Monday, August 15, 2022

What to Consider Before Having Your Ceilings Smoothed

(If you're stumbling on this by accident or looking to make the decision of having your ceilings smoothed, I'll give you a little fair warning.  There's a little language and sarcasm.  If either offend you, go to a real home improvement blog because this is our experience and I'm not sugar coating.)


Whether you have potentially asbestos laden 60's/70's popcorn, 80's "fashionable" swipes or 90's and beyond stomped/stippled ceilings, you may be considering having your ceilings smoothed.  You also may be wondering what they were smoking to consider putting such atrocities on ceilings.  The answer is easy...laziness.  One skim coat to cover the tape/joints and then another layer that they can slap a haphazard pattern on and onto the next job.  It doesn't require them to be precise and is quick whereas smooth ceilings require a bit more attention to detail if the company gives a crap.  (It likely doesn't.)  
If you've been here for a little while, you saw what our adventure in having our second floor ceilings caused.  If you haven't and you're considering jumping into this adventure on your own, this post is for you.  

You may be wondering "can I do this myself?"  The short answer is maybe.  You will undoubtedly look up various articles and YouTube videos to see what might be involved and tricks people have used to get them off.  If we didn't have the stairwell to contend with, we almost had ourselves talked into DIYing it with zero experience doing so.  After our experience with our 4 1/2 star rated contractor with hundreds of reviews on contractor vetting sites, we couldn't have done much worse and saved ourselves $1700 for 450 square feet.  (In comparison, we had the first floor ceilings smoothed (probably about the same amount square footage wise) and it was $1250 two years ago.)  We were originally quoted $350 higher for the second floor but our hesitation in getting back to him led to him asking about our budget.  We said $1700 was our cap (well, the Mr's cap...mine was $1500.)  I think if we said $1500 he might've still done it and even then, I still feel we would've paid too much for what we had to deal with afterward.   

Okay, so let's say you've looked at all of the videos and articles and you're like "we need a pro in here" then I'm going to give you some tips that I wish we'd known or lessons we learned.

What we did- Looked for top rated contractors whose reviews mention ceiling texture repair.  Oddly, even with living in a big city, there were very few that specifically listed this service.  There were only two that have it listed and everything else seemed to be drywall repair.  We called the highest rated one and the guy's attitude was pure crap.  He told us for such a small job that we were chasing them and it would be 10 days before he could even send someone out for an estimate.  He was pretty high on himself but also said they would do an excellent job, clean up after themselves and took pride in their workmanship.  Well, we did not have 10 days to wait for an estimate, 1 day to get over anticipated shock of said estimate and then if estimates were taking 10 days then surely starting the job would take at least as long if not a week longer so you're talking potentially 20-30 days out.  We had other plans and this was a 'throw in' project that wasn't even on our radar.  We contacted the second highest rated place who happened to be in our area and said he could be there in an hour to give an estimate.  He had no problem masking up for us, seemed nice and told us all of the things we could leave in the room and that they would protect everything with drop cloths and clean up afterward.  After some very brief discussion when he lowered his quote, we agreed and asked for a contract.  Half up front, half when finished.  Never EVER pay all up front and always have a contract, not just a text agreeing to the terms.

What I wish we'd done- Ask for word of mouth references.  (Which is what you think you're getting when you read online reviews but I think a lot more people don't review someone even with a bad experience because they just don't want to think about it anymore.)  I know the likelihood of finding someone who had ceiling smoothing or other drywall work might've been slim but some businesses don't necessarily advertise.  Obviously we'd never hire anyone who wasn't licensed, bonded and insured but you never know if someone had a great (or horrible) experience or a friend of a friend had an experience to pass along that could've helped.  In the end it probably wouldn't have helped but if you're on social media, it might be worth putting out a post to your locals.

What we did-  Trusted that when he said he would protect our property that he meant it.  I don't know what part of we're not immediately replacing the carpet he didn't pass along to his worker but we were left with an absolute mess.  Not only did we have clumps and chunks of hardened joint compound on walls, banisters, our doors where they didn't bother to clean up but they damaged our walls to the point of every single space they touched needing to be scrubbed down and repainted.  I don't mean the ceiling needed repainted, I mean the WALLS and that was after we attempted to clean off all of the solution they left dripping down every surface of the wall.  There were two guys on this "team."  One did work and the other one vacuumed and took smoke breaks.  He could've very easily gone into the section the drywaller just finished and wiped down the walls, caught any compound before it dried and such.  They did NOT use drop cloths as we found out at the end of day one.  They ruined a vintage armoire that we purposely put on sliders and was the only piece of furniture in the room.  I shudder to think what would've happened if we'd left all of the furniture in the room that he told us we could.  There was ZERO respect for our property from top to bottom to in-between.  So that night we put up our OWN drop cloths and taped them over stuff we needed protected in the office and were planning on reusing for painting.  They took them off and threw them away without asking and I don't mean when they were done, I mean before they started.  Oh and guess what else they did?  The scaffolding they set up in the stairwell badly damaged our 2 year old smooth ceiling from the first floor!!  We mentioned it to the owner when he came the next morning and he said they'd fix it.  If the Mr hadn't stopped the drywaller on his way out, then he would've left without fixing it and said no one told him he was supposed to.  So apparently it's common practice that you can damage someone's home and get away with it.

