It’s like Bird Poo!

By Mark Manship

One of our main goals for the remainder of 2013 is to finish the formal living room to give us a space to enjoy the holidays (plastic draped walls and christmas trees don’t mix).

Here’s what we’re working with:

As a reminder to the overall game plan, here’s what we plan to do with the room:

Remove carpet and subfloor
Scrape popcorn ceilings
Repaint ceiling, walls, trim, and baseboards
– Install hardwoods
– Add new curtains
– Replace center-of-room light fixtures

As you can see from the list, we have already made some progress; first, we moved out the furniture, removed the shag green/brown carpet, and swept up a majority of the debris.

Here’s Shiner checking in on his Mom

We ended up donating the carpet to a local charity house, and plan to follow suit with the remainder of the rooms (they take it away for free, and reissue it to families in need for the winter).

After removing the carpet, it was easy to see we weren’t going to be able to follow our original game plan of staining the concrete flooring (waaaay too many large cracks, carpet glue stains, and pocks left by removing tack boards). The problem with these features is that they will show up as a different color when applying a concrete stain; you could always patch the concrete pocks and cracks, but they will still show differently than the predominant concrete color. The other alternative (out of the question for us), would be to create a new layer using a self-leveling product, but we would have to carry that idea through the entirety of the first floor ($$$). Unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards for this house, but we’ll definitely keep it in our back pocket if we ever want to use it elsewhere (such as countertops!).

Next was removing all the lighting fixtures, window treatments, and baseboards in preparation for scraping the ceilings. IMPORTANT: remember to turn off the power to the room before removing fixtures and scraping around live wires.

We used a box of painter’s plastic (12ft. x 400ft. roll) which we bought at Lowe’s for $20 to use as a cover for our walls. We also purchased a large fabric dropcloth to collect all the “droppings” from the ceiling and reduce the cleanup after completion.

After protecting your walls, floors, and any furniture, you’ll need the following tools to remove your popcorn: a 6-8″ spackle knife, a shorter putty knife for edges near the wall, a water sprayer (I highly suggest using a pump sprayer), protective goggles, ventilation mask, step stool or ladder, and some clothes you don’t care about.

At first, Ines and I were skimping on the protective gear (as shown in some of our earlier pictures), specifically with regards to masks; but given the age of the home, the amount of debris and dust for our particular projects, and our age, we decided to make the wise choice and invest in some quality 3M regulators; yes, the flashy pink filters come standard. Bottom line, don’t let your first home and any associated renovation have impacts on your future livelihood. For $25 a piece, you can work with a greater peace of mind; and as an added bonus, these masks don’t fog up your goggles, or have you breathing your own stale air for hours upon end (selling point for Ines). 

First, to prep the popcorn for scraping, it is necessary to wet the ceiling so that your spackle knife can slide underneath the popcorn with a moderate amount of pressure. Originally, I was using a squirt bottle to do my soaking, but shortly after I upgraded to a pump sprayer ($15 Roundup Gallon-size from Lowe’s) to wet the ceiling; the trick is to spray the popcorn enough so that it absorbs the water and allows for easier removal, but not so much that it ruins the layers of drywall underneath (if water is dripping profusely from the ceiling, you’ve gone too far). It’s definitely more of an art than a science, and it took a while before Ines and I were able to get a rhythym going. We would spray a 4 ft. x 4ft. section, let it sit for a few potatoes, then begin our scraping. After a while, we transitioned to doing longer 6 ft. x 2 ft. strips as opposed to smaller scrapes. Only work in areas you can keep track of, otherwise, you’ll end up wasting time trying to figure out what you’ve sprayed and what you haven’t.


I knew I was doing it right when Ines commented, “It’s coming down like a bunch of bird poo!” Trust me, there’s nothing quite as satisfactory as relieving your ceiling of a long 6ft. by 8in. strip of popcorn in one fell swoop.

We also found that scraping in one direction was easier than another (e.g. scraping parallel to the long wall as opposed to parallel to the short wall). I’m guessing this is due to the grain of the ceiling/skim coat underneath, or maybe we just got better at it as we went along. I would recommend testing scrapes in various directions to find one that suits you best.

Also, you’ll want to scrape all the way to the drywall (the brown) and associated skim coats without damaging the ceiling. It’s inevitable that you’ll have some knicks and dings, but you can always skim coat any areas that need smoothing.

Once you’re done, it should look like a collection of brown rectangles separated by previously skim coated seams. Whew!

I skim coated a few areas using some drywall putty and the same scraping blade, and let my arms rest before pole sanding the ceiling to smooth down some rougher patches. If you don’t happen to have a pole sander you can do like I did and create a makeshift one from a swiffer mop, some masking tape, and a free piece of sandpaper. I chose not to break myself on this step; simply giving the ceiling a twice over with some light sanding, focusing on skimmed patches to help create a smooth finish.

We painted the ceiling using a extended paint roller and Valspar’s Ultra Color Changing Ceiling Paint; it’s a little disconcerting at first to roll out a few lines of purply pink latex on your ceiling, but the difference in color definitely makes it easy to see where you’ve painted; a few minutes later, the paint changes to white (it’s like magic I tell ya).

I don’t know if it was the rollers, the ceiling, or maybe our own lack of skill, but it took almost two cans of this stuff to get a nice even finish across the ceiling (including the trim). Each can should cover approximate 350 sq. ft., but I would err on the side of more if you don’t happen to live 5 minutes away from your paint supplier.
To finish the edges near the wall, we removed the painter’s plastic protecting the walls to get better access to the seams (though we probably could have left it up), masked the walls with painter’s tape, and used a Blue Hawk 2.5″ short handle angled brush to apply the paint (gives you more control and less waste/mess around finer detail areas).
After all the scraping, sanding, painting, and finishing touches, we cleared our protection plastic and drop cloth from the room. We scraped the concrete of any residual spackle and swept the floor to clear any remaining dust and debris.
Here’s how we’re looking with the ceiling in all it’s naked white glory: