moisten the initial section, letting the water soak in for 10 or 15 minutes. After enough time has elapsed, position the ladder under the moistened section, put on your dust mask and protective goggles, then climb up. Holding a putty knife at a 30-degree angle to the ceiling, commence scraping the popcorn away. The method is to spray, wait, and then scrape. In this manner, work your way around the room, one section at a time.

Continue until you have removed the popcorn ceiling to reveal the drywall surface beneath. Given that you’ve put so much work into preparing the room, fastidiously covering the walls and floor with plastic sheeting, now would be an opportune moment to prime and paint the ceiling. If you decide to go this route, wait until the final coat has dried before removing the sheeting. But whatever you decide, don’t forget to reinstall ceiling fixtures and restore power to the room. In the newly popcorn-free space, you should notice that everything seems a lot brighter. Isn’t that so? Enjoy it!

What Would Bob Do? Installing a Drop Ceiling

Although drop ceilings have a bit of a cringe factor, they can be useful for hiding that tangle of pipes and wiring that inhabits the upper reaches of the basement. If you're trying to fix up a downstairs space, a drop ceiling may be your best option. Read on for the installation basics.

How to Install a Drop Ceiling


I’m interested in installing a drop ceiling in my basement rec room. Do you have any helpful hints for a do-it-yourselfer taking on this project for the first time?

A drop ceiling—also known as a suspended ceiling—conceals the plumbing or electrical work running overhead while allowing easy access to those elements in the future, should any adjustments or repairs become necessary. If you’re familiar with drop ceilings, then you are likely aware that some people dislike how they look. When the choice is between a drop ceiling and a messy warren of exposed mechanicals, however, homeowners often treat the former as a necessary evil.

We tend to think of ceilings as being solid and permanent, closely related to the structure of a home. But a drop ceiling isn’t that; rather, it’s a screen formed by a metal grid and the movable ceiling tiles placed into that framework. When it comes to the tiles, you have lots of choices. Countless textures and patterns are available, some even resembling tin or wood. In addition, many tiles feature soundproofing properties, valuable in a basement workshop or kid’s playroom.

It’s certainly possible to purchase the parts of a drop ceiling in an à la carte fashion, piece by piece—and you may wish to do so if you’re working in a compact utility space. But most of the time it’s cheaper to opt for the grid kits commonly available online and in local home improvement centers. Bear in mind that because one kit typically covers an eight-by-eight ceiling expanse, you’ll probably need to buy several if you’re trying to properly outfit an entire basement or a large garage space.

How to Install a Drop Ceiling - Detail


The average drop ceiling kit includes the following:

Wall molding—L-shaped metal strips that run along the ceiling perimeter, supporting tiles on one edge

Main beams—panel supports that span the distance from wall to wall and run perpendicular to the joists

Cross tees—panel supports that are installed parallel to the joists and between the main beams of the grid

Hanger wire and fasteners—hardware that ties the main beams of the grid to the wood ceiling joists

Installing a drop ceiling yourself? Rest assured that the process isn’t overly difficult, but for best results be sure to start with a detailed plan. If you’ve ever laid a floor, then you know the trick is to arrange the boards in such a way that you don’t end up with small, narrow pieces around the perimeter. The same principle applies here.

On graph paper, sketch the ceiling to scale. Include the location of any ceiling fixtures that need to be taken into account (for example, recessed lighting or ceiling fans). Continue sketching different arrangements until you strike upon one that allows for ceiling tiles with the widest possible diameter to go around the edge of the space.

Most ceiling tiles can be cut to size with a simple utility knife, if necessary. During installation, I recommend using a stepladder with an integral paint tray that can hold your tools and materials, saving you the hassle of repeatedly climbing up and down. Also, it’s wise to wear safety glasses; you’ll be directly below the action.

A parting thought: If all you’re looking to do is hide a cracked or stained ceiling—in other words, if there are no pipes, cables, or ducts to accommodate—then you may want to check out many of the direct-to-ceiling products on the market today. They don’t hang on a grid; instead, they install directly to the ceiling via adhesives, screws, or a combination of clips and tracks. In the right context, they can be real time- and effort-savers.

