Welcome to my instructable on how to paint a vermiculite ceiling as an DIYer, by a DIYer, so yes, it's the blind leading the blind. I had never done one before, and truly put if off for near a decade out of pure terror of stuffing it up... but now i have, and if I do say so myself, quite successfully... So now I can share my experience with you, for what it's worth.
First of all - WHY VERMICULITE!!! oh have I cursed the person who first thought it might be a good idea to spray a concrete ceiling with a finish that looks like droppings from an enormous flock of concrete eating bats evenly spread out over the entire ceiling, as a final product for actual people to live in... and then for about a decade used that in thousands and thousands of low cost dwellings.... what were they thinking???
Now if you have a vermiculite ceiling then you know what the problem is. It's ugly, dark, and never looks like anything except sprayed on concrete droppings. It was used a lot in the 60s-70s in apartments with concrete floor/ceilings, at the time it was valued for it's soundproofing and fire retardant qualities. I'm not sure it still possesses those qualities some 40 years later but it's there, and so hard to remove likely to stay there til they knock the building down.
If you have one of these ceilings now you'll notice there may be marks on it from broom handle ends where the soundproofing hasn't been as effective as originally hoped, and in kitchens if there's no exhaust or rangehood you'll find drops of oil hanging off it that's awfully hard to clean. Not that painting it will stop the drops cleaning but I would suggest getting an exhaust fan before you go to all the trouble of painting it!
After a lot of research online about what to do with it, the possibilities seemed to be:
- Move house (wasn't an option at the time)
- Remove it (very hard and labour intensive!)
- Panel over it with battens and gyprock (too hard for me and too expensive to get done)
- Spray paint it (too hard to find an affordable spraygun that would work on ceilings, and the cost of hiring one meant its almost cheaper to buy one)
- Paint it with rollers (labour intensive and hard work)
As all of the options were problematic, I decided to start by trying to paint it with long nap rollers, then if that didn't work I'd work my way back up through the list.
So here are my 12 steps to a whiter, brighter vermiculite ceiling you can be proud to invite your friends to look at...
Step 1: Paint, Sealer, Primer
After intensive googling, and several conversations with professional house painters including those specializing in vermiculite, I discovered:
- Vermiculite sucks; and not just because it's such a pain in the backside! It soaks up sealer, primer, and paint - after all it is a bit of a spongy thing at its core. So whatever you use, you will need a lot of it.
- Vermiculite isn't always well bonded to the surface and may come away, particularly if loaded with too much paint. I read somewhere that brushing it with a stiff brush or broom prior to painting would brush away any loose bits and remove dust, and as it was my ceiling's vermiculite had no intention of falling off easily.
- Even professional painters often don't want to paint it!
- Recommendations for primer/sealer and paint vary depending on who you ask - one line of thinking said use an oil based primer and oil based paint, others said you could just use regular ceiling paint but would need a lot of coats. Ultimately i found a Sydney based company that sells a paint especially for vermiculite that is a paint, primer and sealer all in one, water based and with low VOC (volatile organic compounds, which although I'm not entirely sure what they are I am reliably informed are a VBT - very bad thing!!), as well as tropical mould resistant and flame retardant to boot, and as someone with all kinds of allergies I thought this might be the best option. As it happened I barely got any reaction to this at all (altho i didn't sleep in the room for a few days after painting).
Decide on, and buy, the paint you intend to use. As i said I went with the special vermiculite paint from durobond (durabond?) in Sydney (around $158 for 15 litres when I bought it in 2011 - they recommend 1 litre per square metre to be on the safe side which i think is about right if not generous) - it's a sealant, binder and finish all in the one paint so really not so expensive when you get over the initial shock. Its also water based where the other sealant products that were recommended for sealing vermiculite were oil based, so much easier to clean up.
But make sure you CALL AHEAD to make sure they have what you need in stock as i found out the hard way, they sell out at times. They do ship or deliver for a cost, but remember paint is really heavy.
Step 2: Masking
2. Mask up everything you don't want to get paint on. Even the fridge, which you imagine you will be replacing after the renovation, because although it's white the paint still shows up and once you've finished the reno you realize you can't really afford a new fridge and anyway it actually works perfectly well except for all the paint on it...
Don't forget your light fittings, mask the whole fitting if you can't remove it. If you want to remove the fitting, get a sparky to come in and remove the fittings and cap off the ends and mask the wiring. I wouldn't recommend doing it yourself but if you do make sure you TURN OFF THE ELECTRICITY FIRST AT THE FUSE BOX to avoid death by electrocution and only being found when then neighbours report an odd smell!!! Be sure to cap off the ends and wrap in plastic again with more tape and if you are being super careful LEAVE THE ELECTRICITY OFF while you are painting around it.
Protect your floor, furniture etc you'd normally do for painting a room (unless you plan to replace the flooring afterwards, as I did - that's a whole 'nuther instructable!)
Step 3: Sweep the Ceiling...
3. Prepare the ceiling by gentle firm brushing with a soft long handled broom, you'll hear and see loads of bits fall away, and be sure to wear your dust mask and eye protection. Any old brush will do, not too stiff but not too soft, you will need to find something just right...
