Early User of ZipWall Has a Few Things to Say About ZipWall

Zip Wall Clamping Foam

Early in my career writing about home remodeling, I received an e-mail from a marketing person at ZipWall or hired by them, asking if I wanted to have a free ZipWall system. I had just begun writing about home improvement and the idea that I could get products for free with the implied expectation that I would write about them was both novel and exhilarating.

It was 2006. ZipWall sent me a long cardboard box. Inside were two telescoping aluminum poles with red plastic spring-loaded ends. I used ZipWall for some projects, then wrote up a review in The Spruce (at that time called About.com), and I spoke favorably about ZipWall. In fact, I still write for The Spruce, and in looking at ZipWall literature I see that comments about ZipWall poles being aluminum is incorrect; they are stainless steel. I have changed that review accordingly.

I also see that ZipWall came out in 1999, a time so long ago that ZipWall was barely getting into that Internet thing (see first print clipping below). They had their first media blitz in 1999, with a second, much smaller media blitz-ette in 2003, and then the 2006 mini blitz-ette, which included me.

ZipWall Chicago Tribune, March 19 1999
Chicago Tribune, March 19 1999

First the Obligatory Accolades

From the standpoint of easy renovation, ZipWall is king. If not king, it’s somewhere in the royal circle. I don’t even know what to say other than check out the Amazon review, filter out those pissy two- and one-star reviews, and read the top reviews. It’s all true.

If you can afford ZipWall (and it isn’t cheap) and you have just bought a home and want to remodel, buy the damn things. Price has actually gone down since 1999, beginning at $140 for a two-pole set and now going for about $90. A whole $1,285 ZipWall Tool Kit would be a wet dream, but really the two-pole set is all a DIYer needs.

And Obligatory Improvement Recommendations

  • Add arrows to the poles, indicating which direction to turn to release or secure.
  • Add an attachment system so that the plastic sheet will stay on the end of the pole as you raise it.
  • There is no place to grab the plastic plate. You have to either pry the plate off by inserting a thin object under the plate (not a good idea) or searching for some grab point on the bottom of that plate. ZipWall will say that the way to release the pole is to push up on the pole itself (ignoring the plate) and this is true in 95% of the applications. But there are the rare times you need to grab that plate and you just can’t.

But Here’s Where It Gets Interesting

Zip Wall Clamping Foam

ZipWall has really missed the boat on promoting this one. Like many ZipWall users, I use my poles for far more applications that have nothing to do with dust barriers.

  • Above, I am using ZipWall as a push-clamp system to glue together two sheets of insulation foam.
  • I have used ZipWall to hold drywall against ceiling joists.
  • When building wire chases for rope lighting in my home movie theater, ZipWall poles were a friend I depended on for holding them up while I screwed them into place.

And those are only the first three that I can think of, on a brain that is ravaged by a poor sleep last night. With a clearer head, I’m sure I could come up with tons more.

Basically, I see a company that appears to not be taking advantage of the good thing they’ve got going. Promote it more. Clean up your dated website. Show how buyers use it for things other than holding up plastic. Do that Ryobi Nation type of thing, where users send in photos.

Yes, you’re pushing 20 years old. Congrats. But that’s no reason to keep your company running on fumes.

And as the saying goes, I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t love you, man.






Drywall or Flooring: Which to Install First?

When you are remodeling a room and have everything stripped out, it can be difficult to decide which surface to re-install first:  drywall or flooring.  Which should go in first?

Best Answer

Install drywall on the walls before installing floor covering.


Protecting Flooring

Both drywall work and floor installation create a mess, but drywall’s mess far exceeds that of flooring.  By putting in the drywall first, you separate drywall and its dust from the flooring later on.

Easier to Change Flooring Later

If you were to install flooring first, pushing it against or close to the wall studs, the drywall would then extend over the flooring.  This effectively traps that edge of the flooring under the drywall, making it more difficult to remove the flooring.


When the drywall is being installed in the ceiling, it matters less because that issue of drywall trapping floor covering is eliminated.  Still, you have the issue of mess to deal with, which can be significant when hanging drywall on a ceiling.

