Homeowners often ask us about the feasibility of completing DIY projects successfully. The truth is, it’s clear to everyone who, say, pulls through a drywall repair project and who throws in the towel at the first sign of frustration. Andrew Baker has over 15 years experience in home repair and maintenance, so we asked him to share details of three projects he frequently answers customer questions about. Who is a good candidate to complete them? That’s what Baker tells us here too.
Popcorn ceiling removal
Popcorn ceilings became popular in the 1950s, especially in multi-story homes and apartment buildings. Cheap and easy to install, popcorn ceilings hide imperfections due to poor workmanship. They also help deaden noise. “Ceilings are one of the most difficult areas to perfect—and one of the most time-consuming,” says Baker. “Unfortunately, when workers found they could do this easily and cheaply, that was it.”
If you’re considering removing it yourself, Baker recommends having your ceilings inspected for asbestos first, especially if the home was built before 1977. “Try to remove the contaminated texture,” he says. If your ceiling doesn’t test positive or your home was built after 1977, the first task is to cover floors and furniture with plastic sheeting and drop cloths. Remove lights and protect electrical systems. “You’re going to be covered in dust and debris all the time, and your house, too, if you don’t prepare properly,” says Baker, who also recommends wearing goggles and a respirator.
Using a spray bottle filled with warm water, dampen the ceiling area you’re working on—about a 5 to 10 square foot area. While the area is still very wet, scrape the texture with a ceiling texture scraper. Once all of the texture is removed, go over all of the nail, screw, and tape connections with a fresh coat of mud (i.e., all-purpose jointing compound you can find at your local hardware store). Once the mud is dry, use a hand sander with pre-cut 150 grit paper; Use a sanding sponge for the corners – all of these can be found at Home Depot. Then the ceiling is ready for painting.
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. If you don’t hit the gym every day, your arms will be sore, Baker warns. “If you have a room or two to do, it might not be that bad, but if there’s popcorn in a room, it’s usually everywhere,” he says. “We’ve had more than a few calls from customers saying they’ve bitten off more than they could chew. While the process doesn’t seem too difficult, it is very labor intensive.”
“The difficulty and complexity of repairing drywall depends on the size of the damaged area,” says Baker. “For an area no wider than about 14 inches, a drywall patch with backing strips works well.” The drywall patch is sold individually, and several things will work for the backing (e.g., something that the patch can be screwed). Baker recommends purchasing a 1-inch by 2-inch, 6-foot strip of wood from your local hardware store and cutting it to size with a utility knife. Once you’re ready to begin, remove the damaged drywall by using a drywall knife to cut an even square around the area. Then carefully screw in the separating strip. Place the patch in the hole, making sure the patch is at least 5cm wider than the hole on each side – same for the back. Be careful not to drop the patch into the wall. (Baker recommends buying more than one patch in case something goes wrong.) Using one hand to hold and one hand to drill, drill into the new pad and patch with drywall screws. Place mesh tape around the edges of the hole, fill the entire area with mud and leave overnight to dry. Pack several layers of mud (i.e. all-purpose joint compound, as noted above). For holes 1/4 size or smaller, drywall putty will work. Don’t grind in between. Instead, use a joint knife to scrape off excess mud so the area is smooth. Finally sand the repaired area. It’s ready for painting.
Best candidate for the project? “Homeowners who want to repair damaged drywall themselves should be prepared for a multi-day project because of the drying time,” says Baker. However, if you’re unfamiliar with your patching skills or don’t feel confident — and the area is in a high-traffic or high-visibility location — hire a professional.
“Power washing your home 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 pressure washing the outside of your home keeps mold, mildew, dirt, and other harmful things from damaging your home.” While you can pressure wash your home year-round, Baker recommends doing it before the winter months, to prevent freezing dirt, debris and mold from forming on the house.
The trick to a good power wash is to feel comfortable with the gear. And if you have a two-story house, you can work comfortably while standing on a ladder. When preparing your home for a wash, make sure all your windows and doors are tightly closed and move anything out of the way (e.g. plants, decorations, patio furniture) that you don’t want disturbed or damaged. Baker recommends starting with a non-visible area on the outside. If you notice large debris falling, ease the pressure, he says. Then when you’re done, start at the bottom of the house and work your way up, making sure to do a final top-to-bottom rinse.
Best candidate for the project? The process of pressure washing a home can take as little as a few hours to a full day. Pressure washers can be rented at most local hardware stores. The main difference between a standard pressure washer rental and the equipment used by professionals is the width of the jet – a difference of 10 inches, resulting in a faster and more even surface cleaning. “The process itself isn’t difficult,” says Baker, “but it can be dangerous and it’s very, very messy.”