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Archive for November, 2008

Popcorn ceilings give me creepy memories of living in a treeless suburban track of ticky-tacky houses. Having lived within expanses of characterless drywall and wall-to-wall carpeting is one reason I really appreciate old city houses. I can still recall the constant pleading for the family car as my only means of escape…

3X Mag for drama

Be forewarned that what follows is a bit of rant. These can be ignored, but after spending my Sunday night covered in plaster dust, I thought I would indulge myself…

Why anyone wants a ceiling that looks like cottage cheese is beyond the limits of my imagination. There is good reason to be wary of faddish building materials… In ten years, I imagine hoards of people rushing to erect pine and cedar fences after their PVC plastic fence has turned yellow from sun damage or simply looks as bad then as the day it was installed.

The only reason someone puts up a popcorn ceiling in a plaster and lath century home is because they are covering up cracks in the plaster and trying to save a hit to their wallet. Removing it is either very easy, or, if it has been painted, really a pain as you may need to use a safe stripper to soften the paint.

The messy part

You will have a serious need to avenge the previous owner that painted their popcorn with an oil-based paint… good luck with that mess. 1950s and 60s era popcorn sprayed ceilings may have asbestos in them, apparently, and should be investigated prior to removal. I was fortunate (I guess) in that the ceiling was sprayed on within the last 8 years, or so, and was not painted.

All you need is (1) a spray bottle, (2) a five inch flexible scraper, (3) a good size drip cloth, and, (4) an unhealthy need to repress your suburban adolescence.

One benefit of removing the popcorn ceiling is that the room now looks bigger and the ceiling looks higher.

Depending on the height of your ceiling, grab a step ladder or chair. If you have a large amount of ceiling space, you may want to invest in a pressurized water sprayer (the garden variety) since I eventually got hand cramps from using the spray bottle. Spray a section at a time, wait a few moments, and use your scraper at a 30 degree angle to scape off the ugliness. After scraping, take a sponge and wipe the ceiling down. Aside from cleaning dust, this also removes remaining popcorn ceiling material from any uneven sections of the ceiling.

Almost done

This is easy work, but takes some strength and be prepared for the cricked neck and sore shoulders the next day. One benefit of removing the popcorn ceiling is that the room now looks bigger and the ceiling looks higher.

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Knowing the style of the house and how to keep that character is not easy for someone making the transition from apartment or condo living.

Assuming they care, people with old houses are forced onto a learning curve that can be very confusing. It is easy to tell which neighbours care about getting an old house right. Knowing the style of the house and how to keep that character is not easy for someone making the transition from apartment or condo living. Not knowing a Victorian from an Edwardian house and coming to expect “maintenance” after a call placed to the property management company means, like most idiots, I did not have a clue.

So the point of the occasional post is to put out some answers to frequent questions, share some experience from other old house geeks and, hopefully, be of some help to the new home owner who feels completely overwhelmed by their 120 year old pile of bricks. Posts are mostly meant to organize info and resources for work done on our house and hopefully others may find it useful.

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Three story homes with ten foot or higher ceilings in the public rooms resulted in eccentric narrow and tall homes in both semi and row figurations.

The Bay-and-Gable homes of Toronto are unique within the world of Victorian architecture, in part due to taxation laws of the time that assessed annual taxes based on the width of a lot’s frontage. Canadian pragmatism resulted in narrow lots, often between 15-20 feet in width and houses built upwards into usually three stories. Three story homes with ten foot or higher ceilings in the public rooms resulted in eccentric narrow and tall homes in both semi and row figurations.

According to McHugh (1989), early examples, beginning in 1875, have more Italianate features including round headed windows, angled bays, and steep gables. Those dating from the late 1880s have more of a Queen Anne influence with rectangular bays, straight window lintels and less steeply pitched gables.
Tons of variation exists and while most Bay-and-Gable homes abide by a typical floor plan, the dimensions of rooms and hallways can vary widely. Typical features include stained glass, tall 10-11 foot ceilings, ornate plaster work, detailed barge boards and ginger-breading, steeply pitched roofs, tall windows with low sills, and detailed millwork common in other Victorian revival styles. The style of exterior masonry, millwork, stained-glass and plaster work also varies tremendously producing few if any Bay-and-Gables that are the same.

McHugh, Patricia. (1989). Toronto Architecture: A City Guide. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

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