If you have the following conditions happening all at once, you may want to consider installing flooring first:  1.) you are hanging a significant amount of drywall; 2.)  the flooring is unfinished wood.  This point was brought up by a commenter at the Fine Homebuilding forum, stating that the humidity spike caused by drywall finishing and the painting can cause the flooring to “swell and buckle.”


Tier 1 – Trade Forum

Fine Homebuilding’s forum has a good discussion of whether drywall or flooring should go in first, along with that point about drywall finishing’s humidity having the potential to affect raw wood flooring.


Is It Easier to Apply Flat Paint or Satin Paint?

Satin and eggshell paints tend to be more popular than flat (also called matte) paint.  The first two have a slight sheen; the second two have no reflective qualities at all.  Their look is a matter of personal taste.  But when applying them, which is easier?

Best Answer

Flat paint is easier to apply than satin and eggshell sheens because flashing (sheen inconsistency) is not an issue.


Though it looks great on your ceiling and walls, flat paint has a lot going against it.  It’s not the most popular paint sheen out there for a few reasons.  It’s difficult to clean.  It doesn’t stand up well against moisture, meaning you won’t be applying it in the bathroom.  it needs constant touching up.

However, flat does have one tremendous quality:  it is far easier to work with than any of the paints that have a sheen:  eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss.

Less Resins = No Leading Edge to Worry About

When brushing or rolling paint that has any type of sheen, you need to be aware of the leading edge.  Working off of this wet leading edge (the last part that you painted) is key to a good finish.

Sometimes, when you let that leading edge dry, then try to work off of it later, a dull line develops where the old finish and new finish meet.  Sheen inconsistency is called flashing.

Flat paint has a greater pigment-to-resins ratio than all other paint sheens.  Resins help a paint resist water better, yet they are also the cause behind flashing.  With flat paint, you can essentially paint with abandon, without worrying about ending up with those dreaded start-and-stop marks on your wall.


By consulting perms, you can see the tremendous spread in resin content between flat paint and other sheens.  A perm is a standard unit that measures water vapor transmission.  Any perm rating above 1.0 means that the surface is not considered a water vapor barrier.

Barrier:  Yes

  • Epoxy-polyamide (gloss) 0.14
  • Alkyd semigloss 0.57

Barrier:  No

  • Latex semigloss 4.98
  • Alkyd flat 19.9
  • Latex flat 27.0


Mixing Still Required

Applying flat paint is not completely foolproof, though.  Like other paints, it still needs to be thoroughly mixed.  It is still possible, with flat, to create a difference between two areas of paint because pigment has been dispensed differently between the two.

Limited Scope of Discussion

Though I don’t usually remind readers of the topic of an article, in this case it’s important.  We are only discussing which is easier to apply, flat paint or satin/eggshell paint.  Post-application, the script is flipped.  Flat is far more difficult to maintain than eggshell, stain, semi-gloss, or glossy paints.

Best Sources

Company Site

Paint manufacturer Dulux discusses the moisture vapor transmission ratings, called “perms,” of several types of paint sheens.

Trade Forum

Professional painters in the forum Paint Talk discuss the difficulty of maintaining a wet edge (and preventing flashing) when working with eggshell sheen paint.

Can You Build Everything With Drywall Screws and Make Your Remodeling Easier?

Drywall Screw vs. Steel Screw

Drywall screws are plentiful and cheap.  Since they are used in great quantities, they come in great quantities–which means that they always seem to be at hand.  Can you build with drywall screws?  Or are they too weak for anything but hanging drywall?

Best Answer

Yes, you can use drywall screws for light building projects around the home.


It is heretical to say that drywall screws can be used for building.  If you’ve ever opened a box of drywall screws and seen the duds–heads snapped off in production and random bits of metal–this may give you some pause.

Snapping Off (Shear Strength)

True, drywall screws snap.  This cannot be denied.  With drywall screws, it’s all or nothing.  Either they’re holding or they have broken apart, unlike steel or brass screws or nails which bend before breaking.

Tension Pull-Out Strength

Some evidence shows that drywall screws have roughly half the tension pull-out strength of steel self-drilling screws.

