About a month ago (Sept. 9), we closed escrow on the house and officially took over. Since then, we’ve primarily been dealing with moving all of my stuff from my previous place in Menlo Park to our new home, and researching, calling, and interviewing various contractors.
We decided early on that we’d want to remove the “popcorn ceiling” before moving in because of the mess it would make when removed. This sort of ceiling has been out of fashion for the last 30 years or so, usually contains asbestos (ours was 3%), gets dirty easily and is hard to clean. Also, removing a popcorn ceiling and replacing it with a smooth or textured finish typically increases the value of a home.
After calling four companies we found through personal recommendations and online reviews, we interviewed three of them, and eventually ended up going with CertaPro Painters of Silicon Valley for both the popcorn ceiling removal and the painting job. We chose CertaPro primarily because their owner (Dan Ford) was the only person that consistently returned phone calls and emails within a day, and usually got back to us much sooner. He was also the one person we interviewed that came prepared with lots of documentation (about his company, contractor license information, insurance information, how the job would be done, how we would coordinate, etc.) We called his references – none of them gave us a stunning, super-happy review, but they were all satisfied with the work that CertaPro had done. All of the other contractors didn’t seem as professional, and they were sometimes hard to reach or slow to respond. For us, slightly lower prices didn’t justify the cost of dealing with potential communication problems.
While speaking to Dan during the interview, I had indicated that the work could start ASAP, and he said that his crews were typically booked 5-10 days out. However, when I signed the contract, he told me that he could – and he did – have the popcorn ceiling removal start the next day.
Popcorn removal and texturing took three workers four days. The first day, the foreman overseeing my job (John) and the main worker doing the popcorn removal and ceiling texturing (Alfredo) arrived promptly in the morning. After talking about how the work would be done, John left and Alfredo and two guys that came after him (random hired goons?) started working. They started by bagging up all of the upstairs rooms with 9-foot wide sheet of plastic, taped together loosely with something that looked like masking tape. Alfredo was calling the shots, but the two other guys seemed to have some idea of what they were doing. After bagging up the rooms, they connected a pump they brought with them to our outside water supply, and soaked the popcorn with it. Then they just took a long scraping-tool and the popcorn came right off, onto the plastic covering the floor.
Pamela and I were under the impression that the popcorn was going to be treated as a hazardous material since it contained asbestos (that was the impression given to us by Dan as well), but the workers didn’t do anything that treated the ceiling material as anything but goop that could make a mess. They didn’t have ceiling-goop fights, but they did manage to track it all over the front steps, and leave little bits of it everywhere after they left. They didn’t ventilate the house either: when I came back in the evening to look at their work, I found the entire house steamy, presumably because they sprayed all of the ceilings with water.
We complained about the mess to the owner and foreman, and John came over the next day to look at the work. He was significantly less concerned about both the mess and its possible toxic attributes than we were, but to placate us he spent about 40 minutes cleaning the place with a vacuum, rag, and hose. It looked significantly better after he was done, and we agreed that as long as the place was clean and looked great after the work was finished, we’d be happy.
Four days later, the painting crew, Raul and Carlos, came to do the priming and painting. Raul spent about half an hour with me looking at the place and going over how the job would be done. During that time, he discovered that we didn’t know what color we wanted the ceiling. Oops.
Pamela and I just kind of figured we would paint the ceiling white, but unbeknown to us, Kelly-Moore sells dozens of slightly different shades of white, with names like Pale Face, Acoustic White, New Linen, and White Dove. Our house already had Antique White, Navajo White, and Swiss Coffee – which sounds like it should be a brownish color, but is actually a bright shade of white. Apparently the Swiss like their coffee with a lot of cream. This was in the morning and Pamela was in the middle of teaching third period, so it was up to me to select a color. With Raul’s help, and a little bit of wandering around with color cards trying to figure out what colors each shade of white matched/clashed with, I settled on a shade Kelly-Moore calls White Shadow.
While I was deciding on a paint color, Raul and Carlos prepped the work area. They placed large cloths on the ground so that paint wouldn’t fall on the floor, wrapped furniture in the same kind of plastic that the popcorn removal guys used, and taped sheets of paper over baseboards, railings, wall light fixtures, etc. Next, they caulked the edges where the ceiling met a painted wall – according to Raul, this makes it so that they can get clean lines and avoid cracking where the ceiling paint meets the wall paint. After caulking, they went over the center of the ceiling first with primer on large rollers, then primed the edges with a brush. Then they did the same thing with the paint, and touched up everything with paintbrushes.
Their original estimate for the paint job was 2-3 days, and they barely managed to finish all of the painting the third day. However, John had also asked them to put up all of our light fixtures, drapes, blinds, etc. when they were done. Apparently this isn’t something that painters normally do, because they spent the next few hours, with my help, figuring out where each object went, how to attach it, and then attaching it, often incorrectly the first time . By 7pm, we were all exhausted, and mutually agreed that we’d leave the rest of it for another day. John came back the next day with a helper, and managed to get everything back up in a few hours.
Overall, the job took eight working days over two weeks. It wasn’t perfect – there’s a spot of popcorn behind a railing they missed, and some of the texturing isn’t smooth – but overall, I’m pretty happy with the job. I’m lucky that my work hours are flexible enough that that I could take off some mornings and afternoons to watch the contractors.