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September 2021
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Skip Troweled Ceilings

Popcorn ceilings were sold as an enhancement for many years by tract developers, advertising ease of maintenance by virtue of being white, so as not to require painting, and it acoustic properties in reducing sound. Both of these claims are of dubious value, when the reality is that it was cheaper for builders to spray ceilings rather than finish them.

A typical taping job requires a tape coat, a cover coat, and one or more finish coats to produce a smooth finish. By eliminating the ceiling finish coats builders saved time and labor by spraying ceilings. Some builders would not even apply a cover coat, but would spray the texture on extra heavy. Cheaper for them, a pain in the ass now.

Having removed the popcorn on the current project, we were luck in that the builder did use a cover coat before spraying the ceilings.
We still have work as scraping ceilings is not an automatic process. Here is a scraped ceiling.

The popcorn is gone but the ceiling is rough. Because of time and budget constraints we are going to texture the ceilings using a ‘skip trowel technique.

Skip troweling is a technique that used regular taping mud applied to create a cover and a texture. This is what it looks like in process.

Here is Rich using a wide knife to apply the compound.

If you look closely at the knife you can see that the compound is thick at the edges and thinner in the center. When he applies it, the thin areas get skipped as he applies the mud, giving the skipped appearance. A quick troweling smooths the ceiling giving it the illusion of depth while making it easier to paint and clean. This can be done using smaller knives, it just takes more time. And a lot of practice.
Here is a ceiling just finished but still wet.

This gives you a better idea of the ceiling with the new texture.

Remember that you will need to use a primer/sealer before final painting.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal

One of the most sworn at design details in housing is the popcorn ceiling. They collect dirt, dust, spiderwebs, and all sorts of crap. You can’t wash them. You can’t dust them. You can paint them if you want to spend an enormous amount of money on paint, and don’t mind a stiff neck.

You can remove them.

Here is a quick look at the procedure.
Take down any lights or fans on the ceiling. Remove the furniture, because you need to bag the entire floor. If you cannot remove the furniture, you will have to move it to cover the floor, move the stuff and cover the rest of the floor, and move it again to keep it out of your way while you are scraping the stuff off. If you are not painting the walls at the same time you will want to poly the walls. A quick look on bagging the walls can be seen here.
Bagging the floor consists of covering it with a layer of poly sheeting to catch the popcorn as it comes down. You can buy it in 10′, 12′ and even wider sizes. .7 to 1 mil. is all the thickness you will need. Buy the widest stuff you will need. It comes in 400′ rolls. Clean up is a lot easier with not having seams on the floor.

First up is moistening the ceiling. This does two important things for you. It softens the popcorn making it easier to remove and the moisture reduces the dust, which is especially important if you are living in the house.

Here my friend Rich from Arrowhead Drywall is using a simple pump up sprayer to spray plain water to moisten the popcorn.

Next is scraping the ceiling.

Rich is using a standard 6” taping knife to scrape the ceiling.

Here is the floor after the popcorn is down.

Here is the ceiling after.

At this point you need to roll up the plastic and dispose of the trash.
You will need to decide how you want to finish the ceiling. Skim coating it for a smooth surface, or a texture effect like a skip trowel, knockdown, or some other effect. You will need to rebag the floor.

Termite Treatment

Last week we had a termite inspection done. Here is the termite diagram.

Having discovered the termite problem, we move to treatment.

I met with Donovan, the technician from Bills Pest and Termite who showed up on time. He and I walked the property discussing the problem. Professional, Courteous, and Knowledgeable. He then began the prep for treatment. On the interior a series of holes are drilled through the slab into the ground beneath. This is a shot of the garage.

One of the amazing things here is two handed drilling.

Yep. He ran two drills punching holes with a precision and speed that was a joy to watch. He drilled the entire perimeter of the garage and not just the area highlighted on the bug chart above.
Moving into the house proper, we detached the carpet and pad to make the drilling easier.

After the holes were drilled the treatment began. Using a wand, he pressured sprayed the termiticide into the holes.

Having completed the inside, he moved outside and cleared a channel around the entire structure and performed an ‘outside wrap’ which is a complete perimeter application.

Part of the outside treatment was treating the sidewalk slab at the front entry.

