Removing textured surface from wall

Q.  One of our rooms has a wall that has been textured looking like stucco. We would like to get rid of that texture and leave it just plain, and paint it. Which is the easiest and best way to remove that texture?

A.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to remove texture from a wall. If the texture is very heavy (you say “like stucco”), I really have no better suggestion than removing the wall finish and replacing it. But if the textured finish is more like a swirl made with a trowel, a skim coat of drywall compound might be applied over it by an experienced drywall finisher.

If the textured finish is light, sanding it off is another option. But before you do that, make sure the compound does not contain asbestos (as it did prior to 1980) and the paint does not contain lead (as it did until 1978). And even if the materials were applied more recently, keep in mind that sanding will create an awful amount of dust, so be sure you wear a dust mask.

Another option, if having a smooth wall is very important to you, is to apply a new layer of 1/4-inch-thick drywall over the existing. It’s a special order, but it is much lighter than the standard 1/2-inch or 5/8-inch. It will also require redoing any of the trim work.

If the texture of your wall is very rough and of uneven depth, the end result may not be very satisfactory. It may be best to remove the existing wall finish and replace it with new drywall.

Painting over contact paper on kitchen wall

Q.      The previous owners of our house covered the wall behind the kitchen sink with contact paper. At this time we are not prepared to replace the whole wall, and peeling off the paper ruins the wall. If we apply primer first, is it possible to paint over the contact paper? In another year or so we are tearing out the sink, cupboards, etc. and putting in all new but we are trying to “freshen” up for right now and are painting the rest of the kitchen.

A.    Try removing the contact paper by heating it with a hair dryer; it should peel off easily. If it does not, you should make sure that all of the paper is sound by re-gluing any loose edges, etc. Prime the contact paper with B-I-N and paint it.

Tiling over existing ceramic tile

Q.    I would like to tile over existing 4-1/4″ x 4-1/4″ ceramic tiles with a different style/color ceramic tiles in a bathroom. The walls are sound and solid in the tub area, etc. and I would like to avoid the mess and inconvenience of tearing out the walls if possible. Is this something than can be done and if so, what wall preparation needs to be done and what adhesive should I use? But if it can’t or shouldn’t be done, why not?

A.    Yes, it can be done. Slightly roughen the gloss on the existing tiles with an abrasive masonry carbide sandpaper or diamond disk, using a disk sander. You don’t need to sand the tiles into oblivion – only enough to break the sheen.

There are two ways to proceed from there: 1) You can set new tiles with a top- quality thinset adhesive over the roughed-up tiles, or 2) The better way is to apply 1/4-inch thick cement backer board to the tiles over a bed of thinset and to screw the backer board to the studs through the tiles. Set the new tiles onto the backer board with thinset. This is the safest way to do the job to ensure that there will not be any potential failure in the future.

You didn’t said if the walls are tiled throughout the bathroom (not just around the tub), if the tiles go to the ceiling or stop at six feet in the tub area and to wainscot height elsewhere, or if the tiles are set in mud or mastic. A mud job is trimmed with bullnose tiles, as it is 1/4-inch thicker than the wall finish. So you have to make sure that you can get bullnose trim that will cover the extra thickness regardless of the way you choose to install the new tiles.

If the existing tiles are set in mastic over the wall finish and are trimmed with clamshell tiles, you can get bullnose trim to compensate for the thickness of the existing tiles (and the backer board, if you use it) where the new tiles meet a wall. Or you can use a wood trim for a very attractive effect.

Studs show through Sheetrock

Q. Our house is 25 years old. The stairway from the first to second floor is against an exterior wall. I want to paint that stairway but I have a minor problem. If you look at the Sheetrock, you see where all the studs are because the paint is darker, almost like if the Sheetrock was wet. All the screws have kind of popped a little so you also see where all of those are. The screws are no problem, I can take care of that, but the studs showing are another problem.

In the kitchen the same thing happened and, after washing the wall properly and using a primer/sealer along with two coats of high-grade paint, most of the stud marks went away but there are still some that show. The house is built with 2-inch by 4-inch construction, cedar clapboard with a Tyvek housewrap, R-11 insulation with a paper vapor barrier and half-inch Sheetrock.

A. The studs are showing because there is excessive humidity in your house for the type of construction you describe. Condensation occurs on the studs because they do not offer the same level of insulation as the insulated wall cavities. Dust floating in the air is deposited on these slightly damp areas and makes them stand out.

The only thing that you can do to lessen the problem, short of adding rigid insulation either inside or outside, is to reduce the humidity in the house, clean the walls as you did in the kitchen, and then paint them. The problem is likely to recur.