Repair Drywall with Less Hassle

If you’re armed with the right tools and a little know-how, you’ll never even think about hiring someone to handle this simple task again.

Drywall repair

Photo: HYDE Tools

Let’s be honest. Drywall repair is not something most people look forward to. Although it’s relatively straightforward in theory, if you have ever done it then you know that the dry time of the mud and all the dust created by sanding can turn the task into a big hassle. If you’ve repaired drywall before and your results didn’t turn out as seamless as you had envisioned, then you may be inclined to pay someone else to deal with it next time. Before you tackle the job again (or just throw in the towel), check out these helpful hints that will make drywall repairs easier and smoother.

HYDE bear claw repair clips

HYDE Bear Claw Drywall Repair Clips in use.

Patching large holes
If you have a large hole to repair, the first thing you need to do is cut a square piece of new drywall larger than the area you are repairing. Hold the new piece over the hole and trace around it. (Be sure to mark the top of the patch as a reference for when you install it as it’s not likely to be a perfect square.) With a drywall saw, cut along the lines that you just traced. The new hole is now ready to accept the drywall patch.

There are several ways to keep the new piece flush with the existing drywall, but the easiest way is to use Bear Claw Drywall Repair Clips from HYDE Tools. Simply clip them on the drywall and slide it into place; no nails, screws, or tools required. Apply drywall tape or HYDE’s Wet & Set (in roll form) over the clips and seams, and you’re ready to finish with mud—in other words, joint compound.

Patching small holes
For holes smaller than a baseball but bigger than a nail hole, there’s an easier patching solution than cutting a new piece of drywall. HYDE’s Wet & Set Repair Patch is a flexible sheet of water-activated patching material that dries within 30 minutes. It is impregnated with joint compounds and polymers specifically designed for patching walls and ceilings. Simply cut the patch to the size you need, dip it in water, and smooth it over the hole. After about 30 minutes it’s ready for finishing with mud.

Regardless of which method you used, once the patch is in place, it’s time for finishing. Apply a thin coat of mud over the patch, making sure to overlap a few inches onto the existing wall surface. The key here is to use a joint knife in order to get the most uniform results. (Don’t use a narrow spackling knife that you might use to fill nail holes.) Also, don’t apply too much mud; a thin coat is more desirable and will make sanding that much easier. Wait for it to dry, and apply a second thin coat until smooth and seamless.

Sanding is the messiest part of the job because the fine dust gets everywhere. Even if you cover your furniture and floors with plastic, dust still seems to infiltrate every nook and cranny. The best investment you can make here is HYDE’s Dust-Free Sponge Sander. It connects to wet/dry vacuums equipped with fine dust filters to remove dust while you are sanding. This tool is particularly useful for any drywall repair job in a finished area of your home. Remember, the key to effective sanding is to use long and broad strokes so you seamlessly blend in the dried mud. Avoid getting carried away and sanding too much—you don’t want to expose any clips or edges of the patch.

Note: Before you paint, make sure the patched area feels smooth. With your eye close to and parallel to the wall, look down to see if it’s completely flat (doing so now will eliminate the pesky “hump” that sometimes becomes visible after painting). Also, don’t forget to prime the patched spot before painting or the finish will look dull compared with the rest of the wall.

Following these simple tips and techniques can take the headache out of drywall repair and save you from calling in a pro for such a small job. Plus, when you’re all done, you get to enjoy the satisfying feeling of stepping back and admiring your work—even though in this case your work will be completely undetectable!

This post has been brought to you by HYDE®. Its facts and opinions are those of

How To: Build a Temporary Wall

If you need to divide a shared kids' room or transform a corner alcove into a home office, then a temporary wall may be just the ticket.


If you can’t live with the layout of your space, a temporary wall may be just the solution you need. For decades, renters have relied on temporary walls to “make it work” under less-than-ideal circumstances. Homeowners too can benefit from temporary walls: Building one enables you to judge whether a planned change is worth pursuing. And because a temporary wall does not tie into the framing, removing it is easily done, with a minimum of mess.

Note: Before you undertake to build a temporary wall, be sure that you check local building codes, paying close attention to relevant stipulations. Contact your municipal building department for clarification, if necessary. Renters are advised to ask the building owner or management company for permission.

