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Wallpaper-averse renter faces tough decision (Should I strip it or coat it?)
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By Bill & Kevin Burnett
Q: I live in a 1940s flat that was once wallpapered with a heavily textured, old-fashioned, velvet wallpaper -- probably red. The wallpaper was hung in all of the living areas of the home and has many, many coats of flat paint over it, which has covered some of the texture. But because the texture is so pronounced, the old-fashioned pattern of the wallpaper still remains. I would like smooth walls in the living and dining areas of my home, but because I rent, I don't want to incur the expense or the big job of taking off the many layers or replacing the walls with new drywall. Would it be possible to use drywall compound to smooth out and fill in all of the patterns and texture of the wallpaper?
A: Our mother had a bathroom done in red flocked paper. We called it the New Orleans bordello. Being a proper lady, she did not appreciate that comment.
Normally we wouldn't suggest applying drywall compound to wallpaper, even if the paper is covered with several coats of paint. However, your circumstances lead us to consider this option.
Two reasons to avoid skim coating over wallpaper are aesthetics (it's tough to make it look good) and the chance that water in the mud will penetrate the paper and loosen it. If that happens, you've got one big bubbly mess.
We sympathize with your reticence about investing even a little money in someone else's property. And we applaud your willingness to invest a little time and perspiration to make your living area more attractive -- even though you don't own it.
Rather than get the drywall knife and mud bucket out right away, why not consider another angle? Think about approaching your landlord with an offer to strip the old wallpaper. It's a big job, but if you're up for it, you might be able to persuade the landlord to go for it. Ask him to rent the steamer and you supply the labor. When you're done, you'll have the smooth walls you want, and the landlord will have gotten a real bargain on a hot and time-consuming job. Heck, if one of us were the landlord, we'd even be receptive to a credit on the rent.
If you don't want to go the stripping route, you could try to skim coat over the flock. But beware. It will take a lot of time and a lot of mud, and the result probably won't be as good as stripping the paper. This is how we'd approach the job:
It's absolutely essential that the wallpaper be sealed to prevent water infiltration from the mud. Remove any loose paper and glue down any seams that may have risen over the years. Then apply a full coat of oil-based primer to the wall. Allow it to dry thoroughly before skim-coating the wall with joint compound. Dry for at least 24 hours, with 48 being better. It will probably take three applications of mud and some touch-up to cover all of the imperfections on the walls.
Mix some water into the premixed compound so that the texture of the mud is smooth and easy to work with. Apply the mud to the wall using a wide drywall knife. A 12-inch knife works well.
Try to get the mud as smooth as possible. Then leave it alone and let it dry for a day. With any luck, you'll have no bubbly wallpaper. Lightly sand the wall and apply the second coat in the same manner as the first. Repeat the process with the third coat.
At this point the walls should look smooth. Apply a coat of paint to the finished wall. This inevitably highlights the defects and voids. Patch the defects and apply the finish coat. Whichever way you choose, we wish you smooth and attractive walls.
Copyright 2007 Bill and Kevin Burnett
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