After completing the treatment, he sealed all of the holes, swept up the dust, replaced the carpets and put back the rock and filler he had moved treating the outside. It was almost like he had never been here.

Finally he attached the treatment sticker, which doubles as the warranty to the water heater.

Why the water heater? Most folks in moving never take the water heater. It is a fixed convenient location for it.

If you need termite treatment in Phoenix, Bills Pest and Termite is the company to call. Highly Recommended!

For the time and money crowd, the inspection was free and took 90 minutes. The treatment was just under $700.00 and took 2 1/2 hours from opening his truck door to his driving off. Your situation will be different. This is this job only.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings 2

In our last episode we had bagged the garage, and scraped the popcorn ceiling. So at the end of the day it basically looked like this.

You can see the straight lines that tell the tale of mechanical tools for taping. Tools work fine in the hands of an artisan. They are adjustable so that a really fine line can be set. Not the case here. On of the drawbacks to the homeowner/remodeler is repairing taping done with tools. Because the mud has extra water added to run though the ‘tools’ one of the unfortunate byproducts is the dust from sanding. Taping mud contains adhesives that help it to stick, and when you change the mix by adding water beyond the mfg. recommendations, it doesn’t work as well, and creates much more dust than normal.

The secret to living through sanding is getting someone else to do it:) In this case I enlisted the aid of my daughter, Amanda.

She is no stranger to remodeling having grown up around it, and working construction. Anyhow, after sanding and cleaning up the blizzard of dust, we spotted nails and taped seams with speed set. One of the other unfortunate aspects of using really soupy mud is shrinkage. So at the end of the day it is almost like redoing the taping completely as the paper  gouges, nail holes, and previous mud application was not feathered out.

Tomorrow, a quick sand, another coat of speed set in the morning, touch up, and a finish coat of Dust Control Mud, so that we can prime and paint on Thursday.  Hopefully, as the heat in this room is astonishing, having no insulation over the ceiling, having a cement blockwall with due west exposure, and outside temps over 100.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn Ceilings are really so over. They were another ‘innovation’ by builders to cut the cost of construction. Calling them Acoustic Ceilings was more of a marketing ploy rather than any serious sound deadening benefit.  Vermiculite and some sort of water based paint, they were fast and cheap. Tape, cover coat, and spray. No sanding No priming, just spray thick and move on to the next house.

Builders loved this shit, and real estate agents cried ‘elegance’.  A few years down the road, they turned gray from dust or an ivory yellow depending on how much you smoked.  Spiders loved them for all the anchor points for their webs. Sweeping them to get rid of the webs created more mess and loosened up what was left so you had a light snowfall over time. Painting them is an option, but is expensive. Since there is no primer, what ever paint you used, you would need twice as much, and the only useful color was white.

If you are ‘lucky’ enough to have popcorn that has been painted, removal is not as hard as you might think. Here is a ceiling that fits the bill.

Yes it is a garage ceiling.The ‘Elegance’ is just oozing out. Originally this garage was cinder block and firewall drywall. Behind the ladder is the storage unit I built from the recycled materials left over from the Storage Project.

Since this is an unfinished  garage we will not be covering the floors for the first part. Details on Red Rosin Paper are here.

The first order of business is to bag the walls. Cover them with poly. I am using.7 mil 12′ wide poly and  blue painters tape.

Blue Painters tape does not leave residue like regular masking tape and comes off cleanly. The 12′ length insures that the plastic will reach the floor around cabinets and other things next to the walls. If you bag the room there is a whole lot less cleanup. Bag the entire room.

Here I overlapped the plastic over the doorway into the house. This allows access for stuff in the garage while this project is happening.

Scraping the ceiling works best with a 6 or 8” drywall mud knife at around a 30 degree angle. Push the knife away from you in a steady motion to remove the maximum amount of material as you go. Less sanding later. You can use a wider knife but you will get tired real quick. Take your time as if there are any nail pops your knife will catch on them. Here is a partway shot.

This house was taped using ‘tools’. these are expensive mechanical tools usually reserved for large commercial projects. There are two indicators. One is the same width on the seam and butt joints. The other is the straight lines over the nail holes.

You will have small gouges in the drywall that will be fixed with mud after you clean up the mess.

Next up will be filling the gouges, sanding and taping the joints.

