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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been plagued by a few terrible things. I say terrible, but really, that’s just an excuse to use another lyric-inspired post title (as I’ve done before, like here, here, and hereand by the way, if you haven’t heard of April Smith and the Great Picture Show, I would suggest checking her out. Some of her stuff is downright catchy and fun to play while I’m doing terrible things… like skim coating).

The main thing on this liste de terribles? Mocking, progress-halting bubbles – AKA, completely losing faith in my DIY abilities to get around a nagging problem in the dining room and kitchen.

You see, when I started teaching myself how to skim coat, I started in my upstairs primary bathroom. It was small, the wallpaper came off relatively easily (not great, but compared to the others I’ve experienced since, a walk in the park), and I saw zero bubbling despite my lack of technique and skipping a step of priming the wall (which, at the time, I was unaware would be necessary).

I had more experience under my belt by the time I started on my guest bathroom. I was confidently covered in drywall dust and confident that I knew all of the ins and outs of this tedious, messy, but completely doable project. I’d won.

And then, I started on my kitchen and dining rooms. The wallpaper was more stubborn to remove in these areas. There was far more damage, and much more peeling drywall paper. But no matter, I thought. I’ve done this twice. And as we all know, in DIY terms, that’s practically pro status.*

After starting on a few walls, the skim coat started to experience a strange new phenomenon: bubbling. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t seen it before upstairs. Was I thinning the joint compound too much? Was it different drywall? Had I just lost my technique? I couldn’t seem to fix it with additional coats; the bubbles would still appear. It was coming from inside the house under the torn paper.

When I contemplated moving earlier this year due to my (not-quite-as-new-anymore) job,  I had a contractor come over to give me an estimate on finishing up several projects around the house. One, of course, was speeding up this whole skim coat process and allowing a pro to execute my to-do list swiftly while I adjusted to the idea of selling. And here is when I received my first piece of advice: I was supposed to prime the damaged drywall before adding a skim coat. Doing so would lock down the torn paper and make it more rigid, thereby fixing the bubbling problem. Since I had only done a few walls and had just barely started on the first coat, he was sure that painting things over with an oil primer would be the magic fix.

And then, circumstances changed and I didn’t need to hire him right away. So I took his advice and painted everything with oil primer.

when i can't sleep

It stunk. It dried. It didn’t work.

I still wound up seeing bubbling despite trying to seal the paper. There was a small improvement, but not the significant difference I expected. So, now what? I didn’t really blame the contractor; it was what worked for him countless times – maybe something I did was different. Would I just have to work to minimize the bubbling and hope for the best? Should I adjust to the idea that my walls would remain bubbled and ugly? Did I have to start over? I didn’t want to actually hire this out unless there really was no other option. And don’t forget, I’m stubborn – after all, I had figured this out twice before.**

fan on oil primer in dining room

And here’s where I failed. I couldn’t see around my problem. I manage to salvage three of the four dining room walls to get to a consistently smooth state, but I could tell from working on my pantry that the kitchen was going to prove the most difficult of all of the rooms I’ve tackled. I painted the three walls in the dining room and kept trying to work on the fourth to finish things up, but up close, my results were far from perfect.

None of my efforts were paying off. Not even throwing tools helped (which honestly, that and drinking a beer tends to work quite well). Defeated and frustrated, I gave up.

diy rut

I went looking for answers online, but I had lost my faith that trying something new was going to work. A pro with way more experience gave me a solution that didn’t work for my house, so maybe what I wanted (perfection) was just not possible. Reading a few contractor forums left me at a dead end too, since pros don’t always agree on the same technique or product (not intending to knock pros here – just like us DIYers, they find what works for them and stick with it, which makes sense as to why there are different ways to do the same project, but it makes things more difficult and/or intimidating when you’re hoping for a single, foolproof plan to do it yourself).

I was stuck for (what felt like) a long time. So much so, that as work started getting busier, I allowed myself the excuse that I was simply too busy to finish my dining room right now. It could wait another week… or two. And as a result, I also lost my desire to post updates on my lack of progress (when you don’t have any, what’s the point?). It seemed like all around me, I was bored with DIY – when in reality, I was just lost.

I hated it. I hated not doing anything and not seeing change. But I needed more than a sense of obligation to renew my DIY mojo. I needed to find an answer and feel like a badass again, no matter if that took days or weeks of zero progress. So, I put down the mud pan and walked away.

And wouldn’t ya know it (#diytip)…

mud pan

I found the solution I was looking for. It took a little bit of time… more than I had hoped for. But it was what I needed. I was focusing on the problems I’d created for myself instead of looking for a way to fix them. Once I took a step back, I could see things a little clearer. And I’m back on track. Maybe still a bit sluggish, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no substitute for taking the time you need to just do your thing the way you want to do it. Drowning out the noise and figuring out the puzzle is worth it. The other crap will still be there when you’re ready to come back.

I’ll have a tutorial dedicated to fixing bubbling drywall problems (and how to prevent them) in a post coming up soon; before then though, I‘ve got a reader question to answer, so look for that this week!

P.S. Thanks for reading along, even during my slow-down… I’m feeling inspired lately, so while that may not mean a daily update, I’m hoping this is the kind of momentum that’s been missing for me in this last month or so!).

*less pro status and more hubris

**again, arrogance

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  1. I’m with you in spirit Sarah (or lack of spirit). I’ve noticed several others in my reading list hit the end of summer doldrums too. I totally lost my mojo and have been taking a longer than expected break. It’s hard to write about the same DIY stuff when it doesn’t go the way you want it to. Mine is the never-ending swimming pool disaster.

    Good luck on killing this project off once and for all.

  2. Good for you for working through it in your own way – I feel like this can be a metaphor for most of life’s challenges…. In the meantime, I cannot WAIT to find out your solution!!

  3. Sadly, I totally feel your pain on the bubbling walls (in the dining room no less). Our drywall LOOKED fine, and after primer (which Sherwin Williams said we didn’t even need) it was fine, and after one coat of paint it was fine, and then the SECOND coat of paint…it bubbled back up. It must be the residue of the 20 year old glue in the walls (they were washed, and patched and sanded, x2)–stupid alien glue. We ended up doing a super light second coat and then pushing the bubbles out by hand. Ugh. Hope you find your solution soon!

  4. I am sorry for the troubles you experienced! However this was a very inspiring post for me with you final conclusion. Becoming so focused on the problem that it distracts you from a real solution. I guess that’s what it took for you to become an even better DIYourselfer:).

  5. Not going to lie…I couldn’t stop starring at your floors in every picture. So awesome!

  6. I am super impressed and inspired, I seem to live on sites like your and pintrest but have only managed the smaller things, looking around your site I have officially decided to more up to bigger and better. I am going to attempt to do some thing with a chair. Thanks :)

  7. Like you said, there’s a bazillion ways to do stuff, but when I did my drywall repair, we did a light sanding to take off any loose bits of paper BEFORE we primed the damaged areas. Maybe I’m crazy, but it makes sense to me to make sure any bits not quite firmly attached to the wall are removed before sealing everything in. Otherwise you’d seal in air bubbles which might cause…well, bubbles! Right? Maybe. *shrug* Maybe some nice blogger will do a technique comparison next time. :)

    1. I didn’t elaborate too much yet (post to come), but the walls were sanded thoroughly before beginning the skim coat. The issue wasn’t the loose bits that are plainly sanded away; the issue is the stuff that doesn’t seem loose and isn’t removed when sanding. There are layers of paper that will still bubble (at least, in my case, that’s what happened) as the top layer of paper is made wet by the joint compound. There will be a more detailed recap soon to showcase the fix I found as well!