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Painting Old Walls & Ceilings, How do you make old walls & ceilings look new again?

January 7, 2019

Painting Old Walls & Ceilings (1-7-2019)

How do you make old walls & ceilings look new again? Short answer is, it takes hard work. Long answer is below.

Making old walls look good again isn’t easy. I have often been asked to make these old walls look good again. Typically, the timing breakdown for making an old wall or room look great with a new paint job is about 75% prep work, 15% priming and 10% top coat. Here’s what I do.

All work should be done under bright lights. You should also try to keep the humidity down in the room to allow the paint to dry thoroughly. 

If you have lead based paints on the walls or trim you may want start here: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-02/documents/lead_in_your_home_brochure_land_b_w_508_easy_print_0.pdf

First, inspect the surfaces and create a plan. You must understand what you are dealing with. Expose every problem that needs attention. Assuming the client has emptied the room of all furniture and area rugs. Then walk around the room leaning into the walls looking for loose drywall. Leaning in will expose loose nails or what is more commonly known as “nail pops”. Mark any spots you find. Also look for moist or damp spots that would indicate a bigger problem. Repeat this on the ceiling.

Assuming there are no leaks, start driving drywall screws 2” above and below each nail pop leaning hard against the wall when doing this. You will be surprised what pops out. Once the drywall is secured to the studs again, proceed to pull out the nails that have failed or came loose. Do not think you can just hammer the old nails back in.

Next comes the scraper. Get a couple of good stiff 3” or 4” wide scrapers and scrape the walls down removing any high spots, chips, old roller marks, bubbles and drips. If you don’t do this, you will only make those spots bigger and uglier when you start painting.

Now you are ready for sanding. Take a 5” or 6” random orbit sander and a HEPA rated vacuum system with 80 grit paper and sand the surfaces down. The purpose is not to remove all the paint, just the dead paint, dust and dirt that has accumulated over the years. You will also be making the walls even smoother. The marks the scraper leaves will be a good indicator of areas needing additional attention.

Once that’s done you are ready for taping and skim coating. This may in itself be a two or three step process. Once the last coat is on, I take a sanding screen attached to the vacuum and sand the entire surfaces down again.

Now you are ready for the first coat of primer. I prefer Oil or Alkyd based primers. They will generally seal better and hide any lingering spots such as oil or adhesives that might be just below the surface waiting to have a bad reaction to a water-based primer. Depending on the color you are covering and the eventual finished color, you may want to tint the primer.

After the first primer coat, I inspect the surfaces again and touch up any imperfections I missed earlier. If you find dust marks or fuzz from the roller you can take a “fine finish” sanding screen and ever so lightly sand the surfaces down. You want the walls smooth as possible before the second primer coat.

By now you should be on automatic. Apply the second primer coat and inspect again. Repeat the “ever so lightly” sanding if required.

Now it’s time to apply the top coat. This is where all the hard work and priming pays off. Paint the ceiling first. Don’t rush it because you will only mess up the walls. One or two coats of ceiling paint should get it done.

Typically, the walls are where the color is applied. Paint tinting machines are generally very accurate today. However, if you are using multiple cans, I suggest mixing them all in one bucket before starting. You will find that less paint will be required than the primer you used.

Leave 24 hours between the first and final coat with a fan gently circulating the air. Don’t start the fan for an hour or two though.

Time for the last coat. Do one last inspection. It’s your last chance to find any old imperfection or new ones you created in the previous coat(s). Make sure you have enough paint before you start. If in doubt add another gallon and mix them all together before starting. Apply the last coat. Allow another 24 to 48 hours to dry in gently circulating air.

Wrap up. Carefully put the wall plates and fixtures back on the walls and ceiling. Caution your clients or family members not to touch the walls or hang any pictures for at least a week. You want the paint to cure and thoroughly dry.

Many trades people have different methods when it comes to refurbishing and painting walls. This is my method. Good luck with your project.

The Ask the Kitchen Guy Blog by Jeff Kida is the property of DDS Design Services, LLC. and is re-published with the owners consent here on the Mighty House Radio Show web site. All rights are reserved by the owner.


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