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Ask the Builder: Considering a textured kitchen ceiling? Not so fast
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Ask the Builder: Considering a textured kitchen ceiling? Not so fast

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This is a fairly standard kitchen ceiling. It's smooth with a flat paint. The flat paint is a newer one that is washable without causing burnishing of the paint.

I’ve lost count of the questions I’ve answered. It’s in the tens of thousands over the past 28 years. Most questions are pretty straightforward, and the answers are somewhat obvious. However, every now and then I’m blessed with an email from a homeowner who provides an incredible teaching moment.

Such is the case with an email I received from Roger, who lives in Swanton, Ohio. Here’s what he submitted on the Ask Tim page on AsktheBuilder.com:

“We had a kitchen addition put on our home about 10 years ago. As with any project, decisions were made by us that we slap our foreheads about now. My wife insisted on a smooth ceiling with no texture whatsoever. Easier to clean, she said. But how many people clean their kitchen ceilings, let alone an aging 4-foot-10 matriarch?

"We painted it with multiple coats of semigloss white paint. When we stood back to inspect our work, we found a couple of misses. I touched them up, but they stand out like a sore thumb. We came to the realization that a texture on the ceiling would have been a better choice.

"Is it too late to call a drywaller to come in and apply a texture overlay? I’m not talking about the infamous popcorn stuff that everybody removes, just a simple texture that is typically used. Maybe this is a job for a painter? Any suggestions?”

At first blush you may think this is a humdrum question with a simple answer. I disagree. Think about all the defects in walls and ceilings in your own home you want to hide behind some new coating. You want the pain to magically disappear.

The issue is if you don’t do everything perfectly, you could create a far worse mess. Let’s unpack Roger’s situation.

First, I maintain he and his wife didn’t make a mistake going with a smooth ceiling finish. Anything other than smooth makes cleaning a kitchen ceiling almost impossible. Roger was correct that most people hate to wash ceilings. My mother made me do it as a teenager in our tiny kitchen and I loathed the job.

Modern cleaners, though, make cleaning ceilings not as much as a chore. It doesn’t take long for a kitchen ceiling, as well as the walls, to get coated with an ultra-fine aerosol of cooking grease. You can feel this under the vent hood over your stove. It’s a sticky coating that eventually looks quite yellow.

I’ve had the best success using powdered certified organic oxygen bleach to make this cleaning job quite easy. I mix mine with hot water, stir until it’s dissolved and put it in an old spray bottle. I then spray 4-foot by 4-foot sections of the ceiling at a time. You only have to let the solution work on the grease about a minute. I remove the softened grease using a grout sponge soaked with soapy water. The grease comes right off the ceiling with no extra effort. It’s magic, I tell you. Just rinse with clear water and the ceiling looks like new. I change my rinse water frequently otherwise you’re just putting the grease back on the ceiling.

Roger did make a painting mistake, and he admitted it. He used the right paint, as semi-gloss is the one to use to make cleaning easier. The issue is it’s very hard to touch up semi-gloss paint and not see where you made the repair attempt. You often have to repaint the entire ceiling keeping a wet edge as you go. New drywall needs to have a primer/sealer paint on it before you apply the semi-gloss paint.

Here’s the dilemma at this point, and it may have slipped past you. Roger has a greasy semi-gloss paint on his ceiling. He wants to hire a pro to apply a texture. No matter what texture is applied, it’s only going to have a chance of surviving if the ceiling is grease-free and the semi-gloss paint is sanded.

Most textured coatings are meant to be applied to new drywall or a rougher surface so they have a great chance of staying bonded to the ceiling. Roger’s semi-gloss paint has now become a barrier to success. There are liquid de-glossers that might do the job, but Roger should check with the ceiling texture manufacturer to see what are the ideal conditions to apply the texture.

And you thought it was a simple matter of just hiring a drywaller to come in and install the new coating. At the end of the day, it’s all about surfaces being squeaky clean and not glossy smooth. Read the product label and you’ll often see the surfaces need to be dust-free. Textures, paints, etc. are simply glue and you need things to be clean to get them to stick.

(Subscribe to Tim’s’ free newsletter and listen to his new podcasts. Go to: AsktheBuilder.com.)

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Q: Tim, it's a very long story, and don't think I'm crazy. I'm building a new home and wondering if I can install all the electrical wiring myself. It's not a big home, but it's got all the things going on you'd normally have in a home, including quite a few three- and four-way switches. I've watched a bunch of online videos, I've read a few authoritative books and I'm feeling pretty confident. What am I missing? What would you do if you were me? —Margo F., Albany, Ga.

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