Posts Tagged ‘primer’

Patching Gap Around Light Fixture

November 8, 2019

The original light fixture had a rectangular base. The new one had a base that was barely larger than the electrical box. The electrician ended up with a slight gap on the left side of the box.

The wallpaper would most likely bridge that gap and look just fine. But since there was a slight difference in height between the wall and the base of the fixture, I wanted to close the gap to minimize chances of a visible pooch or bubble around the fixture.

I bought some drywall repair kits, and ended up using the one that had a thin aluminum mesh patch. I cut it to fit around the electrical box, using a few scraps to fill in gaps.

I then used drywall joint compound (“mud”) to smooth over the area. It took two of these skim coats, and a lot of time holding my heat gun to get everything to dry. Once sanded, it was nice and smooth.

A coat of Gardz penetrating sealer / primer, and the patched area was ready for wallpaper.

Elapsed time: Two hours.

This saved the homeowner having to hire “a guy” to do the repairs – and most likely, I would have had to “fine tune” whatever he did, anyway.

Don’t Skip the Wallpaper Primer!

October 30, 2019


A primer is imperative for a good wallpaper installation – and I mean a primer designed to be used under wallpaper, not a generic primer or a paint primer.

A good primer will

seal porous surfaces
mitigate a glossy surface (paper won’t stick to gloss)
allow for “slip” and repositioning while installing the paper
provide “tooth” for the adhesive to grab ahold of
withstand the torque created when wallpaper dries and pulls taught,
preventing “popped seams”
protect the surface, making future removal of the paper easier while
preventing damage to the wall

Ultra Prime Pro 977 by Roman’s is my preferred primer.

But different situations call for different primers. When hanging on a thirsty surface like new drywall or a textured wall that has been skim-floated, I will use Gardz by Zinsser. Other primers could be called for in other situations.

“Etched” Foresty Look in a Baby’s Nursery

September 22, 2019


This “Bellwood” mural by Rebel Walls is very similar to the “Etched Arcadia” mural by Anthropologie (do a Search here to see my previous installations). Either way, this is a wonderful idea for a nursery, and a cool alternative to the usual pink flowers or dinosaurs that many parents choose.

This mom-to-be was originally uncertain about papering the 3-walled alcove (which will house the changing table) (see third and fourth photos), because someone planted the idea that it would get soiled quickly. I’m glad I convinced her to take the plunge – the room really does look better with both the accent (crib) wall papered, and the changing table nook.

This product is a mural, and came in panels that had to be hung sequentially (as opposed to regular wallpaper with a repeating pattern). No photos of the plotting involved, but you have to roll the panels out on the floor to ensure the correct sequence. I made sure to center the low part of the pattern around the changing table, so the high part of the trees cradled it on either side of the niche. I really like the way this turned out.

Additional plotting was required to plan the area over the door and then the 1 1/2″ wide space to the left of it (not shown). All this measuring and plotting has to be done before the homeowner orders a custom-sized mural like this. Another reason to have the paperhanger see the room BEFORE you order your paper.

This paper is a non-woven material, and has a high fiberglass content. That makes it easy to remove when it’s time to redecorate, but it also makes it easy to clean in the case of accidents.

So this mom should go on to change diapers with confidence, all the while enjoying the unique look of her baby’s nursery.

This home is in the Garden Oaks neighborhood of Houston.

The textured walls were smoothed by the painting company, CertaPro. Usually I insist on doing my own prep, but it worked for the homeowner to have the paint crew get the messy smoothing part out of the way. AND … I know the CertaPro guys, and I knew I could trust them to do a good job. And they did. All I had to do was apply a wallpaper primer, and then hang the paper.

Dark Papers – Visible Seams

September 10, 2019


Wallpaper is paper, and when paste is applied to the back, the paper gets wet and expands a little. When it hits the wall, it dries – and often that means it will shrink, even if just a tad. That will leave minute gaps at the seams. If the paper is dark and the wall or the substrate are light , you will most likely see white gaps at the seams.

Some manufacturers combat this by printing dark patterns on a darker substrate. This is what you see in the photo above. But it also helps to color the edges of the wallpaper with a corresponding color of chalk. (You can’t use ink, because ink will bleed and discolor the wallpaper.)

Sometimes you can go back and color in the seams with hobby paint or chalk, which sounds simple but actually takes some technique and finesse, to color the areas adequately and avoid staining the paper.

Painting the wall the color of the paper is a thought, but not as feasible as it sounds, because wallpaper wants to stick to wallpaper primer, not paint. And I’ve seen paint lift off the wall when the wallpaper dried and put tension on it – so, not using that trick again.

Paint with a clear wallpaper primer over it is another idea – but it adds an extra day (or two) and more labor and material costs.

What I did in this case, was to try different pasting methods. This wallpaper, from the Historic Homes Collection by Thibaut, is pre-pasted and engineered to be run through a water tray to activate the paste on the back of the paper.

