Removing Old Wallpaper is full of surprises.

Old wallpaper is coming off

Part I – The Removal

This blog is about removing old wallpaper from a 125 year old house. The main hallway, stairway & landing, were covered with that old wallpaper. It was a difficult decision for the homeowners to decide whether to remove the wallpaper from the old plastered walls, or simply put in new drywall and just paint the house. They really wanted to maintain the integrity of this old home, but were told by many that removing the wallpaper was not a good idea, and an impossible task. No-one they contacted wanted to make any attempt to take on this project….then they found us and we were up to the challenge! Ecopainting has a lot of experience in wallpaper removal in Toronto.
It seems strange to us that so many people, contractors included, are just not interested in wallpaper removal. Clearly, that is not the case with us….we love it!

So we are in, let’s get started!

The top layer, for the most part, came off rather well. As the wallpaper was very old, it had become quite hard and brittle. We had fun, seeing who could pull the biggest piece, at the same time being careful not to pull the plaster with it. Once the top layer was off, we were left with the fine white paper backing. We rolled on our special removal solution, let it sit for 10 minutes and removed it with ease. Some areas caught us by surprise, as there were overlapping layers of plaster, paint and even older wallpaper. Removing this new layer of thin wallpaper proved impossible, it did not want to budge. We decided to prime the otherwise sound surfaces with oil primer and see what happens.

Very old wallpaper getting removed

Some of the remaining wallpaper stayed intact and some started separating from the wall. We cut out all the loose pieces of wallpaper and any loose plaster and primed again. The wallpaper removal part of the job was a qualified success, what were all these people afraid of?
Now let’s get on with preparing and restoring the walls for a few coats of paint.

Old Wallpaper Removal – Part 2 the Wall Repairs

So the wallpaper is off and the walls looked like a huge mess! There was so much damage, it was difficult to see even one square foot of smooth surface! We were almost convinced that it was the wallpaper that was holding the house together. The first thing the painters needed to do was seal all the walls with a very good primer. There are usually two choices for this type of surface. Zinsser Gardz is an acrylic clear primer that works well to isolate the walls from the new paint. The other solution was the tried and true oil primer. We don’t usually choose the oil primer because of it’s higher VOC and strong odour. In this case we decided to use the oil primer because it works very well in such wallpaper removal situations in the past.

We primed the surfaces carefully, making sure to not push very hard. We didn’t want to create any more damage (and work) to the delicate substrate. We also avoided leaving too much roller texture and orange peel and give ourselves a good start for later.

Before even starting this wallpaper removal project, the homeowners asked us clearly if we were up for this type of a challenge. Were we prepared for all possibilities of repair under the wallpaper? Being honest with the customer, we said that despite our experience there are always surprises with every type of paper stripping. We reassured them that we were up to the challenge and we can take the job.

We reinforced the soft areas of the old plaster by drilling in screws, until each area felt and became solid. After the substrate felt solid we could proceed with the patching and skimming phase.
Now we had some patching to do! We used quick dry patching compound to accelerate the drying time between patching. Quick dry compounds do help with drying time between patching but it’s always a good idea to wait overnight before painting. There were many peaks and lumps and bumps on these old walls, clearly showing the character of the house. We did not attempt to correct these natural flaws, it wouldn’t be consistent with any other areas in the house. We fixed the cracks, patched the holes, sanded and primed again. After priming things were looking smooth. We applied another thin coat of Drydex compound to most areas and now things were looking even better.

Painter is Painting walls after wallpaper stripping

So we were all done patching and one of the guys turns to the other painters and says: “have you ever been inside a patch? Do you realize that you are literally standing inside a patch!” That sounded odd, the kind of thing only painters think and say, but it sort of made sense!

The dust masks are back on….it was time for final sanding! Sanding was much easier this time, we were removing small putty knife ridges and lines. At clean up, we dusted off the walls, and we applied the final coat of low odour oil primer to seal the skimmed walls. It was time to paint…finally!
We applied 2 coats of Benjamin Moore’s matte from their Collection line (now called Regal Select).

Update: This blog was written in 2009 right after the project. There is a new product we would use if we ever encountered similar problems. The product is called FibaFuse and it’s a wall reinforcement fabric made of fiberglass. It comes as wide as 36 inches and can cover large repairs. After applying compound with a paint roller you can apply the fabric on it in big pieces. It would be perfect for old homes with many hairline cracks and it is mould resistant.
If your old wallpaper scares you but you want it off your walls, don’t hesitate to call Ecopainting at (416) 733-7767. We are experts in removing any kind of wallpaper – no kidding!

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