Closet Office 5

In a previous posting I explained why I built the deck and the support cleats the way I did, I showed the trash shelf side, but didn’t go into detail on the other side.  I cut the deck short on both sides deliberately.

The first reason is it is  a whole lot easier to install it especially when your walls are not square or flat.

Secondly is wire and cable management. Look at your desk right now. You probably have wires all over. If you have pets they are probably getting fuzzy.

Here is the left side of the desk.

At the top center is the DSL modem for the internet. The day before yesterday there was a cable modem and a cable router.

Below that is an 8 port D Link hub for the network wires we added in other areas of the house. Behind the Fax machine is the phone lines for the modem and Fax machine. There are still a lot of business that requires faxes.   Also not shown is the cover plate for the network and CATV cables.

Here is a closer view of the tower and the surge suppressor. Don’t connect electronics without one.

The tower box was built out of leftover material from another project. I attached it to the underside of the deck to keep it off the floor and make it easier to clean around. Plus keeping the cables off the ground. On the left is the surge suppressor,(I use Belkin) which has everything plugged into it. They can reach the plugs if they have to change things as well as adding new stuff.   This has the switch pointed out so that when they are not going to be using the office they can shut down the entire system saving money without having vampire drains on the electric system. You would be surprised how much electricity these things use on standby.

Yes I still need to clean up the cables, but it will be easy. I like easy.

Taping Carpets for Paint

So you want to paint and have carpet. Here is a quick guide to taping carpets for paint.
You need some blue painters tape and a 2” putty knife. Blue painters tape adheres very well and does not leave residue like masking tape does.

First vacuum the carpet around the baseboard.

Start your tape on an angle like this photo, so you have a small trough, about the size of a pencil or ball point pen,(this depends on how high the pile of your carpet is) lightly smoothing down the center of the tape with your finger to start. Only work about 2-3 feet at a time.

Next use your finger to tuck the tape over the edge of the carpet. Your finger is acting as a wedge to tape the edge of your carpet and keep it away from your baseboard. If you find carpet fibers in your baseboard as you are taping, they did not use these directions.

Next take the putty knife to gently press the tape into the edge of the carpet.

Next use the flat of the putty knife to gently press the tape into the carpet fibers.

Use the putty knife as a cutter as you go along so not to rip your tape loose.

You can add another strip overlapping this one or use a drop cloth.
When your paint is dry, use the corner of the putty knife to separate the tape from your baseboard. Trash the tape, fluff the carpet and you are done.

Storage Project 5

Getting close to the end of the Storage Project. Here is an update. The base is in and the walls and baseboards are painted. The baseboards are 3” tall rather than the standard 2”, due to the walls being 97′ 1/2 ‘ tall rather than 96.  We had to rip a bunch of drywall down to an 1 1/4 ” to create a base for attaching the baseboard.  This also allows the wheels of the storage carts to hit the trim and not the walls. The lights are energy efficient fluorescent  giving a lot of light.

I am doing the doors separately, due to traffic issues.

Tech Tip: When painting raised panel doors like these, paint the panels and reveals first. This allows you to get in the corners and capture any drips along the way. After the paint dries, paint the flats. Touch up anything that may have gotten away, and you will have a beautiful door.

The new exterior door has a molded neoprene gasket. This should not be painted. If it can’t flex, It can’t seal. To paint around it, I use a drywall knife as a shield. On the one side(illustrated) the knife is held in place by friction. On the other side you will need to slip it undef the gasket and angle it up to paint underneath the gasket.

This allows you to paint right up to it without getting it painted. If you don’t have a big drywall knife any reasonably stiff thin cardboard can be used like the side of a cereal box. The longer the better, as you can paint more between moves.

On the other side the taping, filling and skim coating has made the patching almost invisible.

I also used some of the baseboard material to re frame the scuttle. Working overhead is a pita. But it can be made easier. After determining the scuttle is not square, (no surprise here) I took my measurement, so I have at least a 1/2” for the cover, and cut my pieces mitering the corners and placing the thin section to the outside.

I used quick clamps to hold my pieces in place while I positioned them. One at a time I took them down, Glued the back side and screwed them in place. Scuttles always get beat up. In Arizona construction is almost exclusively slab on grade, which puts all the utilities with the exception of water and gas in the attic.

