Q: Sometime in the past 50 or so years, someone thought it would be nice to remodel my entire entrance hall with glass blocks. And since it was never maintained, I am sure the wall below will have some water damage.

Anyway, because of the glass, the hall is always cold in the winter and hot during the summer. And it just looks bad and worn out. I would like to paint it over on the inside. Can it be done? I’m looking for a cosmetic fix until the day comes when I can get that entire side of the hall rebuilt.

A: You bet you can paint glass. Be aware that, as with any paint job, preparation is the key. It’s a good thing this is a short-term cosmetic fix, as the inside will look presentable, but the outside may look rough as a cob.

More than likely the glass blocks were installed to get light into the cramped space. The unintended consequence was heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Painting the blocks white will help with temperature control, but it will make the hall darker. If you opt for a darker color you risk making the space oppressive.

The key to painting glass is to etch the smooth surface, providing some "tooth" for the paint to adhere to. Commercial etching compounds are one option, but we suggest good old sandpaper. First clean the surface with alcohol to remove any oil or dirt. Open the front door so the space is well ventilated. Next, thoroughly sand the glass blocks with 100-grit sandpaper. An electric palm sander will ensure a quick and thorough job. You’ll know you’re done when the glass appears opaque. Rinse with alcohol and let dry.

Apply a primer coat; we’ve used a product called Kilz with success primer. Finally, apply one or two coats of acrylic paint to finish the interior.

Consider painting the exterior of the blocks to match the house. Prepare and prime the blocks, just as you did on the inside. But, since you have leaks, seal the cracks in the blocks and the joints with silicon-based latex caulk before applying the finish coats.

Q: Recently you wrote an article on finishing Sheetrock. It seems the key is to use as little mud as possible. I will keep trying, but when it comes to patching holes in walls, my patch job is always smoother than the surrounding finish. And it’s always quite obvious when you walk in a room that dear old Dad was working around the house.

In this case, I filled in two holes where wall sconces were. I put the circle of plaster that was cut out back in and filled in around it, but now it looks like a big smooth patch on an otherwise nicely textured wall. How do you match the surrounding texture when patching holes so it is not smooth?

A: You’re right; one key is to use as little joint compound as possible. But it’s also important that you use the proper consistency of mud. Most pre-mixed joint compound is too thick right out of the bucket. Thin the compound with water to a consistency where mud on a drywall knife turned sideways will slowly drip off. Picture a slow-moving lava flow and that’s about right.

Matching existing texture on a wall is a bit of trial and error. One thing they all have in common: When the mud goes on, it’s pretty thin. Here are some techniques:

  • For a granular, or "orange peel" finish, add some sand to the mud. Apply in a thin coat, let dry and lightly sand. Or, more expensive, but so much easier, as Bill recently discovered, buy an aerosol can of orange peel texture and spray it on.
  • For a stippled look, apply a thin coat of mud and dab with the tip of a paintbrush. If you’re after a fine texture, let the mud dry a bit and lightly run over it with a drywall knife to flatten out the bumps.
  • For a heavy stucco-like texture, mix some mud to a consistency a bit thicker than water, dip an old paintbrush in the mix and "flick" it on the wall. Make sure the mixture is thick enough so that it doesn’t run.
  • And, for a skip trowel look, apply the mud with a stiff wrist so that the knife skips along the surface of the wall, leaving traces of mud behind.

Again, a lot of this is feel, and the technique or combination of techniques you choose will depend on the texture you’re trying to match.

Our advice is to be patient and work with it. If the texture doesn’t look right, wipe it off and try again. When you hit on the technique that looks right, make sure to extend the texture 6 to 12 inches on the existing wall so that the patch blends in.

In time, others won’t be able to tell where dear old Dad was remuddling.


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