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Removing drywalled ceiling cleanly?

Ok, this will come off as a dumb question, but I never know until I ask...

I have a semi-finished basement. The ceilings are sheetrocked and popcorned-coated or whatever it is called. I am going to need to have access to the floor joists in the above the ceiling so that I can do some plumbing and electrical work when I renovate our bathrooms. So - I need to remove the sheetrock. It's old, water-stained, and it just bugs me for some reason to see it when I go down there because I don't have access to my house's 'guts'!

Now, I was just going to take a hammer and a crowbar and start ripping it down, but I have no timetable on this project and I hate messes. Is there a way to take this stuff down in a semi-neat manner? I mean it was screwed up there, can I unscrew it panel by panel and remove it that way? I guess it could be nailed?

A. Spruce
Re: Removing drywalled ceiling cleanly?

First, the popcorn ceiling could have asbestos in it, so have it tested if this is a concern for you. If the house is pre 1978 it's likely, post 1978 and asbestos presence is unlikely. Again, have it tested. Contact your county extension office or building department for a facility to perform the test for you. Regardless of asbestos presence, wear a good dust mask, gloves, and heavy boots.

With the health and safety warning out of the way, there's no easy or clean way to remove drywall, the best you can hope to do is minimize the mess. First, do you really need to strip the entire ceiling or only the work areas? If only the work areas, then scrape the entire ceiling (more on this in a moment ), carefully cut and remove the sections needed so that you can tape new rock in or install hatches. Then the ceiling can be retextured and painted. If you want to completely remove everything, then don't worry about removing the texture and just start ripping and tearing the ceiling down. You will want to use a utility knife around the perimeter at the wall transition so that you don't damage the walls. Use painters tarps (canvas tarps ) or heavy duty poly tarps to protect the floor and catch the debris.

Removing popcorn is easiest if it's not been painted and not impossible to remove if it has. Start by clearing the room of furniture and obstacles. Lay painters plastic and tape it to the walls. With a clean garden sprayer, mist the acoustic texture several times, allowing the moisture to soak in between sprays. Once sufficiently wet, use a flat blade such as a 6" drywall knife or a floor scraper to peel the texture off. Use care not to gouge the ceiling too much so that it's easier to float/repair later. Once you've got the ceiling scraped, you can pick up the debris with a dust pan and garbage bags to contain it. Next remove the sections of drywall needed for your work. With that done, you can pick up your painters plastic and dispose of the rest of the mess. You'll likely want to keep a tarp under the work areas to make clean up easier.

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