Ask the Expert: Andrew Baker of St. Peters-based Better Painting
Homeowners will often ask us about the feasibility of completing DIY projects successfully. The truth is, it’s anyone’s guess who among us will master, say, a drywall repair project and who will throw in the towel at the first hint of frustration. Andrew Baker has more than 15 years’ experience in home repair and maintenance, and so we asked him to share details about three projects he often fields questions about from clients. Who’s a good candidate to complete them? Baker tells us that here, too.
Popcorn ceilings became popular in the 1950s, particularly in multi-story houses and apartment buildings. Cheap and easy-to-install, popcorn ceilings cover up imperfections as a result of poor workmanship. They also help dampen noise. “Ceilings are one of the hardest areas to perfect—and one of the most time intensive,” says Baker. “When workers figured out they could easily and cheaply do them, that was that, unfortunately.”
If you’re considering attempting a removal on your own, Baker recommends having your ceilings checked first for asbestos, especially if the home was built before 1977. “If there is asbestos, we recommend placing new drywall on top of the existing ceiling instead of trying to remove the contaminated texture,” he says. If your ceiling doesn’t test positive, or your home was built after 1977, the first order of business is to cover floors and furniture with plastic and drop cloths. Remove light fixtures and protect the electrical. “You’ll be covered in dust and debris the entire time, and so will your house, if you don’t properly prep,” says Baker, who also recommends wearing goggles and a breathing mask.
Wet the ceiling area where you’re working—about a 5 to10 square foot area—using a spray bottle filled with warm water. While the area is still very moist, scrape off the texture using a ceiling texture scraper. Once all the texture is removed, go over all nail, screw, and taping joints with a fresh layer of mud (i.e. all-purpose joint compound, which can be found at your local hardware store). Once the mud is dry, use a hand sander with 150-grit pre-cut paper; use a sanding sponge for the corners—all of which can be found at Home Depot. Then, the ceiling is ready for paint.
Best candidate for the project? For the main level of a standard-size home (approximately 1,000 square feet), the project will take approximately four days to complete. Unless you hit the gym every day, your arms will be sore, warns Baker. “If you have a room or two to do, it might not be too bad, but normally, if popcorn is in one room, it’s everywhere,” he says. “We’ve gotten more than a few calls from clients saying they bit off more than they could chew. While the process may not seem too difficult, it’s very labor intensive.”
“The difficulty and complexity of drywall repair depends on the size of the damaged area,” says Baker. “For an area that is no wider than about 14 inches, a drywall patch with backing strip works well.” The drywall patch is sold individually, and several things will work for the backing (i.e. something for the patch to be screwed into). Baker recommends purchasing a 1-inch by 2-inch 6-foot wood strip from your local hardware store and cutting it to size using a utility knife. Once you’re ready to begin, remove the damaged drywall by cutting an even square around the area using a drywall knife. Then, carefully screw in the backing strip. Place the patch inside the hole, making sure the patch is at least two inches wider on each side than the hole—same goes for the backing. Be careful not to drop the patch inside the wall. (Baker recommends purchasing more than one patch in the event that something goes wrong.) Using one hand to hold and one hand to drill, drill into the new backing, and patch with drywall screws. Place mesh tape around the edges of the hole, fill the entire area with mud, and let dry overnight. Pack several layers of mud (i.e. all-purpose joint compound, as stated above). For holes the size of a quarter or smaller, drywall spackle will work. Do not sand in between. Instead, use a joint knife to scrape away any excess mud so that the area is smooth. Finally, sand the repaired area. It’s ready for paint.
Best candidate for the project? “Homeowners who want to repair damaged drywall on their own should be prepared for a multiday project due to drying time,” says Baker. However, if you aren’t familiar with or don’t feel confident in your patching skills—and the area is in a high-traffic or highly visible spot—hire a professional.
“Power washing your house is an important part of keeping your exterior happy and healthy,” says Baker. The best part is that any type of home is a candidate for a power wash. “Regularly power washing your home’s exterior keeps mildew, mold, dirt, and other hazardous things from damaging your house.” While you can power wash your house at any time during the year, Baker suggests doing so before the winter months to avoid freezing dirt, debris, and mold from forming onto the house.
The trick to a good power wash is feeling comfortable using the equipment. And, if you have a two-story house, being comfortable working while standing on a ladder. As you prepare your home for a wash, make sure that all of your windows and doors are tightly sealed, and move anything out of the way (i.e., plants, décor, lawn furniture) that you don’t want disturbed or broken. Baker recommends starting with an area of the exterior that isn’t visible. If you notice large debris falling off, lower the pressure, he says. Then, once you’re ready, begin at the bottom of the house and work your way up, making sure to do a final rinse from top to bottom.
Best candidate for the project? The process of power washing a house may take as little as a few hours, up to a full day. Power washers may be rented from most local hardware stores. The main difference between a standard rented power washer and the equipment used by professionals is the width of the spray—a difference of 10 inches, which results in a quicker, more evenly cleaned surface. “The process itself isn’t difficult,” says Baker, “but it can be dangerous, and is very, very messy.”
Published by: Design Newsletter/DesignSTL, St. Louis Magazine
Written by: Alexandra Vollman