Why the Painter’s Wallpaper Job Failed

In a previous post, I mentioned a home where I had done work in several rooms 22 years ago. But when it came time to do another room, I wasn’t available right away, so the homeowner hired their painter, who was working there at the time, and who assured them that he could do the job.

Well, it was not long at all, the homeowner told me, before his job started to fail. They lived with this for quite a while, but finally, with the date of a special birthday fast approaching, they called me to “reglue some seams” so the home would look nice for the party

Now, people tell me all the time that “All the seams are flapping open,” or “The wallpaper is falling off the walls.” Usually the real translation is that some of the seams are loose and need a little repasting. (Or have fallen victim to the curling common to solid vinyl papers, which I described in a previous post – and which I’ll probably rant about again, as it’s a pet peeve of mine.)

Anyway, when I got to the home, I was stunned to see how very bad the situation actually was. Virtually every single seam was loose, and most of those were loose on both the right and left edges of each strip of paper. The loose areas went horizontally from the edges of the paper from as little as an inch to as much as six inches, and ran vertically from five inches long to the entire length of the strip. Some corners were literally waving at me from the wall!

Whenever I encounter a situation like this, I like to figure out what went wrong, why the job failed. Because I think that if you know what went wrong, you can take steps to prevent it, and therefore keep a job from failing down the road.

In this case, after studying the wall, the adhesive, and the paper, and after talking with the homeowner, I think the problem was caused by FAILURE TO PROPERLY PREPARE THE SURFACE, and to be more specific, FAILURE TO USE A PRIMER.

In fact, the homeowner said that as the painter got his tools and started to put the paper on the painted wall, she said to him, “Our paperhanger Julie did the other rooms, and she smoothed the walls and painted on a primer. Shouldn’t you sand and prime, too?”

And he told her that neither procedure was necessary.

Well, we see where that led!

I don’t have an opinion about smoothing the wall, because I was unable to tell if there was texture behind the wallpaper or not. The paste had turned gritty and crumbly, so it was hard to tell if wall texture was also in the mix.

But I do know that the guy did not use a primer. I believe that this was the crux of the problem.

The original surface was paint. A good oil based primer (I use KILZ) would have sealed off that paint. Why do you want the paint sealed off? Well, wallpaper paste, like many glues and adhesives, reacts with some paints, and when it does – it causes crumbling and crackling. In fact, the adhesive called hyde glue is exactly what faux finishers use to create a “crackle finish.” Hyde glue + paint = cracking.

Moral of the story: ALWAYS USE A PRIMER.

Now, you’re probably curious as to how this turned out. Well, I got on my ladder and spent a couple hours slipping paste into the seams and then squeeging it back behind the loose paper. This is tricky in itself, because the wet paste tends to wick moisture into the surrounding dry wallpaper, which absorbs the moisture, swells, bubbles, and creates still more loose areas!

Long story short, I got all the seams to stay down, and everything will look nice for the special birthday party. I would be interested ot follow up on this project, to see how my paste holds up. Because if my theory about paste reacting with the underlying paint is what caused the problem, then, because both elements are still there, theoretically it could happen all over again.

Let’s sure hope not. The homeowners deserve to have a room that looks pretty, and to not have to worry about wallpaper flapping loose.


wallpaper installation Houston

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