Z-Brick Removal #4

Z-Brick Removal #4
This week’s installment of Kitchen Renovation Nightmares concludes my account of removing the Z-Brick from the walls of our kitchen and laundry.  See the first installment of Kitchen Renovation Nightmares for the beginning of the discussion.

The second installment described the test I decided to try and the preparation of the wall.

The third installment detailed the initial skim coating test process that I tried and the results.  My test area looked fairly smooth and was much better than having the Z-Brick.


This week I will explain refinements to the skim coating process that I learned subsequent to my initial test.

My test effort left me convinced that I could remove all of the Z-Brick and get a reasonable finish.  I hoped that the walls would look pretty good once they were painted.  I was not sure whether we would need to apply a light orange peel texture to hide any unevenness.  In the end we did not need to add any texture.

The first refinement involved a better technique when applying and scraping off the joint compound (also known as “mud”).  I watched some additional videos, and I paid attention to some professionals skim coating the ceiling of our kitchen.

I discovered that a stiff taping knife was the best for me when applying and scraping off the mud.  The knives come in various sizes with 10 to 12 inches most commonly used for skim coating.  However, I found that I was best able to handle a 6-inch knife for the areas that I was skim coating.

Rather than a bucket or a paint tray, I purchased a stainless steel mud pan.  This is a 3.5-inch deep rectangular pan that holds the mud you mix, apply, and scrape off.

Now, rather than using the pre-mixed joint compound, I mixed just the amount of powder that I needed in my pan.  Again, I wanted a creamy texture (think sour cream).  Make sure the pan is completely clean of any old mud or debris, or it will corrupt the mud you mix.

You can get faster and slower drying times for the mud, so be sure to only mix up what you can use before it starts to harden.  I mostly used 20-minute mud, but be careful, because 20 minutes goes by very quickly.

Once I had the mud mixed in my pan, I used my knife to slather a generous amount onto part of the section of wall I was working on.  I worked in approximately 4’ x 8’ sections.  This meant that I started at the top of the wall and applied the mud to a couple of feet of wall.  Next, I scraped the knife clean on my pan.  I also kept a damp rag handy to wipe off the knife and any splatters.

Using the clean knife, I scraped down the wall removing most of the mud that I had just applied.  I scraped off the material from my knife into the pan as I went.  This leaves a thin coat on the wall and fills in the depressions.  I kept applying and scraping off the mud until I finished the section.

After the mud dried, I sanded the section smooth, and I re-coated the section as I deemed necessary.  Two to three coats left the wall smooth.

The final trick to getting a very smooth finish is to use taping and topping compound.  This material comes in a plastic bag inside a box.  It looks and feels like sticky bread dough, so you have to thin it to that creamy consistency.  You don’t need much.  It leaves a very smooth finish that you sand with fine or very fine sandpaper.

After the wall is dry you need to prime it with a primer/sealant meant for drywall.  This will seal the wall and leave it ready for final painting.

As an illustration, here is one kitchen wall after I had removed the Z-Brick and prepared it for skim coating.

Kitchen wall prior to skim coat

Here is the same area after skim coating two coats and sanding.

Kitchen wall after two skim coats

And here is the wall after applying the taping and topping compound, priming, painting and finishing the surrounding areas.

Good luck, and let me know if you try this.

Z-Brick Removal #3

Z-Brick Removal #3
This installment of Kitchen Renovation Nightmares continues my account of removing the Z-Brick from the walls of our kitchen and laundry.  See the first installment of Kitchen Renovation Nightmares for the beginning of the discussion.  The second installment described the test I decided to try and the preparation of the wall.

This time I will detail the skim coating process I followed.

Skim coating involves the application of joint compound to the surface of a wall.  Essentially, you apply joint compound to a surface, and then you scrape off the compound in order to fill the various depressions and rough patches in the surface.  Multiple applications ultimately result in building up a smooth finish.

There are a number of videos on the web that show the process.  The videos tend to make it look easy, but (of course) everything is harder than you think, and it takes practice to get the hang of it.

One video I watched showed a nice lady covering every awful surface easily.  She used a thick roller to spread a layer of joint compound on the surfaces.  She then used a squeegee knife to smooth over the surfaces.  Zip zot, and it was done!  This is what I tried first.

It was not that easy to find a 12” squeegee knife locally, so I eventually ordered one.  I also got a ¾” nap roller for applying the joint compound and a paddle attachment to mix up the joint compound.  I felt I was now ready to start the test.

List of materials for test:

  • 12” squeegee knife
  • 5-gallon bucket of pre-mixed joint compound
  • ¾” nap roller cover (heavy nap roller)
  • Paint roller frame with handle extension
  • Paint pan
  • Painters tape
  • Tarp for the floor

I had already removed a section of the Z-Brick from my test area.  I then prepared the wall as I discussed in the second installment.  This left me with a brick-less section of wall (approximately 1.5’ x 8’) that was sanded and primed but was still very rough.

I used pre-mixed joint compound in my test.  I thinned this by mixing in water (starting with 8 ounces for a 5-gallon tub).   The idea is to get a creamy consistency like sour cream or pancake batter.  Remember you need to coat the wall and then scrape it off.  I did not really understand the scraping aspect that well when I started.