Benefit vs. Risk

The benefit to you may outweigh the risk of using drywall screws to build with.  Benefits include:  they are inexpensive; coarse-threaded drywall screws easily pull into wood; driver grips screw heads well.  The risk is that your kitchen cabinet falls down.


Light Building Only:  Using drywall screws for any type of heavy building project, like framing a house or setting a beam to replace a load-bearing wall, would not be a good idea, to put it mildly.  Used in great numbers, the drywall screws would still likely have enough redundancy to hold up the roof or wall.  But given the safety issues, it’s just not worth it to go this route.

Indoors Only: Drywall screws have a black or gray phosphate coating that does not stand up to moisture well.  As Grabber Canada says, “Phosphate is a porous coating, which is usually applied in combination with oil. It is the lowest cost of all fastener finishes and as such, offers only a minimal barrier to corrosion . It is suitable for indoor applications only, where there is minimal chance of exposure to moisture.”

Impact vs. Resting Loads:  Because drywall screws have such a tendency to snap upon sharp impact, you would want to avoid using drywall screws for any building project that involves sharp movements.


Interfast Group, a fastener manufacturer, published some data about pull-out tension strength of their drywall screws vs. other types of their screws.

Matthias Wandel, a Canadian woodworker and former software engineer, takes a methodical, measured approach to the issue of drywall screw tensile strength and pulling ability.  He found that drywall screws snap off when hit by a hammer from the side and that they have good gripping strength.

Grabber Canada, a fastener manufacturer, offers some technical data about drywall screws’ strength.

Most opinions about the wisdom or not of using drywall screws for building are anecdotal, and go both ways.  One commenter on Sawmill Creek asks, “has anyone actually seen catastrophic failure from a cabinet installed with drywall screws?”  Another says, “I put the cabinets in my garage 20 years ago and hung them with drywall screws and have had zero problems.”


Best Way to Use Homax Wall Texture So That It Actually Works

For texturing small wall areas, Homax Aerosol Wall Texture is an easy way to go.  The more difficult alternative is the way professionals do it:  with a spray gun, hopper, and bags of dry texture mix.  By contrast, the aerosol type is self-contained.  But user-reviewers often complain about this product, saying it splatters and doesn’t produce the texture seen in Homax’s pictures.  What’s the easiest way to do this and still get a good texture?

Best Answer

Shake more thoroughly than you might imagine, keep the can warm, test outdoors on scrap material, and view results with a low-angle light.  And hang onto your store receipt so you can return it if necessary.


All those negative comments from users about Homax Wall Texture have some validity.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, Homax just will not spray a good texture.  That’s why you returning the product to the store is part of this technique:  don’t settle for cans that don’t work.

I’ve had more good experiences with Homax than bad experiences.   My tips will not produce perfect results 100% of the time, but you’ll greatly increase your chances of a good finish.

Shake It Forever

If you think you’ve shaken it long enough, you probably haven’t.  Shake the can for about 2 minutes.  You need to hear that ball freely clacking around inside of the can.

Keep the Can Warm

Success with Homax is all about temperature.  Any can from the cold or even cool outdoors should be brought indoors and left for about 2 hours before you even consider using it.  When Homax says “Sprays best between 68° F and 72° F,” you should believe them.

You can also warm it up under running warm water but don’t do this until you’ve test sprayed it on board (below) because it might be fine as-is.

Test-Spray Outdoors

Homax Wall Texture is extremely messy.  Its job is to be messy.  Use a dark piece of cardboard or the dark back of a scrap of drywall for this one.  Dark is better than light, because you won’t see the results as well on light surfaces.

Spray at a Distance

The 36 inch distance that Homax recommends is the distance you should start at.  I have found that farther away is usually better with these Homax texture products.

Check Texture With Light

Look at the texture in a dim place with a light held at a low angle.  This is the only way how you can see if the texture is correct.


I have never understood why a company allows negative product reviews on its site, but whatever–it benefits the rest of us.  Homax’s company site has some choice reviews of its products, along with a number of positive comments.  In general, it’s fairly well balanced.