What I wish we'd done- Been upstairs to make sure at the start of things and ask what the plan was and make sure all areas were covered.  We should've gone up more often (at all) to check and make sure they weren't leaving a trail of destruction and joint compound all over everything.  (Not that you think you should have to with a top rated company but I'm here to tell you that you DO!)  I would've told them NOT to take the drop cloths down and those areas needed protected.  We did tell them that they needed to clean the horrible job they left dripping down the wall in the hallway because there was no way for us to reach that high to correct it and we had no plans to repaint the hallway.  Guess what we repainted?  THE ENTIRE SECOND FLOOR!  So if you think you're just getting your ceiling smoothed and might have some minor clean up to do, I officially pat your little head and say "awww, that's cute"  because that was us too.  You must be willing to repaint everything in every area they smooth and if not, you need to budget money to have it done.  If you end up having nothing to do that then you've likely found the one person on Earth who can pull off that miracle and I salute you!

What we did- We foolishly thought paying for our ceiling to be smooth meant we'd have a smooth ceiling.  Bwaaaahahaha!  First off, if you're type A and a control freak, you need to accept there is no such thing.  There are varying degrees depending on the pride in workmanship the person you hired has.  Ours clearly had about 30% and left some spots looking like waves, divots, gouges, long swipes of compound higher than another that weren't sanded to match.  All of this was hidden until after they were gone.  (I'll explain how below.)  Did the dude say if there were issues that they could come back and fix them?  Yes.  But when you are that angry at the disrespect your home receives with an experience like ours, the last thing you want is them back in the house and potentially have even more to contend with!  Any contractor will tell you a smooth ceiling is a myth.  It's basically 'smooth enough' and this explains why textured ceilings were so popular.  So I would say make sure you have some joint compound, putty knives and sanding block on hand because you will be doing some work if there is stuff  you can't live with.  (And trust me, there was a lot we could not live with when our dudes left.)

What I wish we'd done-  We should've looked at each room in low light.  Bright light conceals all evils and shadows.  Low light shows you where they are uneven and need to fix some stuff before they pack their bags.  This allows you to have a good(ish) experience when they fix what they overlooked and if they get grumpy, guess what, too bad.  They're the supposed expert, not me and that's what you as the client are paying for.  Don't be afraid to ask what you're paying for and expect them to deliver on what they said they would.  Certainly don't give them the second payment until you've gone through and inspected everything.  Once they have your money, they have no incentive to make good on that "we'll come back and fix it" stuff.  I've read review after review from many people frustrated that that never happened and not just with our guy.

What we did- Expected things to go back to normal within a day or so.  Maybe you'll be lucky and just have to clean up, sweep, dust and be done.  Maybe you won't have two weeks worth of spackling, sanding, priming, painting on the ceiling and then again on all of the walls of the rooms you now had to repaint that you weren't planning on.  Maybe you won't be sitting on the toilet with your fan light on and see a huge wavey mess in the corner that you missed and think "ain't no way I can live with that" and have to start that process all over again.  If you can get that job done and immediately think "that sucked a little but I'm so glad we had it done!" then thank your lucky stars but that was not our experience. 

What I wish we'd done- Day drink (even though neither of us drink.)  It would've at least cut the tension we were unleashing on each other. 

In summary:

Am I glad I don't have to look at those dust catching stippled ceilings anymore?  For what we went through emotionally and the stress on the marriage?  No.  Maybe I can answer yes someday but today is not that day.  

Am I glad we went through the process of having the ceilings smoothed?  F**k no.  I mean, ask me in a few months.  I'm nowhere near there yet.

I'm sure at some point, the ceilings will fade into the background just as our first floor ceilings did after we had them done.   I'm sure at some point, I will stop looking for the imperfections I missed fixing when I lived with a putty knife as an extension of my hand.  I'm sure at some point, staring at the ceiling at night will just become something I do at 3am for other reasons instead of giving me slight PTSD.  I'm sure I will get to the point where I don't have to hide reno supplies from "helping hands" that made me have to do more work than I had to.  I'm sure I will get to the point where I don't have to break out marriage self help books to have conversations about how to wrap up the reno in a way that doesn't have me ramming my head into a wall, crying in a fetal position and/or looking for a hotel to stay in that is as far away from the house as possible.


What texture are your ceilings?  (Or are you one of the lucky ones who got flat ones and if you are- thank your lucky friggin' stars!!)

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  1. Uggh that sounds like he double hockey sticks! No textured surfaces in my house. I feel your pain on fixing drywall as Hubs had done his beginner level drywall job in our basement years ago. I spent about 8 weekends fixing tape seams and bulges this past spring. Its backbreaking work with several rounds of mudding and sanding. It was messy and dusty and I got mud everywhere. I did end up finally getting it to my satisfaction once I switched to flat paint on my ceiling.
    As far as contractors, I'm the annoying customer. I check on them constantly in subtle ways.
    It just sucks often because the guy who gives the estimates is rarely the one that shows up to do the work. For me I found language barriers often. That is unfair to the paying customer that I cannot effectively communicate with people working in my house. The best contractors I've had were smaller businesses where the owner does some of the work.
    Its sad we hand over our hard earned cash and get subpar work.
    The last 2 contractors I got estimates from never showed up.
    I've started learning how to do things myself and found a great amount of satisfaction in learning and doing. There's a great fb group called handy women who are supportive and doing amazing projects!
    Have a great week!

  2. Our ceilings are textured with the usual builder design. I'm one of the odd ones because the ceilings really don't bother me with the texture. But what I do wish is that they were higher. I don't much care for vaulted ceilings but it'd be nice if these were a foot or two higher to make the rooms (which are very small) have a bigger feel.


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