This method works super with most of their colors. But, because the water tray adds a lot of moisture to the wallpaper, the amount of expansion and then shrinkage results in tiny gaps at the seams – not a big deal with a white or light-colored wallpaper. But with this black paper, it was showing too much white at the seams. Yes, a 1/64th” is too much, when you are looking at white between black.

So instead of running the paper through the water tray, I experimented with pasting the back of the paper. I knew this method would allow the paper to expand less, dry faster, and shrink minimally.

But wallpaper that has a thin layer of pre-paste on the back does not respond well to the installer applying paste to the back on top of the pre-paste. You are greeted with a thick, dry, gummy mess that is hard to manipulate on the wall.

There were also a lot of bubbles and blisters under the surface. Yes, you can be assured that these will disappear as the paper dries – but it sure makes you nervous while you are looking at them!

Spraying the back of the paper with water from a mister didn’t work, either, because the spray bottle spread water unevenly, water sloshed onto my work table, and there was nothing to enhance the “stickiness” of the manufacturer’s pre-paste.

After experimenting, what worked best was to apply paste to the back, full strength, and then quickly spritz the back with water and roll it around, to thin down the paste I had just applied, and to add enough moisture to activate the pre-paste.

The wallpaper strips with this pasting concoction were thick and muddy and difficult to maneuver, but the drier paste did lock down at the seams more quickly. I didn’t have issues with shrinking or gapping seams after I started using this pasting method.

20+ Year Old Paper – Still Perfect

July 31, 2019


I hung this paper in a master bathroom in Bellaire more than 20 years ago. It is still in perfect shape!

This is due partly to the good quality paper the homeowner chose (not low-end, pre-pasted, paper-backed, solid vinyl), to good ventilation removing humidity from the room, to good installation techniques, and to the great primer I used at that time – Oil Based KILZ Original. Unfortunately, EPA regulations forced changes to this primer, and wallpaper paste will no longer stick to it.

The homeowners are going to renovate and update the bathroom, so I was there taking measurements for the new room. When it comes time to remove this old paper, I know that it will strip off easily and cleanly, because of the installation and primer used when it was put up.

Sweetening an All-White Bathroom / Treating Trials

July 2, 2019



This homeowner was just trying to update her hall bathroom. She chose a new countertop, new tile, and new wallpaper. Unfortunately, some of the workmen who showed up for the job were less than stellar. I won’t say anything about the tile guys or the painters, but in the top photo, you can see how the “I can hang wallpaper” guy prepped the wall… which he proclaimed as “wallpaper-ready.”

I took down the light fixture, removed the remaining old wallpaper, and skim-floated the surface. Because the ridges in the original guy’s float job were so thick, I went there a few days early to get an initial layer of smoothing compound spread on the wall, so it would have time to dry. Then when I came back, I skim-floated the entire room. Because this second coat was thinner, it dried in a few hours (with fans, a space heater (to pull humidity from the air), and the home’s A/C unit cranking dry air through the room.)

I sanded smooth, vacuumed and wiped off the dust, and applied a coat of Gardz, which is my preferred primer for newly smoothed walls.

Mysterious tan dots worked their way through the smoothing compound and the Gardz. I didn’t know what they came from (mold, oil, tobacco, soft drink or food the workers splashed on the walls?), but I knew they would eventually bleed through the new wallpaper. So I rolled on BIN, a shellac-based stain-blocker made by Rust Oleum, to seal the wall.

This effectively sealed the stain, and the wall was nice and white after that.

A week later, I came back to hang the wallpaper. First I applied a coat of Roman’s Pro 977 Ultra Prime, a primer made specifically for wallpaper. For some reason, this product didn’t stick well to the BIN – which is surprising, because one reason I use this primer is because it sticks to anything, even glossy surfaces (the BIN was not particularly glossy). Look closely or enlarge the third photo, and you will see it sliding and dripping down the wall. Well, no fear. I brushed out the worst of the drips, and as the primer dried, it tightened up and clung flat and tight to the wall.

With the wall finally smooth and appropriately primed, I was ready to get that paper up on the wall. This was an old fashioned pulp paper, which the British companies were making before most of them switched to non-woven materials. I was looking forward to working with an authentic pulp paper, because it’s been a while since I’ve come across one.

But this one didn’t behave as most of them do… It was thicker and stiffer, which made trimming and intricate detail work difficult, and increased the potential for creasing (for instance, while fitting the paper into a corner at a ceiling line). And it sucked up paste and dried out way sooner than I could get a strip to the wall. So I ended up using a spray bottle to add extra moisture to the back of the paper while I was applying the paste. This did help a lot.

Some of the edges had been banged up during shipping, so some of the seams looked a little weathered. And the edges had not been cut perfectly straight at the factory, so we had a bit of what we call “gaps and overlaps.”

Still, the finished room looks great. With its sweet flowers and calming colors, the pattern reminds me of the Laura Ashley era. The blue really pops against the white woodwork and tile in the room, and the red roses are nothing short of romantic.

Such a happy turn-around, for a bathroom that started out full of trials and tribulations.

