The stipple ceiling has always mystified me. The second floor of my childhood home had stippled ceiling. I recall as a kid looking up at its bumpy surface and gold glitter flex, and wondering ‘why?’ I suppose it was a fad, which has since revealed of few downsides, primarily an inability to properly clean years of dust and grime build-up, trapped by all the little stipple peaks and valleys. Some people have elected to paint over their ceilings (provided the original stipple does not disintegrate upon touch), while others have attempted to ‘scrape’ the stipple off completely.
Might I suggest another alternative?
When I look up, I prefer to see a smooth surface staring back at me. Apparently many of my clients agree. Roland Lavoie and his wife, Francine, live in an older home in St. Boniface. After I completed their entire basement renovation in late 2015, Roland mentioned to me they had been wondering what to do on the main floor — except for the kitchen, the entire main-floor ceiling was covered in stipple. Roland inquired as to whether scraping was feasible.
I explained that, although it was an option, it was rather messy. And because their house was built in the era of plaster walls and ceilings, there was a very good chance the tasks would multiply as the project unfolded, revealing imperfections in the ceiling plaster itself. There was another solution — strapping the ceiling with new drywall and fresh paint. Following a brief description of the process, Roland gave a thumbs up. We proceeded with the project in early 2016.
Many areas of the main-floor ceiling had cracks, and showed evidence of previous patching and repair attempts. The strapping process, although laborious, is quite simple. The first step was to locate the exact locations of the existing ceiling joists, run one-by-four strapping perpendicular to the ceiling joists from wall edge to wall edge, securing them firmly to the existing ceiling at 16-inch centres with three-inch construction screws every eight inches — this provides the nailing surface on which the new drywall can be installed. From that point on, the project is much like installing drywall at a new build, staggering sheets of drywall parallel with the strapping until the entire ceiling is covered. I usually apply five coats of mud, carefully troweling cleanly to minimize sanding. Once sanded, two coats of paint over one coat of primer will render a smooth and flawless ceiling, which can last for decades.
Since the Lavoies’ walls were already painted, we elected to skip the steps of taping and mudding the corners where the walls meet the ceiling. Instead, crown moulding was installed throughout the area. Their main-floor ceilings never looked better.
Other clients of mine, Gerard and Denise Habeck, requested a similar upgrade in their kitchen and dining room area. The ceiling was coated in a feeble stipple that would flake off if washed, rendering that area highly visible as a disruption to the stipple pattern. The first thing that came to my mind was… who would want stipple flaking off and onto cooking surfaces in a kitchen area? Gerard also made another request — more lighting. The single lighting fixture with multiple bulbs did not provide adequate lighting for the space. The strapping solution was revealed. This ceiling was smaller in area, but presented another challenge — it is a sloped ceiling, which begins at a height of eight feet on the exterior wall and rises to nearly 13 feet on the inner wall of the kitchen. It was important to carefully plan the layout so the installation of the drywall was as easy as possible.
The strapping process was, again, quite similar. Unlike the Lavoie ceiling, which uses one-by-four strapping, I elected to use two-by-four strapping at the Habecks’ for one main reason: two-by-fours installed on the skinny edge would allow for new recessed lighting throughout. After locating the existing ceiling joists, two-by-four strapping was secured to the ceiling with five-inch TimberLok lag bolts. Holes were drilled in the appropriate strapping locations to allow for the 14/2 electrical lines to run in series, to each pot light location. Once the end line was tied into the existing lighting fixture box, the new drywall was installed. The recessed lighting locations were marked based on the lighting design layout and a 3 7/8-inch auger bit was used to drill out holes for the pot lights. The wires, temporarily hidden behind the new drywall, were pulled out of the newly cut holes, and each pot light fixture was connected to the series circuit. After a quick test of the lighting, the mudding and taping steps could get underway.
Although crown moulding would not be installed in this instance to hide the corners where new ceiling drywall meets the existing walls, disruption to the existing walls by taping and mudding the corners was not the preferred option.
However, some mudding where the drywall meets the walls was required to fill any visible gaps and to seal the new drywall to the existing walls. I suggested the following: green painter’s tape could be placed roughly a quarter inch below the top edge of the entire wall perimeter, parallel to the new ceiling, before the mudding process begins. The tape would quarantine the mud along the top edge of the walls, during all five coats. Once the sanding was done, a thin bead of paintable caulk at the corner joint would prevent any thin cracks from appearing. With caulk in place, the ceiling was sanded, primed and painted. The next day, the green tape was removed and the pot lights were positioned into the pre-cut locations. A brand-new kitchen ceiling, with lots of light, as requested.
It may seem as though repainting an existing stipple ceiling would be easiest and less costly. That may be true. Scraping off old stipple and repainting may also appear to be less work than strapping new drywall to an existing ceiling — but it’s messy and doesn’t address any flaws in an existing ceiling. For me, it’s always about the best end result. Nothing compares to brand new drywall, properly mudded and sanded with fresh paint. And if adding new lighting is the goal or catalyst for an upcoming ceiling upgrade, it’s much easier to run new wiring through exposed strapping, than trying to fish wiring through old joists hiding behind an old ceiling.
Ceiling jobs can be fun. I look forward to my next ceiling project, set to begin sometime this fall.