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Tom Krauetler

What's the fastest way to get to the front door from the second floor? Through the ceiling! While replacing the floor in an upstairs bathroom, this homeowner momentarily forgot the age-old carpenter's adage for strolls among exposed floor joists: Always walk on wood!

Thanks to a step in the wrong direction during this bathroom remodel, ceiling repair and repainting are now on this homeowner's to-do list. Patching over the damage is pretty simple. But after the ceiling escape hatch is filled, they'll need to repaint the entire ceiling surface that surrounds it.

1. Begin by expanding the opening to make an even square or rectangular shape that reaches the next-nearest ceiling joist. The goal here is for the trimmed-away area to reach halfway across that ceiling joist so that you have a nailing edge for the new piece of drywall you'll install as a patch.

2. Next, cut a piece of drywall to fit the new opening. This drywall patch should match the thickness of the surrounding ceiling sheetrock (usually half an inch). But if your patch is slightly thinner, you can always use shims to make up the difference. Install the patch using drywall screws, driving them in just until they make a very slight dimple in the drywall surface.

3. Begin the patch's disappearing act by covering all seams with drywall tape. Drywall tape is available in paper or fiberglass mesh, and I recommend the latter because it's far easier to work with thanks to a self-adhesive surface and simple-to-smooth format. (Unless you are particularly skilled, the paper tape tends to trap air bubbles during adhesion with joint compound).

4. Once you've covered all edges of the opening with drywall tape, start a series of spackling rounds, beginning with an application using a 4" putty knife and layer of joint compound. Apply a thin layer that just barely covers the drywall tape, and after it has dried, sand the area to a smooth finish. Be warned that the sanding routine is messy─you'll want to protect yourself with a filtering mask and isolate the surrounding area with plastic.

After going two more rounds with the spackling and sanding using progressively larger spackling knives for the joint compound application (six-inch and then eight-inch; low-cost plastic spackling knives can save you a few dollars), it's time to paint the ceiling surface.

For the best, smoothest, nothing-ever-happened-here result, follow these simple interior painting tips: prepare the entire ceiling area to be painted with a light sanding and cleaning. Next, equip yourself with high-quality rollers or brushes and apply a coat of primer to the entire ceiling space, not just the patched area. The reason is that the new drywall will absorb paint differently than the old ceiling, resulting in a different sheen. By priming the entire surface, you'll be assured of an even top-coat that hides all evidence of the misstep that began this entire home improvement misadventure.

When it comes to the final finish, use a paint formulated specifically for ceilings (it'll be thicker and less likely to drip than wall paint), and choose a flat sheen that will absorb light rather than reflect it. Otherwise, you'll end up throwing a perpetual hallway spotlight on that foot-through-ceiling episode.

Skill Level?
Definitely DIY. You got yourself into this mess and we're confident you can DIY your way out!

Tom Kraeutler delivers home improvement tips and ideas each week as host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is also author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. You can also subscribe to Tom's latest home improvement podcast or free home improvement newsletter.

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  • amesshawn

    TTTT, I like the picture of the foot coming through the floor better than anything! Sounds like something I would do!

  • Brink

    Most likely guilty of measuring once before cutting.

  • Brink

    Most likely guilty of measure only once before cutting.

  • Dave

    I really want to thank Tom Kraeutler for his advice to all of the dyi readers. I get many jobs a year from home owners who start and can't finish the work.

    I love the part in the article that describes how easy it is to tape drywall. I cant count how many times I have had to go in and redo the whole drywall and taping plus that leads to another paint job.

  • Dick

    Ditto, Dave, I laugh when I read these columns by Eric Stromer, et al, and envision DIY'ers lopping off their fingers, investing in $5,000 worth of tools they do not have, or taking 6 months to complete a weekend project.

    Oh, also sounds like the "work" of a lot of other contractors out there, too...our "competition."

  • faye

    Good advice...but let me suggest one more thing....instead of "sanding" the drywall mud...try using a warm damp does the same job, just no dust.....

  • rich

    I have a little trick for you to add. Rather than cut the hole back to the center of the next stud, I cut just to the edge of the stud and then nail a 1 x 2 to the inside edge and screw the replacement drywall piece to that. Easier to cut and neater to finish.

  • j. gavala

    Typical, weekend warriers, and wanna be carpenters ? lol. So what else is new with these inexperienced ones? Forget to turn off the water before removing a shut off valve? lol..

  • Veronica RaRa


  • colleen

    My husband is a weekend warrior and his work is beautiful! He just completed a tumbled marble backsplash with glass tile accents and it is stunning next to the new granite that we had installed by professionals. I think the key is knowing what you are capable of. Everyone starts out inexperienced but can learn to do these things. Our bathroom remodel did involve the situation you described with water everywhere but in the end, the tile looks fantastic and there is a lot of pride when you do the work yourself. In this case, I think my husband is pretty talented!

  • Bryan Merritt

    If I accidentally fell through the floor I would never tell anyone. and besides it would have to have been caused by termites. You can tell by the story this guy is a mental giant.

  • tom

    I once did that with my boss and the custumer right below my dangling feet.

  • 12 Comments / 1 Pages

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