I discovered two things pretty quickly.

First, rolling the joint compound onto the wall did not work well for me.  I found it difficult to get the roller in the bucket, so I poured some of the compound into a paint tray.  The material just proved hard to get on the roller, and it was difficult (for me) to apply to the wall.  Nevertheless, I persisted and got the compound applied to the test area.

Second, the squeegee knife does not work as well as a good drywall knife for the scraping process.  After applying the compound, I tried to scrape the material off with the squeegee knife, but it just did not leave a good finish.  As I was extremely novice at that point, I am sure that my technique was at least partly to blame.  In spite of this, I was able to get my first coat on the test area.

Here is a word to the wise at this point.  Make sure to carefully cover your floors, be careful what you wear, and watch the placement of the joint compound bucket.  I say this because the joint compound can get pretty messy … all over you and all over the floor and adjoining walls.  I also managed to show my agility by stepping down from my step ladder right into the joint compound bucket!  Shades of the Three Stooges!

When the wall was dry, I used a fine sanding paper to smooth out the wall before the second coat. You sand in between coats.  I found that a fine sanding block worked much better for this process.  You may require a pole sander for large or hard to reach areas.

Typically, you apply three coats.  You apply the material up and down and then scrape up and down, then you apply the material left to right and scrape left to right, and lastly, you do another up and down pass.

When I completed this process, I painted with a primer for drywall.  The result was acceptable, but not great.

Next time, I will tell you about the tricks I learned subsequently.  These methods produce much nicer finishes and work a lot better.

See you then.

Z-Brick Removal #2

Z-Brick Removal #2
In the first installment of Kitchen Renovation Nightmares I began a discussion of removing Z-Brick.  The prior owner of our house covered all of the kitchen and laundry walls in faux brick (Z-Brick).  We wanted to redo our kitchen and the Z-Brick had to go!  Of course this was harder than we thought.

Our house is over 60 years old, and we did not want to have to demolish the walls.  As I mentioned last time, I learned about a technique called skim coating that I hoped would fix the problem.  I determined to test the technique.  I chose a section of wall in the laundry room as my test area.

Z-Brick is affixed to the wall with a cement-like material.  The “bricks” come off somewhat easily with a hammer and pry bar.  However, the wall surface that is left is pretty bad, with chunks removed, globs of cement, and very rough sections of cement.

This next view gives you a better idea of how rough the wall is after taking off the bricks.

In order to prepare the surface for skim coating, I proceeded by knocking off the globs of cement with a hammer and putty knife.  This left me with a “smoother” surface with chunks of plaster missing:

My next step was to power-sand the wall with coarse grit sandpaper.  This gave me a more uniform surface that still had many chunks missing:

From here, I decided to patch the areas where there were open spots, dips, and holes.  I used light spackling compound for the patching.  Once the compound was hard, I sanded it:

The final step before beginning the skim coat was to prime the surface.  For this purpose, I used Zinsser® Bulls Eye 1-2-3® Water Base Primer paint.

The test area was now ready for skim coating.  While the picture makes the area look smooth, it was definitely quite rough.

Next time, I will go through the actual skim coating process I followed.  I found over time that some things worked and some did not.

Until then.

Z-Brick Removal #1

Z-Brick Removal #1

Well, it is time for the first installment of Kitchen Renovation Nightmares. This time we will discuss the joys of removing Z-Brick. What is Z-Brick you ask?

Z-Brick is a plastic material made to look like real brick. Each “brick” is about an eighth of an inch thick. The bricks are glued or cemented to the wall to give the appearance of real brick. The product is still around, and it is in many houses where this was done as far back as the 1950’s.

Depending on how well this was done, it may look good or bad. The prior owner of our house had done a fair job as you can see below. However, over the years we had really grown to dislike this stuff, and we wanted to remove it as part of our kitchen renovation.

If you search on the web for “removing Z-Brick”, you will find that almost everyone tells you to demo the walls, and put in new drywall. Some people tell you to put the drywall over the Z-Brick. This is because the “cement” they use to affix the Z-Brick is pretty much like regular cement. It doesn’t come off easily, and it often takes chunks of the wall with it, or it leaves a big glob of cement where the brick used to be.

The demo method is great, if you are a contractor or a wiz at drywall. If you are not, then you need to have a contractor do this. It gets worse, if you have lath and plaster underneath as we did.

So what else can you do?

After watching a number of videos on the web about hanging drywall, I came across a procedure called skim coating. This is a technique for finishing walls that consists of applying thin coats of joint compound to the walls to give a smooth paint-able finish.

After reading an article and watching a number of videos, I decided to do a test to see if this would work on a wall with the Z-Brick removed. If it didn’t work, I would then have to go ahead and remove the plaster and lath, and put in drywall.

Of course the videos make it look easy to cover almost any nightmare texture on any wall. Don’t be fooled; Everything Is Harder Than You Think. However, this process does work, if you are willing to put in the effort.

The next couple of blogs will demonstrate the process I used for my test and the results. The picture below shows the section of wall that I started with after removing some of the bricks. The bricks come off easily enough with a pry bar and hammer.