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Save Time Installing Wallpaper

September 30 2010

Don’t let the size of a wallpaper job daunt you. Today’s wallpapers are easier to install than ever, especially if you have the right tools and organization. 

The right tools

Get your tools together first, so you don’t have to stop in the middle of the job to run to the paint store.

Removing wallpaper is easy – just pull it off the wall. But some papers can be stubborn. If your paper doesn’t peel off easily, you’ll need: a sponge or sponge mop, a bucket of tepid water, a two-inch putty knife and a five or six-inch putty knife. 

Use painter’s tape and plastic sheeting on the lower molding to prevent water from spilling onto floors and carpet.   Scoring tools are not necessary and can cause damage to your sheetrock and plaster.  Plus, you will spend hours picking off quarter or dime size bits of paper. Have wallpaper removal liquids handy that you can squirt onto patches that don’t come clean.

Installing paper requires different tools from the wall preparation.  You’ll need: an exacto knife, yardstick, plastic smoother or smoothing brush, seam roller, wallpaper water tray, plastic sheeting, scissors, pencil, wall sizing, a large level, and a washable surface card table. 

If you need to add paste, you will need a bucket for the paste, paste, and paint brush or roller, a washable surface card table to lay out the paper for cutting and pasting, plus a large clean sponge and water bucket. 

Generally, walls that have already had paper on them don’t need a lot of prep work.  Still, you’ll want to fill in holes and settlement cracks before papering again. For that, you’ll need: a putty knife, mud or other filler, sanding strips and tack cloth.  

Prepare to paper

First, remove as much furniture as possible.  Remove outlet covers, smoke alarms, pictures, nails and any breakables.  Give yourself plenty of area to work.  Set up your table for removing the paper.   Tape plastic along the bottom of the wall to catch water, debris, and to protect carpet or flooring.  
Test an area first by picking out a corner and pulling on your old paper.  If the paper pulls away easily, just keep pulling.  Older paper or unstrippable paper will require moisture to soften the paste.  Dip your sponge into the water and push up the wall from the bottom to top.  Let the paper absorb the water for a few minutes, then gently lift an edge with a putty knife and pull away the paper.   

Many papers will come off easily, but they leave a solid paper backing.  Remove the wallpaper first, then moisten the backing with the sponge technique.  Lift an edge with a putty knife and pull.

Gather the stripped paper and put into lawn and leaf trash bags for disposal.

Prepare the walls

Any surface that will have paper should be primed with a wallpaper sizing product (primer) or it should be painted.  Improperly prepared walls will only cause problems later – your paper either won’t stick or it will be difficult to remove.

Begin measuring at the least prominent corner or doorway. That way, if you’re slightly off in your measurements and pattern alignment, the mistake won’t be apparent. Lightly mark with a pencil a spot that is an inch shorter than the paper’s width.  Use a level to draw a line from the floor to the ceiling following the original mark.  Your paper will be aligned to the mark which serves as a plumb line.  

Prepare the paper

For pre-pasted wallpapers, cut a measured strip with a utility knife at least 4 inches longer than the wall length, taking care to have enough to match patterns.  Immerse one half of the paper in the water tray, sliding it out and loosely folding it onto itself.  Repeat with the bottom half and fold back onto itself, meeting the first half in the middle.

When you’ve come back to the point of origin, overlap the final strip by an inch or so and trim both at the same time.  

Since most residential wallpapers are pre-pasted, you won’t need advice for pasting it yourself. But if you’ve purchased paper that isn’t pasted, you might consider hiring a professional installer.

Oklahoman Kathy Thompson, owner of Wallpapering by Kathy, is a 30-year wallpapering professional. She says, “People don’t realize what a mess pasting can be.  It can get everywhere and be difficult to clean up.  Also, the paper can be more fragile than pre-pasted.”   

Cut your paper strip to size, lay pattern size down onto a dry table.  Use a brush or roller to apply paste to paper on the table, covering every inch of space.  Fold the pasted section onto itself.  Keep fold loose.  Slide up the next section and repeat.  Fold up the section onto itself loosely.  Set aside for no more than five minutes before hanging. 

The table will be wet, so be sure to sponge off the table between strips so that the paste doesn’t get onto the pattern side of the strips.  Also, you don’t want the adhesive to stick to the table. 

Hanging the paper

Apply the top half of the paper, starting at the ceiling, aligning to the plumb line.  At least two or more inches will extend beyond the top of the ceiling and the top of the baseboard.  Smooth the paper using a smoothing brush or plastic smoother.  Stroke from the middle of the strip out with only just enough pressure to smoothe the bubbles and wrinkles, without tearing the paper. 

Push the paper as close to the ceiling mold or ceiling as you can with your putty knife. That keeps the paper taut, allowing you to trim the excess off with your exacto knife. Use your seam roller to roll each seam, then repeat rolling about 15 minutes later.  Wipe off any excess paste with a clean sponge and dry cloth.

Once a wall is finished, move to the next wall and protect the area as before.  Follow your plumb lines and check your paper with a level to ensure you are on track. 

Wallpapering is not an easy job, but it is a rewarding one.  Be sure to save your scraps for patches and the manufacturer’s pattern and dye lot in case you need to order more paper.  Once you see the durability and the richness of a beautiful paper, you’ll be glad you dressed your walls so nicely.