Here is the scuttle finished.

After the alarm guy and the phone, TV and Internet guys are done, I will insulate this space including gluing insulation to the back of the scuttle cover.

Next up is the floor.In the foreground are the three craters left from the cut nails that were used to nail the stub wall to the floor.

Midway is a crack in the slab between a 1/16-1/18” in width. Too large to fill with paint. At the back in the corner is where somebody decided to put a hose bib outside after the walls were complete. This was complicated by this being the main water line to the building. They  hammered the crap out of the block and the floor, and just poured some concrete patch compound which was not floated to the surface, requiring repair. Half ass crap always bites somebody in the ass later.

We are using Quickcrete Epoxy Floor coating. We used it on the Artroom Expansion Project here.  This is a great product. It comes with floor cleaner, the coating in a lot of colors and chips to make it skid proof. After the floor sets, I will  silicone all the gaps between the baseboard and floor.  Scorpions are a problem in this neighborhood.

While this is going on, I will be working on the Closet Office, which was the original job.

Bathroom Fan Upgrade

Bathrooms are the wettest rooms in your house. You installed those new fixtures, cabinets, lights, floors and tiles. You probably didn’t think about the fan. Proper ventilation of your bathroom will go a long way toward keeping down mold, mildew and other moisture related problems from shorting the life of your bathroom and its fixtures.

Fans come in a wide range of sizes and performances. The two most important are the CFM, (Cubic Feet per Minute) and noise level rated in Sones. The Home Ventilation Institute[1] (who knew) recommends a minimum of 8 air changes per hour. A lot of older bathrooms are 5×8 to about 8×10. Calculation of size is width x depth x height divided by 7.5 to get you a minimum CFM rating. There is a quick table here[2].
A 5×8 bath would need a 40-45 CFM fan. A 8×10 bath would need a 85-90 CFM fan.

Sone[3] Ratings are a little different. 4.0 Sones is the sound of your TV. 1.0 Sone is the sound of your refrigerator. The smaller the Sone Value the Higher the cost.

A real good indicator of needing an upgrade is having to wipe down the mirror when you are done with your bath or shower.

Now that you are on the upgrade path, the other important part of the ventilation equation is a timer. Just because the water is off doesn’t mean the moisture is gone. Remember wiping the mirror?
Here are two products that I installed recently. A 140CFM Fan and a Timer.
This is a Broan Elite Series Fan. About 140 bucks. It has a 2.0 Sone rating making it one of the quietest fans available. Bought at Lowes. Quiet costs money.

This is a great fan but it is much larger than that small fan you will be replacing. More on that later. One of the other nice features beyound the three year warranty is the fact that the motor unit is available separately, so if you ever need to replace it, you will not have to crawl in the attic again. Also included in the kit are some black plastic spacer blocks if your joists happen to be “I” joists. The one thing that is not mentioned any where in the instructions is the size of the unit. You will have to measure it, befor cutting your rough opening.
This is a Pass and Seymour Decora style 7 button timer. Around 30 bucks. It allows times between 1 minute to 1 hour. Personally I recommend setting it at 1 hour, turning it on before you start your shower/bath and let it run after you are finished.

The cool thing about this switch is once you decide on a time, you only have to turn it on, until you change the time. Very cool. The only odd thing is the led’s are lit when it is off and go off when it is running.

Okay now that you have the fan and timer, it is remodeling time. Here is a short list.

Location of breaker to shut off power.
Always a good idea when working with electricity.
Access to the old fan and vent.
Most fans have tabs outside the box that mount them to the side of the ceiling joists so you will need to crawl around in the attic. You will also need to disconnect the romex from the fan as well as disconnect the vent pipe.
If you are lucky you can reuse the romex connector. If not, put one on your list. Fans don’t come with them.
Screws to mount the fan(nails will work themselves loose)
4” metal vent pipe and elbow(s)
Metal tape to seal the joints.
Caulk to seal the perimeter of the fan opening.
Keyhole saw to cut new opening.
Save the piece to cover the old hole.
Drywall mesh tape and mud of you are moving the fan.
Dab of paint to make your repair invisible.

Moving on to project planning.

