Category: Walls & Ceilings

What Would Bob Do? Dealing with Bulging Drywall Seams

Bulging drywall seams have a number of possible causes. Read on for the likely culprits and the most effective solutions.


Many of the drywall seams on my 40-year-old house are bulging. It doesn’t appear as if the joint tape is pulling away from the seams, because when I tried to remove some of the tape, it was extremely difficult. Also, the drywall appears to be pretty firmly attached. When I press on both sides of the seam, the drywall doesn’t move. Could it be that the seams have always looked this way? Could this just be the result of a poor spackling job when the  joint tape and compound were applied in the first place? What should I do to make these seams less visible?

With the drywall firmly attached, as you say it is, I can think of only three situations in which the seams would bulge, sag, or buckle.

Sometimes, drywall seams become visible when a house has undergone considerable settling. But unless your geographical area has had unusually dry or wet conditions in recent years, structural problems are probably not at play in your 40-year-old home. If, however, you notice any other signs of settling—cracks in the foundation, torn drywall joints, or gaps either along the baseboards or at the point where walls meet ceilings—hire a foundation expert to do an inspection.

Related: Drywall vs. Blueboard Explained (VIDEO)

The more likely culprit is the manner in which your drywall was installed. For the seam between drywall panels to disappear after painting, that joint must be covered with compound in a specific way—in a series of layers, with each layer wider than the last. Additionally, each layer needs to dry—and, in some cases, should be sanded—before the next layer goes on. For tradesmen, it’s a time-consuming process, one that often requires repeat visits to the job site. That being the case, it’s not uncommon for a contractor to use fewer layers than would be ideal, leaving the drywall seam insufficiently feathered to the adjacent surfaces. Or, an inexperienced do-it-yourselfer may have done the work, in the process making some common mistakes without knowing the error of his ways.

Here’s yet another possible cause: When drywall sheets with uncut edges are butted together, a depression forms along the line where they join. That depression is meant to accommodate joint compound and drywall tape. Trouble arises only when installers opt to use cut drywall: Because the edges of these sheets aren’t tapered, there’s no depression when they’re paired. As a result, the joint compound and drywall tape are applied over the plane of the drywall surface, resulting in a buildup that looks very much like a bulge. Again, the explanation is that either a pro did the work and chose to cut corners, or a DIYer did so unwittingly.

No matter the cause, the solution to bulging drywall seams is almost always the same: Call in a contractor to apply a skim coat of compound over the entire wall. That coat fills in the recessed areas, creating a flat-looking surface. This isn’t a job for the average person to do over the weekend; it’s specialized work that requires a trained hand. If you’d rather not spend the money, consider repainting the affected walls in a flat paint, as sheens make it easier to spot imperfections.

Bob Vila Radio: Glass Block

If you want to let light in while maintaining privacy, look no further than the glass block. It enjoys many applications, from flooring to shower stalls to skylights— and here are a few reasons why it just might be right for your home.

Glass block has been used as a building material for more than a century, but it experienced a big surge of popularity in the 1930s and ’40s. That was when technological advancements made the blocks more durable and easier to install. Its use has risen and fallen over the years, but glass block continues to be valued for its strength and its unique ability to let in natural light while maintaining privacy.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON GLASS BLOCK or read the text below:

Glass Block


Some of glass block’s other selling points? It’s a far better insulator single-paned glass. Glass block is also easy to clean, it resists fire and impact, and it’s secure against break-ins. If correctly installed, it is long lasting and can be less expensive than traditional windows.

These features explain many of the common applications for glass block, which include basement windows, non-load-bearing walls, skylights and partitions. Its translucence and easy care make it ideal for shower stalls. And glass block flooring is a great way to bring light to rooms below. Outdoors, it can be used for walls or wall accents, bars, deck features—wherever you need to add light or drama. And the good news is that glass block is an accessible material for a competent DIYer who wants to let in some light.

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.

How To: Install a Tongue-and-Groove Ceiling

For a traditional look either indoors or out on the porch, why not install a tongue-and-groove ceiling? Follow these simple guidelines to achieve pro-quality results.

Here’s a way to install a tongue-and-groove ceiling without damaging the wood. Set a board in place. Then with a scrap piece of tongue-and-groove stock as a block, give the board a firm tap. This forces the tongue tightly into the groove. Using finish nails, secure the backboard in place. All the tongues remain intact and undamaged if you use a block.

For more on ceilings, consider:

5 DIY Wood Wall Treatment Ideas
Top Tips for Installing Tongue-and-Groove Paneling
From Finland with Loves: Notes on Installing a Wood Ceiling

How To: Find Studs

It's easier than you thought to find studs. Here's the skinny on the three most common—and most effective—methods.

Whether you’re hanging shelves or breaking through a wall, you’ve got to know where to find the wall studs. There are three ways to find studs. One, sound it out. You should hear a solid thump when you hit a stud. Two, look for nails along the baseboard. They’re usually driven at stud intervals. And three, use a magnetic finding device. It will zero in on the nails or screws that fix the wall to the stud.

For more on walls, consider:

Quick Tip: Using Metal Studs
Bob Vila Radio: Locating Studs
How To: Identify a Load-Bearing Wall

How To: Repair Plaster Walls

Find out how easy it can be to repair plaster walls, without having to pay for the services of a contractor.

