How To: Redo ceilings in an old house

January 4, 2012

Q.I have a historic house and have renovated many of the rooms. In the two second-floor bedrooms left to do, the walls and ceiling were wallpapered over a thin layer of plaster. The plaster was not top-coated and is made of sand and horsehair. Therefore, removing wallpaper in any traditional method is not successful. We have plastered the walls but have yet to tackle the ceiling.

Seams are showing, and chips are coming off from the previous ceiling painting. We laid a track and put faux ceiling tiles in two downstairs rooms, and it looks very attractive. Are there any new products that would be less labor intensive (aching shoulders) and be appropriate for a historic home that we could use?

Laurel

A. One solution would be to cover the ceiling with 3 / 8-inch-thick drywall, attached with two-inch drywall screws to ceiling joists. (This assumes the plaster and lath is about one inch thick. If it’s thinner, use slightly shorter screws.) Once the seams are taped and covered with drywall mud, then sanded smooth, you will have a good-as-new surface to paint. It won’t have the subtle textural changes of original plaster, but those aren’t very noticeable anyway on a ceiling with matte paint, as most ceiling paints are.

There are some new products for covering problematic ceilings. Armstrong (www.armstrong.com), for example, makes tiles and planks that you can glue on, using ceiling tile adhesive. But the company’s installation instructions contain a troubling statement: Armstrong doesn’t guarantee that the adhesive will work. That, Armstrong says, is the adhesive manufacturer’s responsibility.

I suspect a bird has set up house in the exhaust pipe of my kitchen stove, which extends about six feet from the top of the stove to the outside of my house. Can you recommend how I can humanely evict the unwelcome squatter? If there is no way I can safely do this myself, what other approach do you recommend?

Silver Spring

You’re probably best off calling a pest-control company to clear the pipe. Since birds aren’t nesting now, you don’t need to worry about kicking out any baby birds. Birds such as chickadees and house sparrows do sometimes huddle in old nests in winter, but if they’re in your vent and become startled when someone starts to clean it out, they should just fly away. Or the duct could be home to rodents.

Brussell Exterminating Service in Silver Spring (301-434-5610, www.brussellex.com) typically charges $175 to $225 to climb up to the vent opening, vacuum out whatever’s there and install a quarter-inch-mesh screen to keep anything from setting up house again.

You can try this on your own, but the vacuuming stage seems a little daunting. Picture yourself up on a ladder, praying that your vacuum is up to the task and trying not to breathe exhaust that might include bits of the nest remains. Seems like a better job for someone who has specialized gear (including a commercial-rated HEPA vacuum that captures all of the dust) and is up on a ladder every day.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in January, such as scheduling a fix-it day for minor repairs.

Have a problem in your home?

Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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