It is very rare for a ceiling to be made of anything except plaster or plaster board. Even when the ceiling itself is formed from concrete the lower face is always covered with a plaster board or plaster and therefore, from the home craftsman’s point of view, nearly all ceilings may be treated alike.
It is customary too for ceilings to be white, though there is no strict reason why they should not be also coloured or patterned. Modern colour schemes sometimes provide for this but on the whole the white or very pale ceiling is most favoured still.
Repairs hardly enter into the question for if they are minor, as with the filling of tiny cracks, then this is simplicity itself. Major work, where the damage is extensive and the ceiling requires replastering, is not a job to be tackled by an amateur at all. It is all too easy in trying to repair one section to bring down the rest!
Our main concern here is with the decorative methods. There are three main types: painting; papering; or the application of the modern expanded polystyrene wall covering, often in the form of tiles.
Probably the commonest of these methods is painting, usually with an emulsion paint. There is nothing at all difficult about this process except to prevent splashes upon adjacent walls and floors. Emulsion paint that is allowed to dry on these surfaces is extremely difficult to remove. So ceiling painting is really a four-handed job with an assistant following on, wiping away all
spots as they are made. Distemper is still used sometimes for ceilings and gives an effective covering. Ceilings are not subject to wear and do not attract a great deal of dirt. Distemper does, however, frequently flake and it also has a habit of shedding a fine dust. Even the so-called washable distempers are not so easily cleaned as an emulsion paint.
Papering is one of those jobs which traditionally are extremely difficult and has s been featured in more than one comedy play. In fact, although the process requires patience, there is nothing really difficult in getting a good job, especially with modern pastes. These do not show very much, even if you get a trace on the paper surface. There is a definite technique to papering a ceiling and we describe later a simple tool which you can make to help with this.
Lastly, expanded polystyrene coverings have become popular because they give an attractively textured, warm and permanent surface. True, these surfaces cannot easily be cleaned but they do remain white for a long time and at the last can be painted with emulsion paint. They are simple to apply and relatively cheap.
One important fact about them should be more generally known. On no account must they be painted over with oil paint. The reason is that oil paint applied over the surface of expanded polystyrene is, in effect, suspended in the air, the air in the bubbles of the polystyrene and the air of the room itself. A paint film suspended like this will burn very rapidly indeed. If a flame approaches it a large ceiling will burst into flames almost instantly. Worse still, the heat of the flames melts the polystyrene and causes the blazing tiles to fall, so extendina the fire to anything beneath them.
It must be made clear that this risk only arises when the ceiling tiles have been painted. There is no fire risk where tiles are applied and left unpainted.
To avoid this danger we also recommend that the tiles be well glued. For some years the traditional method was to fasten them into place with five blobs of cement. This is perfectly effective in holding tiles in place but it does not hold them so firmly if fire does break out.
Besides their pleasing appearance, tiles have a certain amount of heat insulation value. However, this is of importance only if they are exceptionally thick. Anything less than about in. will hardly make any difference at all to the insulation of the ceiling. The simplest way of insulating a ceiling, especially in bedrooms, is to spread granules of vermiculite in the space above the plaster, between the ceiling joists.
This is easily done if there is no floor to the loft above the bedroom. This granulated material has a high insulating value and may be applied to any thickness from a minimum of about 1 in. However the whole question of insulation in the home is a wide one and we cannot cover it in detail here.
Perhaps we should mention finally the decorative processes which are similar to paint but give a plastic surface. There are a number of manufacturers who produce plastics of this kind which are applied to any smooth surface of wall or ceiling to give a moulded contour effect. These are not at all difficult to apply provided the manufacturers instructions are followed and very particularly that the ceiling is well cleaned down. Indeed, the cleaning down is the part of job which is most difficult, most important and most likely to be neglected ! It is not a pleasant job to try to remove layers of old flaking distemper, for example.
The water that is used runs down ones arm and clothing. The distemper tends to come away in an unpleasant mush and a great deal may be dropped on the floor or furniture.
You can protect your arms against some of this mess by cutting an ordinary domestic sponge into two strips and tying them about the wrists. These will trap water running down from the hands. When they are soaked they are wrung into a bowl. After washing and scraping, the exposed plaster can be rubbed down and any cracks filled.
It is most important when a ceiling is to be prepared that a proper sizing be given. Otherwise, you will find it difficult to get a rapid and smooth ‘stick’.
Let us end with a special word of advice which applies to all treatment of ceilings. Make sure you have available safe means for getting up to the job. Trestles that are strong and stable. Step-ladders that have wide spread bases and are very carefully arranged. These are essential. A large table with
strong legs may be very useful, because it gives a certain amount of freedom of movement. Take great care though, not to step off the edge while looking up!
Do not tackle ceiling decoration if you only have a single pair of steps. You are almost certain to reach too far on some occasion and come down heavily. Nor should you tackle the job while you are in the house alone. Even with the best of scaffolding there are sometimes accidents and no one should risk having a fall with no one nearby to help.
Tools needed for ceilings
You will not need any special tools other than those we have already given under the headings of painting and wallpapering.
Of course ladders or trestles are essential. For work with expanded polystyrene tiles you will find a razor tool extremely useful because it takes a very sharp blade to cut these tiles accurately. However, where the cutting is only at the edges of the ceiling and particularly when coving is to be used you can trim these tiles quite well with long bladed scissors. The edge resulting is a little irregular but this is concealed by the coving. This is a much quicker method than any other.
Those cracks and holes
1 Repairing cracks in ceiling plaster is, in principle, the same as repairing them in walls. But a worthwhile tip is to mix up your filler in a saucepan lid ..
2 . . and hold this beneath your knife as you squeeze the filler into place. The lid will catch the inevitable drips.
3 Finally, paint the whole ceiling with size or a thin mix of cellulose paste.