4 tips for painting ceilings

Look up.

See that big blank space? A huge canvas just waiting for something to decorate it?

The ceiling of the room can serve basically as a fifth wall to a room, but it often goes ignored. (I’m looking at a plain white canvas myself at the moment.)

But it can be a great place for an extra bit of “Wow!” factor for your child’s bedroom just by doing a little painting.

But word of warning: painting ceilings isn’t the same as painting walls. Even without doing anything fancy like stripes or clouds, you need to plan for extra time and effort. Here are a few tips from my own experience.

Consider the Surface

Corner BeforeThe ceiling I’m looking at right now has the same kind of barely there texture of my walls. (Very old house built before there were spray textures.) Yours might have “popcorn” if your house is newer or not much of anything if it’s older like mine.

The less texture, the easier it’s going to be to paint, just like with the walls. The more texture, the more likely you’ll have missed spots and in the case of popcorn, a real mess.

Many times, the popcorn is sprayed on the ceiling, but then nothing else is done on top of that. So the texture isn’t really sealed to the surface. Start running a roller with latex paint across it and you end up with as much popcorn stuck in the roller cover as you have left on the ceiling. (And a ton of little white spots where those popcorn pieces came off. Frustrating!!!)

You have a couple of options to make this easier. You could scrape off all the texture, which is a big messy job in and of itself. Or you could spray the ceiling instead of using brushes and rollers. For about $45 for half a day, you can get a paint sprayer from the equipment rental at Home Depot and paint everything that way. There is a bit (OK, a lot) of extra work in taping and covering everything you don’t want painted, but there will be far fewer headaches with the actual painting.

(Once you’ve painting a popcorn ceiling the first time, you shouldn’t have to worry about little bits coming off if you paint again. Nice bonus if you change the room theme.)

Image credit: maury.mccown on flickr. cc

Get Ready for Awkward

D-DAY ceiling painting Theme Normandy (in progress) step 3As you might have noticed already just from looking up, the ceiling is in an awkward location for painting. Just awkward.

More so than with walls, things are tough to reach, body parts will hurt and everything’s at the wrong angle. And if you’re doing something more complicated than a single color, it’ll just be magnified by however many times you have to go over the wall to create your design.

Your biggest problem is going to be your neck. Notice how the guy in the photo is tilting his head back to see what he’s doing? If you have to get close to the ceiling to work, you’re going to be tilting your head back a lot too and can expect a nice crick in your neck by the end of the day.

If you can paint from the floor with a long roller handle, that can be helpful. But to get a good angle to put enough pressure, you’re still going to need to look up rather than forward. A neck brace like whiplash victims wear can be helpful for supporting your head as you paint. It’s not that comfortable to wear, but it’s far more comfortable than the pain you’d end up with otherwise. Take plenty of breaks as well to stretch your neck in other directions.

The other awkward part comes from limited mobility. When you paint a wall, you can move your body up and down and side to side with the roller to apply even pressure. There’s only so much latitude you have at the top of a ladder, no matter how far over you stretch. The farther you try to reach, the worse your angle gets and the less pressure you’re able to put because you only have a little bit of arm to push with instead of your whole body.

Image credit: Pierre Marcel on flickr. cc

Make It Step One

painting a ceiling blue with a rollerPlain and simple – paint the ceiling first. Not only will you have the hardest part out of the way, you have the option and ability to fix any problems you create when you move on to the walls.

The lady in the picture is demonstrating just one of the kinds of problems I’m thinking of. (In her defense, she was painting the entire room blue, so it didn’t matter that she was getting it on the walls.) Paint drips, your roller slips – it doesn’t take much to get color where you don’t really want it to go. Not to mention, it’s nice to just not have to be quite so careful when you’re tackling this part of the job.

Image credit: Dru Blood on flickr. cc

Get Solid Footing

child laborI mentioned limited mobility before because of working on a ladder. And just to be clear, you need to be on a solid ladder. Please. Solid ladder.

You can see one big difference in the two photos above. The guy is working on a platform with rails that give him room to keep his feet out and stay steady as he looks straight up. The lady looks like she’s standing on a chair and is going to tip right off if she tries to get all the way into that corner.

When I was painting professionally, I used an articulating ladder that I could set up as scaffolding to stand on or just sit right on top with a leg to each side. Something you can’t and shouldn’t do with a standard 6′ ladder. It’s probably not something you’d want to invest in as a rule, but it’s the kind of tool that makes this sort of work just that much easier and safer.

Your best bet is the typical 6′ ladder a lot of homeowners own. The step you need to stand on to be able to reach the ceiling is still low enough to rest your body up against the top part of the ladder for a little extra security. No chairs, step stools or furniture, OK?

Image credit: Ed from Ohio on flickr. cc


Featured Photo Credit: Jiuck at flickr. cc

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