If you have an old house with holes in the plaster, here’s a quick way to patch them. Apply your base coat (or brown coat) of rough plaster with a small trowel. If there’s no existing wire mesh, make sure you staple some on first for support. Smooth the plaster out with a large trowel and let the rough coat set for one to two hours, depending on the humidity. Then apply a finishing coat of premixed joint compound. Let it dry overnight and with a 12-inch knife, apply your final skim coat.

For more on plaster, consider:

Patching Plaster Walls
How To: Rebuild a Wall with Three-Coat Plaster
Blueboard and Veneer Plaster Offer Old-Style Look

Quick Tip: Using Reclaimed Brick

With reclaimed brick, remodelers can match new repair work to the original portions of an existing installation.

In a restoration project, reusing the original brick is a great idea. Water damage and neglect can destroy the mortar in a brick wall. For repairs, reuse your original bricks with new mortar to strengthen and rebuild the wall. Use tinted mortar to match the original foundation. Recycled bricks create a new wall without sacrificing a historic look.

For more on walls, consider:

How To: Lay Brick
Repointing Brick Walls
Brick Basics: Maintenance, Care, and Cleaning

Add Visual Interest with Board and Batten

Historically associated with Arts and Crafts architecture, the three-dimensional appeal of board and batten is finding renewed popularity in both exterior and interior applications.

Board and Batten


A striking dimensional finishing treatment, board and batten, is enjoying renewed popularity, with homeowners installing it both on the exterior and indoors. Historically a staple of Arts and Crafts architecture, board and batten originated as a form of house siding. The term “batten” refers to the strip of molding placed across the joint between boards. The resulting look boasts an attractive geometry: strong vertical lines balanced by a sense of texture across the horizontal.

As an exterior cladding, board and batten manages to impart a rustic, handmade quality even to new homes built in unmistakably contemporary styles. Within the home, board and batten commonly appears in mudrooms and hallways, bedrooms and dining areas, adding charm to otherwise bland expanses of drywall or plaster. Many traditional designs for non-permanent elements of the home—shutters, for example, or cabinet doors—also feature board-and-batten construction.

Board and Batten - Exterior


For the average do-it-yourselfer, installing board and batten lies well within reach, especially since home centers and hardware stores often sell pre-measured kits that make it a breeze. If you are planning a project either on the exterior or interior, here are a few hard-earned tips to help you achieve a professional-level result:

Exterior Installation Tips:

• Before you begin the work of installation, paint or stain the boards and battens, and don’t forget to apply a sealer, protecting the wood from the weather.

• Start by cutting the boards, typically to width between one and four feet. Leave a 1/4- or 1/2-inch gap between the boards to allow for seasonal expansion.

• Center the one- or two-inch-wide battens over the joints between the boards. Nail through the battens so that the fasteners drive into the expansion gaps.

• Buy or build enough battens to use as trim pieces that finish off the top and bottom edges of your installation, as well as its sides or corners.

Board and Batten - Staircase


Interior Installation Tips:

• Depending on height, interior installations typically run between baseboard and chair or plate railing.

• Paint or stain the board and battens prior to installation just as you would do on the home exterior.

• A simple approach is to use plywood panel boards, roughly four feet wide by four- or six-feet tall.

• In the course of installing the boards, always retain a 1/4- or 1/2-inch expansion gap between them.

• Position one-by-two-inch or one-by-one-inch battens over the expansion gap between the boards.

• Nail through the center of the battens, so the fasteners drive between the boards and into the wall.

• Remember that any extra pieces of batten may be reused as molding around windows or door frames.

• If you prefer not to work with plywood, other cost-friendly materials include MDF and composite.

Board-and-batten styling imparts depth and texture to both exteriors and interiors, lending a sophisticated yet unpretentious air to virtually any home, whether it’s a recent construction or has been around 100 years.

How To: Bend Drywall

In curvilinear rooms, or in situations like an arched doorway, you can bend drywall using this tried-and-true technique of the pros.

Here’s a tip on how to throw a curve with drywall. The trick is to use two sheets of quarter-inch drywall instead of one standard half-inch sheet. Hose down both sides of each panel and form it to the curve, fastening with nails or drywall screws. Do the same with the second sheet, then tape and finish.

For more on walls, consider:

Drywall 101
Bob Vila Radio: Drywall Costs
What Would Bob Do? Cutting Drywall

Quick Tip: Installing Beadboard Wainscoting

Beadboard wainscoting is as attractive today as it was in the 19th century, and it still does a great job of protecting walls from dings and dents.

To achieve a Victorian look on an interior wall, try a beadboard wainscot. You can buy beadboard at your local lumber yard. Here are some things to keep in mind when installing it yourself. Run your baseboard first to avoid creating a dust collector. Use a drill and a jigsaw to cut holes for outlets. Fit each board together snugly, then nail with 2-1/2-inch finish nails. Angle the bottom nail into the tongue of each board. Base nail the top and cap it with the molding.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

5 Things to Do with… Beadboard
5 DIY Wood Wall Treatment Ideas
What Would Bob Do? Installing Beadboard

Quick Tip: Custom Moldings

Give character to dull bland spaces through the use of custom moldings, whether baseboards, chair rails, or any other type.

Dress up the rooms in your house with a variety of custom moldings. These moldings are available in many historic profiles. You can add a one-piece baseboard molding for a 19th-century look, while popular cherry rails and picture moldings add detail and take paint well. And for a more elegant look, add a multi-piece crown molding to the ceiling.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

Adding Custom Moldings
Character Building: A Case for Moldings
Know Your Moldings: 10 Popular Trim Styles to Spiff Up Any Space