I’m not sure what the brand name is, but the label says “English Florals.” The homeowner found it on-line (free shipping!), and the cost was low – about $60 for a double roll bolt. The home is on the north side of Houston.

Trouble Brewing? Paint Not Adhering to Wall

June 26, 2019


Top photo: A small circle of paint had been pulled away from the wall. When I picked at it, I was able to easily detach more paint.

Second photo: When I removed the light switch plate, some paint had stuck to it, and pulling the switch plate off the wall took some of the paint underneath along with it.

The exposed wall underneath the paint was gritty and dusty. I could not tell if it was a layer of old paint, drywall, dust, residue from ancient wallpaper paste, or other. I had the feeling that if I had tried, I could have peeled all the paint off the dusty subsurface.

This is not good.

This is an old house, and many layers of paint and other treatments have been added to the walls over the decades (100 years!). Many of these substances are not compatible with each other, and especially not if the walls were not prepped properly before applying another coat of paint.

Latex paint won’t stick to oil based paint. New paint won’t stick to a glossy paint. Nothing sticks to a dusty surface.

All these various materials will adhere to one another – for a while. But when a stressor is added to the formula, there is the potential for the layers to delaminate (come apart). That’s what happened in the two areas above, when a bit of a tug was all it took to peel several layers of paint away from the wall.

The issue here is that wallpaper comes with its own stressors. Wallpaper gets wet when it’s pasted, expands a bit, and then when the paste dries, the paper shrinks a tad and puts tension on the walls. Over time, with changes in temperature and humidity, foundations shifting, and just plain old passage of time, this tension could cause the paint to give way from the walls – this usually manifests at along a seam.

I use a wallpaper-specific primer, and among its attributes is the ability to withstand this type of tension.

Let’s hope that over the years, the many layers of paint, the new coat of primer, and the wallpaper all work together to stay nice and tight to the wall.

Note: If I had known about the wall condition earlier, and if the homeowners’ budget had allowed, a liner would have been a good option in this case. A liner is a special type of paper that is applied to the primed wall the day before the paper goes up. It serves several purposes, but one is to distribute tension across the wall. Because the seams of the liner do not line up with the seams of the wallpaper, drying and shrinking wallpaper puts tension on the liner, and not onto the unstable wall itself, thus pretty well eliminating the chance that the wallpaper seams could cause the wall to delaminate.

The downside is that using a liner adds an extra day (or more) of labor, plus the cost of material.

The Source of Yesterday’s Drama

June 25, 2019


Before I learned to put plastic over the smoke detectors, I’ve had sanding dust set off the alarm. But this is the first time that fumes from my primer tripped the blasted thing!

It was EAR SPLITTING, and went on forever! Finally I climbed up on the ladder and disconnected it from the power source. Still going off!! Turns out there was an alarm up on the next floor, that was also going off! Luckily the homeowner was reachable quickly by phone, and apparently this is a common problem in their home. She said to turn on the ceiling fan … and that did the trick.

I was smoothing a textured wall, and the penetrating sealing primer I like for that is Gardz, by Zinsser. The fumes won’t make you high like the KILZ Original that I used to use (even that never triggered a smoke detector), so I was surprised that it had anything in it to be detected by a smoke detector. Maybe it includes a carbon dioxide detector, and that somehow got tripped.

Either way, I’m sure glad we got the danged thing turned off … I like hanging wallpaper in peace and quiet so I can THINK!

Do Bubbles Mean Trouble?

May 20, 2019

The walls in this dining room in a historic house in the Houston Heights had received many coats of paint over its 100 years. The latest was a coat of what appeared to be flat latex paint. Since this is not a suitable surface for wallpaper, I applied a wallpaper-specific primer.

I was surprised to see that, a few minutes after I rolled on my water-based wallpaper primer, blisters appeared.

I thought they would disappear as the primer dried, but they did not.

Obviously, the moisture in the primer was soaking into some of the layers below it, and causing something to expand and “off-gas”, which created the bubbles.

I switched from my wallpaper primer to a penetrating sealer called Gardz (also water-based) – and the same thing happened. (The Gardz dried so glossy that I feared the wallpaper would not stick to it, so I went back to my original Ultra Prime by Roman’s.)

Once the primer was good and dry, I used a stiff putty knife to knock off the high points of the blisters. The areas were not perfectly smooth, but they were OK for use under this particular wallpaper.

I’m doing some research, and am hoping to gain insight as to why this blistering happened, so I’ll know how to prevent it in the future.

Leopard Spots Across a Heights Dining Room

April 27, 2019


The original incarnation of this dining room in a nicely renovated bungalow in the Heights neighborhood of Houston, with its medium-grey walls (the first photo shows the room after I applied my white wallpaper primer), was classic and bordered on elegant. But that look did not suit this young couple.

They wanted something more youthful and fun, and also a background that would set off their collection of “somewhat wild and colorful” artwork.

Thibaut’s ‘Tanzania’ wallpaper pattern in chocolate brown on a very light tan background fills the bill perfectly. Note how the dark ceiling plays off the walls.