Q: Although my house was built only five years ago, some of the tape has pulled away from the wall. It looks like it is just peeling at the seams. I had a contractor come in with a price and he wanted $950 to fix the problem. He said the original Sheetrock contractor did not put enough mud beneath the tape. He seemed to think it was easy to fix, but the job requires a good deal of prep work. That’s the reason for the high price.

The tape is failing in only three areas, but one of them is on the ceiling, which is 18 feet high. I thought this was very expensive and it looks very easy to fix but I do not know what to do. Is this something I can do, and if so, how do I do it?

A: The price quoted sounds real steep to us. Repair is an easy job. We think you can tackle it yourself and save the $950.

Both you and the contractor are right. The cause of the problem is the original tape job. But we think that the mud was just too dry, instead of there not being enough of it.

We don’t understand what prep work the contractor is talking about. There shouldn’t be anything other than putting down a drop cloth to catch the mud crumbs that will fall when the tape is pulled off the walls and ceiling. Could be he doesn’t want to get on a ladder to repair the tape that is 18 feet from the ground.

Failed drywall tape on newer construction is common. Sheetrock joints are sealed with paper tape that is applied with joint compound, commonly called "mud." The first step in the application process is to spread a layer of mud over the joint. Tape is then imbedded into the wet mud using a drywall knife or a taping machine called a "banjo" or a "bazooka." The tape is then covered with the first coat of joint compound and allowed to dry. Two more coats of mud are applied over the tape to produce a smooth joint. Finally the whole wall is textured.

Problems arise when the initial layer of mud dries before the paper tape can be fully imbedded into it. This is common if taping is done on a hot summer day. Over time, the tape separates from the wall.

If you decide to take on the job, your most important consideration is safety. How are you going to get to the repair on the 18-foot ceiling? Unless you have a friend with a rolling scaffold tower or a scissor lift you’ll be making trips up and down a ladder. Make sure that ladder is dead solid stable and never overreach.

Now, if you’re ready to tackle this job, remove all of the furniture from your work area and cover the floor with a drop cloth. With a one-inch putty knife, pry the loose tape off the wall, making sure to get it all. Then clean the area to be repaired of loose material with a soft brush. Use fiberglass mesh tape to make the repairs. Because it’s self-adhesive it’s easy to apply. Where the ceiling and wall meet, just fold the tape in half and push it into the corner. Stick the tape on the joint and cover the tape with mud using a 2-inch putty knife. For the corner, imbed one side then the other.

Do not use premixed joint compound for this step. Instead use a "hot mud" product such as Durabond 45. Keep the first coat as smooth as possible and well below the level of the finished wall. Once the first coat is dry (about 45 minutes), apply a second coat, making sure to keep the mud below the level of the finished wall as well.

Use premixed joint compound to match the texture. You probably have a "skip-troweled" look — small raised pieces of texture that are flat on top. To match it, mix some water in to the mud to make a solution the consistency of toothpaste. With the tips of an old paintbrush, dab the mud onto the patch, extending it 2 to 3 inches over the surrounding area. Allow it to dry a bit and gently knock down the bumps with a drywall knife. It may take a couple of coats to bring the wall level with the finished wall. Repeat the process as necessary to blend the patch in. Prime it, paint it and you’re done — and $950 to the good.


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