I gave it a few sweeps overall - that removes the loosest stuff and stops little bits of gravelly stuff going into your paint tray.
Step 4: Paint the Frame of the Ceiling
4. Paint the corner where the walls meet the ceiling with a brush - I used an old slightly stiffened one because it held the un-thinned paint better and got nicely into the spaces between the lumps of vermiculite.You can do this before you start the ceiling, or after - I did it after (or should I say my lovely niece did it after!) but next time think I'd do it first.
By now you will have worked out that painting and renovating your home is best done in a particular order, top to bottom:
a) Edges and corners
c) Major installations (such as kitchens, large wardrobes)
e) Flooring (except where you want a kitchen or robe installed on top of the flooring)
f) Trim, skirting boards, doors and all for good reason - if you lay your beautiful floating timber floor then have your kitchen or bathroom installed with grit, work boots and tools falling all over it there WILL be tears....
Step 5: Equipment - Rollers, Trays, Handles...
Get some long nap rollers - as long as you can get. Because I have dodgy shoulders and needed to be gentle with myself I ended up using very short, as in lengthwise, like 8-10 inch, long nap rollers. But if you are buff and strong go ahead and get the wider ones. You will also want nice long handles, my favourite was extendable long enough so it reached my hips so I could really lean into it when necessary. I did end up with odd bruises on my hips from the repeated pressure of pushing, that's when I started to thin the paint... Also get a number of rollers as they wear out, depending on how much ceiling you have, and maybe some spare handles, as I broke a couple along the way.
Of course you need a large paint roller tray, and I'd also recommend a large plastic sheet underneath or a nice smooth board so when you slop over the edge you can clean it up easier.
Step 6: Self Care
Call and make an appointment with your chiropractor, massage therapist, reflexologist or acupuncturist because you will need it after all this is over.
Make sure you take regular breaks, stretch, keep the windows and doors open for ventilation, and keep hydrated. I did this ceiling over the summer and got really worn out and forgot to eat and drink enough so I'm talking from sorry experience!
Also mask up yourself - you want a decent dust mask and probably eye protection - for sweeping the ceiling as well as the painting. You may have already checked if your complex has asbestos in the vermiculite - some did and most didn't - so be aware of the risk and source it out if you don't want to do it yourself.
Step 7: Enlist Asssitance If at All Possible!
Now for the fun bit. Invite friends and family over for a party then lock the doors and give them a roller.Yes, they will undoubtedly yell a lot at first and try to make a break for it, but eventually they will see just how much fun it could be and be an enthusiastic team of willing workers for you.
Step 8: Thin the Paint to Ease the Pain...
For those of you willing to recklessly disregard instructions and need to make the physically strenuous and often frustrating task of trying to force thick paint onto a ceiling never designed to be painted easier on yourselves, this is a VERY USEFUL STEP: water the paint down a bit, but bear in mind it will reduce some of the qualities and coverage of the paint. I found around about 5:1 paint to water was enough to save my poor shoulders and back - and when i got really tired I made it 4:1 (apologies to Durobond!)
Having now lived with the results for a couple of years with nothing flaking off or disintegrating I can happily say I'd do the same again next time (assuming I'm ever crazy enough to paint another vermiculite ceiling...).
Step 9: Now Paint, Paint, Paint!
Paint the whole ceiling, and let it dry. I think it was 4 hours between coats give or take, but check the instructions on the paint tin. Whenever I took a short break I'd put the unwashed roller into a plastic bag and tie it off with something or other, which kept it moist enough to keep going. Wash out your rollers at the end of the day or you'll be buying new ones every coat.
Re-coat when dry, again, thinning as required, and do as many coats as you need to satisfy yourself with the opacity. I managed with 3 coats, and the odd 4th coat on touch ups, but may have been less with less thinning.
Step 10: Look It Over Once or Twice...
Check final coat under various lighting conditions to make sure you haven't missed any spots - what my dad used to 'holidays' when we were painting the house when I was young. Don't look too closely as you'll drive yourself nuts, and remember that once the ceiling is pretty much white you won't notice the tiny holes you do now. I spent a bit of time lying on the floor in different places and looking up to see what I'd missed, but since I finished the painting I have only ever glanced momentarily at the ceiling and my admiring visitors have never once pointed out the tiny imperfections that seemed so glaring at the time.
Touch up with a brush using only slightly thinned paint, but be careful and perhaps feather the edges so you don't have a completely different tone sticking out like a sore thumb. Then sit down with a nice cup of tea and admire your handiwork and beautiful, brightened ceiling for a few minutes, then go and jump in the ocean, or a hot bath, or get along to your chiropractor, massage therapist, or alternative health practitioner...
Every time I look up at my ceiling I am glad I went to all the trouble... And even more so when I look at an unpainted vermiculite ceiling.
I hope my experience is helpful to some of you out there in the land of 70's urban low cost architecture.
And for my next instructable I will try to show you how to paint something more exciting, like an international rock star :)