- Sill seal
- 2x4s (quantity and lengths depend on wall size)
- Wooden shims
- Drywall
- Nails or screws
- Circular saw
- Drill
- Hammer

Sill seal is foreign to many do-it-yourselfers, even those who’ve successfully completed scores of projects. Here, the 1/4-inch-thick foam performs two functions. First, it protects the existing floor, walls, and ceiling from damage. Second, and more importantly, the sill seal provides the pressure needed to secure the temporary wall wherever you choose to position it. Before doing anything else, apply the sill seal to those surfaces with which the temporary wall is going to be in contact.

Cut a pair of 2x4s to the length you want the temporary wall to be. These two pieces of wood are known as the plates; they will form, respectively, the top and bottom margins of the wall. Next, measure the height from floor to ceiling. Because that height may vary, it’s wise to measure twice: once for the left edge of the temporary wall, then again for the right edge. Subtract three inches from each measurement, then cut a 2×4 to correspond to each length. These are the end studs.

How to Build a Temporary Wall - Studs


Set the bottom plate over the sill seal you’ve already applied to the floor. Next, ask a helper to hold up the top plate—with sill seal between the board and ceiling—as you wedge the end studs into place. (Remember that sill seal also needs to run along the existing walls against which you are placing the vertical members.) If either stud needs persuading to fit snugly between the plates, tap it in with a hammer. Are the studs too tall? Trim off some height with a sander or circular saw, then try your luck again. With short studs, use one or more wooden shims to close the gap.

Now that you’ve established the wall perimeter, fasten the end studs into the plates by means of either nails or screws (the latter are easier to remove). For added stability, particularly if you have kids or plan to install a door, it’s smart to nail or screw the top plate to the nearest ceiling joist.

Install the remaining studs at intervals of 16 or 24 inches. (At this point, if you’d like to inhibit the transmission of sound through the temporary wall, add batt fiberglass insulation in the stud cavities.) Finally, put up the drywall panels; for ease of removal later, screws are recommended.

Finish the wall however you please. Some may be perfectly satisfied with the rudimentary look of unfinished drywall. Others may choose to paint the surface or even to install baseboard. Much depends on the purpose of the temporary wall, but it’s certainly possible to make it resemble your permanent walls. But remember, the more you add on, the more you’ll eventually need to take off.

Follow your design sense and do what makes you happy. After all, it’s your (newly defined) space!

Quick Tip: Trim Protection Tape

True to its name, trim protection tape keeps woodwork from being damaged in the course of remodeling. Here's what to know about it.

Protecting woodwork before you paint (or do other work) around it will save you time and money later. Trim protection tape comes in a variety of widths for any trim detail, from moldings to banisters. Look for a product that’s easy to use, will stick solidly to surfaces for as long as your project lasts, and won’t leave a sticky residue when it’s removed.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

How To: Paint Trim
Quick Tip: Installing Crown Molding
Get Trim! 9 Ways to Dress Up a Room with Molding

Bob Vila Radio: Plaster Wall Cutouts

It can be somewhat complicated to create plaster wall cutouts for light switches, electrical outlets, or recessed shelves, but following these simple steps can help you get the job done with minimal fuss.

It’s pretty straightforward to cut a hole in drywall to add a light switch, electrical outlet, or even a recessed shelf or niche. If your walls are made out of old plaster, the job is a little bit more complicated, but you can still do it yourself if you take proper precautions and have the right tools.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON PLASTER WALL CUTOUTS or read the text below:

Plaster Wall Cutouts


The tricky part is that old plaster doesn’t necessarily want to come down in straight lines, and unless you’re gutting the whole room, you probably want a sharp outline between the plaster you’re removing and the wall you’re leaving up. So how can you get clean cuts in plaster?

One way is to pencil in your cutout first, then score the plaster surface with a utility knife or a rotary tool, penetrating a quarter-inch or so. Once you have a clean line scored all around the area you want to cut, use a reciprocating saw to cut along the line and take out both the plaster and underlying lath at once. Work slowly and carefully, and don’t force the blade.