While you are up there, check to see if you can just enlarge the existing opening, if not and you need a new hole, you need to see if you have enough romex to move the opening for the new fan, or a place to run new cable if you are moving it a long distance. In most cases the fan wire is a switch leg from the old switch. If you are moving it a long distance you will need to be able to run the new cable.
You will also need to get a rough measurement for the vent pipe to join the fan to the roof vent. 4” steel pipe is recommended. The fan has a 6” option but it is extremely rare to see a 6” vent in a house. Don’t forget a bit of metal joint tape to seal all your joints. We want to eliminate the moisture and or mold problem, and not move it into your attic.

Here is a recent installation.

I have removed the old fan and vent pipe which was the wrong size. I made a mark on the ceiling to see if I could the existing opening. You can see that it is a larger fan.

No such luck. The fan is too close to allow a vent pipe. Plus there are some other challenges above. I have enough romex for a new location, but because of the existing romex I can only go so far.

Measure and cut your new opening, saving the scrap to fill in the old hole.
Here is the new opening. because of the vent outlet of the new fan I am attaching it to the next joist over. This gives me a straight run to the roof vent with only one elbow.

Here is the new fan mounted. Notice the flanges on the bottom of the new fan. You will need to measure the overall width and length and add a little bit to allow you to get the fan in the hole and mount it properly. Having the original hole allowed me to measure and assemble the vent pipe, attach and seal the joints (remember the metal tape on the list above?) from the bathroom rather than crawling in the attic which in this area is only about 14” high.

Fan in place and hole patched with scrap from new opening. See that there is a gap on the side from making the opening large enough to install the fan. This will be filled with a piece of mesh tape and drywall mud. At this point we caulk the perimeter of the opening to eliminate air leaks around the fan body.

Here is ceiling mudded with fan grille in place checking that we have covered the gap.

Here is our finished project.

[1]Home Ventilating Institute
[2]Sizing a Bath Fan
[3]Sones: the Psychoacoustic explanation

Not so Simple Truss Repair

Note; This is probably one of the most dangerous techniques that I have posted. Unless you are comfortable with all of the suggestions and tools and techniques, farm this out to a professional.

Found a cracked truss at in a clients house. This is not normally a concern as engineered trusses are built pretty well. But things happen. This truss is underneath a HVAC roof unit. It was probably a combination of heat as temperatures in Arizona get insanely hot in attics, and vibrations from the heating unit.

The open crack tells us that the top chord of the truss has bent due to drying out and the extra weight of the HVAC unit. To repair we need to close up the crack and add some reinforcements. We will need to jack this up.

To straighten this I am using a 2 ton bottle jack found at the auto parts store. Any more than this, the risk of damage and or injury goes up.You don’t need any more power than this.


You need to be sure that you have a secure platform for doing this. I used a piece of 3/4” plywood spanning two joists to give me a solid jack point.  If you do not do this, you run the risk of bowing the bottom truss chord and causing nail pops on the ceiling below.

You want to perform a straight lift. It will also take some time. You need to jack slowly, let it rest before attaching the plywood reinforcements, and allowing time for the glue to set before releasing the pressure from the jack.

The diagram below shows the jack resting on the plywood, the jack, the temporary post, and a block of wood screwed to the rafter portion to prevent the jack post from sliding out while jacking.  To help my repair I am using PowerGrab in the crack before I jack it closed. Checking it with a level upon contact and before jacking will keep the jack and post from tipping over.


The left side of the photo below shows the wood post that is sitting on top of the jack for straightening and closing the crack. Notice that I cut an angle on the jack post so that it will contact my block and not tip the jack and post. Having jacked up my truss, I glued the back sides of my plywood and am using quick clamps to hold them in place before I screw them to the truss.

To repair this I cut 2 pieces of 5/8” 5 ply plywood,  3”x72” as reinforcements for either side. I am using 1 – 1/4” Deck Screws spaced about 8” apart staggered to attach them, taking care not to screw into the crack area we just fixed.

After about 30 mins., we slowly release the pressure on the jack, (it will sag a bit) and remove our jack and tools and materials. All Done.


Like I say, this is a dangerous repair due to being awkward, and is being presented for information only. You probably want to farm this out to a professional. This is only one method and I disclaim any responsibility for  injury or damage.

Yeah it really is that dangerous.