Kristin

Kristin
Here I am taking a pause during the media launch of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler in Tucson in early December.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Renovating the Living Room Ceiling: I'm Too Old for this Crap!


I'm not the kind of guy who can look at some sort of correctable flaw in his house and leave it, well, uncorrected. I love renovating my house. If I had unlimited funds and time, I'd be tinkering on some project every day. Sadly, even when doing the work yourself, refurbishing a house requires mucho dinero. If you had a chart with two circles on it, one labeled “Freelance Automotive Journalist” and the other “Money in the Bank,” rarely would the circles come remotely close to touching one another; forget about them ever intersecting.

Consequently, serious renovation projects must be planned and budgeted. I typically begin buying materials and required tools not already in my inventory weeks or months ahead. Depending on the project, however, sometimes the space required to store this stuff is well beyond the storage capacity of the 1,100 or so square feet of my home. That was one issue with my recent living room-ceiling renovation. 
Every couple of years I get to patch all the cracks in the interior walls.
Built on a fairly severe hill, my 60-year-old house apparently is in constant flux. Settling a little each year. Although the brick foundation has so far been immune to whatever is going on structurally, I am constantly repairing cracks here and there in the interior walls (particularly spider webbing from corners of door frames and windows), and planing down the tops of upstairs doors that suddenly begin sticking.

I'm not a fan of popcorn ceilings. Popcorn is that drywall finish containing little chunks of some sort of acoustic material that is sprayed on the ceiling after the drywall has been finished. It basically is used to mask half-assed drywall finish work on the ceiling the same way an orange peel spray is used to hide finishing imperfections on the walls. 
Hate the damn popcorn.
Having spent some time running a drywall operation in South Florida, I am more sensitive than some to poor quality drywall work. My house is full of it. It was obvious to me when I purchased the house 9 or 10 years ago that there were problems with the ceilings upstairs and down. Both bedrooms on the third level have a popcorn finish so thick it looks as though it was ladled on with a trowel. The ceiling in the downstairs great room was just the opposite. Here the popcorn was so thin, it was obvious that it was done by some sort of do-it-yourself sprayer rather than a commercial one.

I had only lived in the house for a year or two when cracks began appearing in the vaulted living room ceiling. With my eye always on selling this house, I had to address the cracks. As I saw it, I had two possible courses of action: Remove the popcorn and refinish the ceiling, or install an all-new ceiling over the old. In the end, I opted to install a new ceiling. 
I gained my framing chops for building my shed from first building a pony wall in the great room.
When planning a project involving a new skill, I find a smaller project in which I can try out my hand at the new skill while overcoming the learning curve. Before I built my shed, I built a pony wall behind the TV in the great room. Before installing a tile back splash in my upcoming kitchen redo, I installed a small one in my upstairs bath remodel. And, so forth.

I tested my tongue-and-groove bead board chops on the small ceiling in my upstairs hall. What I learned from that experience is that installing bead board is pretty straight forward, but a larger area requires at least two people. The length of the hall ceiling was about 6.5 feet and I struggled a little getting the boards in place, balancing a nail gun at the same time and then nailing the boards. No way I could handle anything longer by myself. 


Three-quarters of an inch thick and roughly 5.5-inches wide, the boards come in 16-ft lengths. I needed enough of them to cover a 400-sq-ft area. There simply was nowhere in my house I could stockpile that much lumber. What I needed was just-in-time delivery. I have a fraternity brother in Dayton, Ohio who is semi-retired. Ports has visited me in Greenville a couple of times over the past two or three years. He offered to drive down and lend a hand. We agreed upon a five-day window in October. A trip to 84 Lumber set me back around $1,100, but material delivery was arranged for the day of Ports arrival. I spent the morning of the eve of his arrival picking up some scaffolding rented for a week.

My shed was burgled during an extended trip from home a few months ago, and most of my power tools, including my air compressor and nail guns, disappeared. I had replaced the chop saw, table saw, compressor and finish nail gun in the weeks leading up to scheduled date for the ceiling job.

Early on I made the decision I wouldn't endure the mess or take the time to remove the popcorn surface. I decided instead to nail 1.5x.75-inch furring strips over the popcorn. And then nail the tongue-and-groove to the furring. I worked off and on doing that in my rare moments home for the month before Ports was scheduled to arrive. I also took down the ceiling fan and the three recessed can lights.

On the day of Ports' arrival, my carport bristled with lumber and my dining area was crowded with power tools. With all the confidence of someone who has no clue what he is talking about, I had assured Ports we could knock out this job in about 16 hours. I based my estimate on the three hours the upstairs ceiling required. What a moron. By the end of day one, we had maybe 15 to 20 percent of the ceiling completed. Absolutely nothing in this house is square or plumb. By the end of day 2, we had maybe 60 percent finished.

Between the walls not being quite square and some of the boards not being exactly straight, meant we couldn't just cut a 10-ft length of board and expect it to fit flush. Some boards, when set flush on one end would have a quarter-inch gap separating the tongue from the groove on the other end. It was maddening.

Meanwhile, you have two guys over 65, balancing on ladders and scaffolding trying to fit these boards together and nail them in place. It was a miracle neither of us was killed. The rented scaffolding should have been easy to assemble and adjust. It sure looked that way on the video I watched before renting it. Of course, the scaffolding in the video was brand new. What we had was beat to heck. Pieces had to be pounded into place with a rubber mallet. At one point when we were attempting to increase the height, it simply exploded on us, with its parts falling in all directions. Ports got one of his hands caught in it, badly pinching a finger. As he danced around with one hand grasped in the other yelling he thought saw God, I admonished him not to go into the light. Oddly, he didn't appreciate my humor. 
Toughest area to reach was over the stairs.
We began the work on Wednesday morning. By Saturday morning we only had the small section over the stairs left to do. There are about seven steps that go up to the third level and then five steps that go down to the bottom level from the main floor. This small section was left for last because we were having trouble figuring out how we would deal with the stairs in terms of somehow reaching the ceiling. Originally, I planned on using the scaffolding for the stairs going up. We would adjust one side to sit on one of the steps while the other side rested on the great room floor. On the stairs going down, I would put an extension ladder on the top stair, leaning the ladder on the wrought-iron banister running along the upstairs hallway.

In the end, we went to Home Depot and purchased four concrete blocks, which we stacked in two piles of two on the stairs going up on which Ports stood. I took the leaning ladder on the stairs going down. It was a little exciting, but worked fine.

We were done with the job by about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon and downtown celebrating with a few beers by 2:30.

I still have to paint the ceiling, install the new lighting and ceiling fan. Ports will return this spring to help me install the trim. But, the worst is over...I hope.

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