Mirror, Mirror Glued to Wall, Now I'm Stuck, Whom Shall I Call?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Q I have a bathroom mirror that has been glued to the wall. Why would anyone have done that? And is there any way to get it off without ruining the wall?

AYou can look into your mirror and smile, at least a little, because there are ways to get the mirror off. But it might not stay intact, and neither may your walls. And you'll almost certainly need the help of a professional.

The person who first stared into your mirror probably wasn't a dimwit, even though it may seem like that now. Large mirrors are very heavy, and attaching them with adhesive adds a considerable measure of safety. A glued-on mirror won't fall down, and if it breaks, most of the pieces will stay on the wall. The glue also allows the mirror to span a room from corner to corner, a nice stylistic touch in certain situations. And the adhesive fills small undulations in the wall, which helps the mirror stay flat. "You don't get a fun house effect," says Chris Palmer-Ball, vice president of Palmer Products Corp. in Louisville, Ky., which has been making mirror adhesive since Palmer-Ball's grandfather invented the product in 1933.

However, the downside of a glued-on mirror becomes apparent when you want to remove it. Glass shards can fly in all directions, and heavy pieces with jagged edges can come crashing down. Call a glass company to find someone trained in this tricky job, and check that whoever arrives to do the work uses protective gear to shield the face, hands and arms, as well as heavy dropcloths or other materials to protect your floor. Professionals also bring handles with suction cups so they can keep the mirror from crashing to the floor at the instant it becomes free.

When your mirror went up, the installer probably squirted out dollops of adhesive in a regular pattern. Pressure from the mirror then spread those spots into patches the size of small pancakes. Because asphalt-based mirror adhesives soften with heat, the removal company might begin by running a heat gun over the face of the mirror. If the adhesive becomes pliable, the mirror then might come down in one piece. Sometimes, though, the adhesive doesn't respond to heat. In that case, the removal crew may probe along the mirror edges in hopes of finding enough of a gap between the adhesive pancakes to slip in a small pry bar. Mirrors can sometimes be coaxed free this way. Or there may be just enough space to slip in a picture hanging wire, which can be pulled back and forth to saw through the adhesive.

When nothing else works, the demolition crew will probably decide to break the mirror and take it down piece by piece. To control the breakage, Zack Essarraj, owner of A & A Window & Glass in the District, often scratches a line on the front of the mirror with a glass cutter. With the suction handles, he then creates enough tension on the glass so that the scratch "runs" and forms a deep crack. In other situations, he covers the mirror with duct tape (to confine the shards), then hits the surface with a hammer that has a long handle, which keeps him as far as possible from the surface.

Essarraj charges $150 to $200 to remove a mirror about 4 feet by 6 feet, a typical size for one over a vanity. For a larger mirror that requires a ladder, he might charge $300 to $400. Some homeowners consider these fees excessive and tell him they'd rather do the work themselves, but Essarraj counsels them to consider the full picture. "You can get cut really bad," he notes, "and that can wind up costing you thousands and thousands of dollars in hospital bills." He got cut once himself. "We were pulling down with suction cups," he recalls, "and the next thing [I knew], a piece was coming down from the top. A split second was how long it took."

Depending on how the mirror comes down, your wall may be left with adhesive residue or even a series of craters where the adhesive once was. Mirror-removal services don't typically include patching and repainting the wall in their fee. If you don't want to do the repair work yourself, hire a painter, or perhaps a drywall contractor and then a painter. Paint the wall first with a primer designed to seal damaged drywall, such as Gardz, from Zinsser Co. When the primer is dry, fill any divots with drywall mud or skim a layer of drywall mud about 1/16 -inch deep over the entire wall. Wait for that to dry, then sand smooth, prime again with a standard water-based primer, and paint.

An upcoming column on how to fix drywall damaged during wallpaper removal will go into the repair procedures in more detail.

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