Wednesday Project: Preparing the Walls

Well, we made it.  This our weekly post updating our progress on a project to renovate a small, half-bathroom in our house.  The room is about five feet long by five feet wide and simply houses (or used to house) a toilet and a pedestal sink.  In a nutshell, the project involves removing some wallpaper, painting everything and updating a few fixtures.  Sounds easy, right?  We’ll see about that, I guess.

Last week, we discussed the process of removing wallpaper.  There are various ways to do this, but we chose what I think is the easiest method: using an electric steamer.  Some folks will spray a solution on the walls and then scrape (and spray and scrape and spray an scrape), but I think the steamer method makes the labor of steaming a lot easier, and I’m for easy wherever I can get it.

But no matter which method you use, what you are really trying to do is prepare your walls for painting.  In the end, you want your walls to be glass smooth, but that won’t happen unless the surface you are painting is glass smooth.  To do that, you have to prepare your walls.  Ultimately, that’s what you are trying to do when you scrape off wallpaper.  You’re just getting back to the starting line for a painting project.

So, at this point, we’ve scraped off all of the wallpaper.  What’s next?  Well, here’s what we did.

1) Clean your walls

You’ve scraped off the paper (and the backing and the glue), but no matter how well you scrape, there will still be a glue residue on the walls.  If you leave that residue, there’s a good chance it will seep through your paint job and eventually may  look like resin is dripping down your walls.  Some people like that, but most don’t.
I mixed up a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and washed the walls with it. This probably doesn’t do anything, but at least you’ll feel like you at least did something.

2) Prime your walls

Since I was serious about preventing any glue residue from seeping through, I painted the walls with an oil-based primer beefed up with stain blocker.  As you can see from the picture below, this primer advertised itself to be odorless, but it really isn’t.  You won’t really smell the fumes when you open the can, but spend 30 minutes in a small, enclosed room and you’ll feel the burn.
Priming your walls doesn’t just cover glue residue, though.  It also primes your walls.  But in this case, it’s priming your walls to receive the sheetrock joint compound as described below.  You want the mud to adhere to your wall and the primer helps create this condition.
Once you’ve primed your walls, you’ll need to wait at least an hour before proceeding to the next step.

IMG_0110 (1)3) Skim coat your walls

Once the primer is on, you’re ready to get real; you’re ready to spread on some sheetrock mud.  In this process, you are actually applying the product that will serve to re-surface your walls.  Depending on the condition of your walls, this process will either go fairly smoothly (no pun intended) or be a complete nightmare.  In my case, the process was closer to smooth, but it wasn’t at all easy.

I bought the bucket of mud pictured below at a local home improvement store.  It cost about $13.  You can buy mud that will dry quicker, and if you’re in a crazy hurry you’ll probably have to do that, but if not, it’s not worth the trouble.  The price isn’t all that different and you’ll have to mix up the compound – and then you’ll be on the clock to apply the product before it dries.  Based on past experience, I decided to go with the pre-mixed compound and just wait for the normal drying period.

I also tape off the room as if I was painting.  This keeps a lot of sheetrock mud from caking on your trim.

You apply the product to the walls using your typical drywall equipment.  You’ll need to assess the scope of your project and make sure you have the right sized application tools.  If you have a large job, or a job with walls in really bad shape, you may want to mix water with the compound until it resembles cake batter and apply with a paint roller.  My job wasn’t that big and the walls weren’t in horrible shape, so I apply with a six-inch or so sized drywall trowel.

2016-01-30 13.44.284) Sand

Once the drywall compound dried, the walls will look similar to the picture below.  As you can, see you’ll need to sand.  Sanding is sort of an understatement, though, because  at this point of the project, you’ll wish you had the left the wallpaper well enough alone.

Sanding your walls will create a monster of a mess and will, ultimately, test your will to live.  Well, maybe that’s an overstatement, but not by much.

You’ll want to definitely make sure your project is properly enclosed, but at the same time you’ll want to make sure you have enough oxygen to breathe.  My project is very small, but it’s also very close to our den and a bedroom and I wanted to make sure those rooms weren’t coated in sheetrock dust.  However, the dusty inferno I created inside the room while sanding made me feel like I was dying.  Again, that’s sort of an overstatement, but not by much.

Before you sand, make sure you protect anything nearby that you don’t want covered with dust, wear eye protection and consider wearing a bandana or something similar to keep dust out of your hair.  If you use a power sander, you’ll also want to wear ear protection.  Regardless of the size of your project, you’ll also want to make sure you take plenty of breaks so that you don’t kill yourself.

On your first pass of sanding, your not trying for the perfect finish.  Knock off the rough spots and do as good as you can, but your not finished sanding – not by a long shot.

2016-01-31 07.18.39

5) Repeat

You’ll repeat steps #3 and #4 as many times as necessary until you either die or give up and accept that your walls won’t be perfect.  And that’s not much of an understatement.

How good or bad your walls looked after removing the wallpaper will generally determine how many times you repeat the process.  In my case, the walls didn’t look too bad, so I only had one major skim coating and sanding cycle.  After sanding the first time, I only re-coated and sanded selected patches.  I repeated this until the walls were in good enough shape to paint.

2016-01-31 07.19.29

Final thoughts

I really, really, really didn’t like this part of the project.  I wasn’t necessarily hard work, but the cage of death I created while sanding inside the small room was not fun at all.  And it’s not something I hope to do again soon (although there’s one more room left in the house with wallpaper).  However, this is the most important step of this project.  The finished walls won’t look any better than how you prepare the surface.  My advice is to slow down and take the time you need to get the walls right.  You’ll be glad you did.


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