Remember, wear a respirator mask, safety goggles, and thick work gloves. And if the plaster does crumble in a spot or two and create a jagged edge in your straight line, don’t worry—you can fill in small irregularities with drywall compound.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

What Would Bob Do? Preventing Window Condensation

Does water condense on the inside of your windows all winter long? If so, try a few of these moisture-controlling solutions.

Window Condensation


It’s winter and I keep getting condensation on the inside of my windows. What’s the solution?

When moist, warm air makes contact with a window—typically the coolest surface in a given space (at least during the winter)—condensation forms. That’s because cool air cannot hold as much water vapor as warm air. If window condensation drives you crazy throughout the winter, I can recommend any number of solutions, most of which are geared toward lowering the relative humidity in your home. One or a combination of the actions listed below should do the trick. It may be worth it for you to purchase a hygrometer, an instrument that measures relative humidity, to assist you in your efforts to reduce household moisture.

• Operate room humidifiers strictly on an as-needed basis. If you are running a whole-house humidifier, reduce its output, then wait a day to see what happens. If the problem persists, turn the humidifier down even further. (It is usually necessary to do this only when outdoor temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.)

• Run the bathroom exhaust fan while you’re showering and the range hood exhaust fan while you’re cooking. Leave fans running for 10 or 15 minutes after either activity. Double-check that both of these fans—and indeed all the exhaust systems in your home—ventilate to the outdoors and not to the basement, attic, or garage.

• Inspect the entirety of your home—including the basement, roof, and plumbing—for evidence of leaks, because they can have a significant impact on relative humidity.

• If you’re in the habit of drying your laundry on racks indoors, try suspending the practice to see whether that prevents window condensation from forming.

• Avoid indoor storage of freshly cut, nonseasoned firewood, because it contains a high degree of moisture.

• Pull back window treatments so the heated air in your home can raise the temperature of the window glass, thereby reducing the likelihood of condensation.

Install storm windows, which can raise the temperature on the surface of your interior windows, keeping them from reaching the point at which water condenses.

In addition to high relative humidity, insufficient household ventilation can also cause window condensation. If you live in a climate with cold winters and your home is very tightly sealed—and if there are more than a few inhabitants, each of whom adds moisture to the home every day—consider a heat recovery ventilation system. This type of system controls the introduction of fresh air from the outdoors and the expulsion of stale, overly moist air from within.

Quick Tip: No-Coat Drywall Corners

Installing drywall corner bead makes quicker, easier work of what can be a time-consuming and often tricky process. Here's how it's done.

If you’ve ever done drywall work, you know the corners are the really tricky part. These no-coat drywall corners are ready-made of high-impact plastic backed with joint tape for an easy, tight bond with mud. Shove the corner into a bed of mud—no need for screws or nails. Feather the edges with compound, and you’re done.

For more on drywall, consider:

Drywall vs. Blueboard
Quick Tip: Taping Drywall Joints
How To: Finish Seamless Drywall

Quick Tip: Ornamental Plaster Reproductions

With ornamental plaster reproductions, homeowners can replace damaged historic detailing or grace new construction with a charming addition, rich in history.

The lost art of Victorian plaster detailing is making a comeback in a new form. Modern manufacturers are finding ways to reproduce cornice moldings, brackets, rosettes and ceiling medallions, using lightweight polymers. Less prone to damage than plaster, polymer details are flexible, paintable, and they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Plaster
How To: Patch Plaster Walls
Plaster Cornice Reconstruction (VIDEO)

Quick Tip: Taping Drywall Joints

Taping drywall is the most important—and often the trickiest—step in the installation process. Follow these guidelines to render the seam between panels all but invisible.

Here’s a helpful tip for getting really smooth drywall seam. After you’ve laid the tape in a four-inch bed of joint compound, apply another thin coat of compound with a six-inch knife. Let it dry overnight, then add another coat with a ten-inch trowel. Feather the edges out with the knife. Smooth it out again with the ten-inch trowel and let it dry. Apply your third coat the same way, this time with a 12-inch trowel. Increase the size of your trowel with each coat, and you’ll be sure to get an invisible seam every time.

For more on drywall, consider:

Seamless Drywall Finishing
Quick Tip: Installing Drywall
How To: Finish Drywall Joints