  • “I purchased five different cans of the Pro Grade Knockdown texture and only one worked.”
  • “I bought two cans of this. One worked flawlessly. When I went for can two, the nozzle broke when removing the safety tab. I’ve reapplied the nozzle in a few different ways but absolutely nothing is coming out.”
  • “I needed to repair a relatively small area in a very visible wall. By following all the instructions and testing various spatters until I found just the right one, the product worked perfectly. I was able to match the existing orange peel spatter and paint the repaired area within an hour.”


Drywall Screws vs. Drywall Nails: Which One to Use?

When fastening drywall to studs, you have a choice of using either drywall screws or drywall nails.  Which should you use to make it faster, easier, and cheaper to install the drywall.  Importantly, which one will keep the drywall most secure for the longest time?


Use drywall screws rather than drywall nails.


Screws are more secure because they cannot pull straight out.  When enough lateral pressure is applied to drywall nails, they will pull out.  In fact, older homes often have circular bumps in the drywall, caused by nail pops.


If you had asked me this question at any time in the last 20 years, the “drywall screws” answer would have been unequivocal and unqualified.  In fact, the conventional wisdom today is that a person is expected to use drywall screws, and that nails are considered archaic.

Recently, though, I used drywall nails to tack up small pieces of board to cover door headers, and it was a joy.  I realized that there is a limited place for drywall nails in your easy renovation repertoire.

Small Pieces:  It feels almost overkill to screw small sections of drywall in place.  Large sections (4 ft. by 8 ft. sheets) really do benefit from an all-screw or partial screw installation.

Tiny Pieces:  Sections of drywall that are downright tiny really do benefit from drywall nails over screws.  Screws can mangle up tiny pieces.

Extreme Edges:  In those instances where you have to drive a fastener closer to the edge than you would like (say, within 1/4 inch), drywall nails will drive cleaner into the board than screws.  Screws are larger, and because of the rotation effect, they will rip away gypsum on the open edges.

Field vs. Perimeter:  Professional drywall installers often like to use nails for perimeters.  It’s physically easier to get a board initially tacked up with a hammer and nail than by wrestling with a drill and screw.

Metal Corners:  Metal corner beam is nailed into drywall, not screwed.



6 Steps to Accent Wall Design

But corny metaphors aside, painting an accent wall is just about the no-brainer-easiest and fastest things you can do to spiff up a room, in less than a couple of hours.

But before you go out and buy $45/gallon Ralph Lauren Orange Frenzy (or whatever) for that accent wall of yours, you’ll want to observe a few conventions:

1. Most Prominent Wall

You’ll want your accent wall to be the first, or one of the first, things you see as you enter a room.  This is not a you’ll-die-if-you-don’t-do-it type of rule, but rather nice to observe.  At the very least don’t make it the back wall.

2. Anchoring

What area of the room do you want to highlight or define?  An accent wall is great at separating areas within larger areas, such as a family sitting area that happens to be within a larger room.  Think in terms of sub-rooms, not just rooms.

3. Focal Point

Do not put make your accent wall a blank wall with nothing around it.  You’ll want a fireplace, music center, flat-screen TV, bed, fountain, or something of this nature to highlight.

Accent Wall

4. Bold Against Neutral

The most common method of painting an accent wall is to make the “target wall” something vibrant (red, pink, orange, dark green or blue) and to make surrounding walls neutral.  But you can also make the surrounding walls a lighter, paler version of the accent wall.

Color coordinating your accent wall doesn’t necessarily mean matching.  It can mean complementary colors.

5. Color Coordination

Coordinate your accent wall with a few key items in your room:  sofa, pillows, throw rug, etc.  Don’t go overboard, though.

6. Media Other Than Paint

Paint isn’t the only material you can use for your accent wall.  Think:  tile or wallpaper, too.  In addition, you can frame your accent wall in molding.

Removing Plaster Wall without Removing Too Much Plaster Wall

When you’re taking down part of a plaster wall, that’s exactly what you want to take down—part of the wall. Not the whole thing. But plaster walls have the unfortunate characteristic of crumbling and crumbling, until nothing is left. You may have planned on taking down a 4 foot square section, but that section just keeps on expanding and expanding. Before you know it, you’ve taken down the whole frigging wall.

Limit the amount of plaster and lath that you remove with some of these techniques:

  1. Apply two layers of painter’s tape (i.e., expensive masking tape) in a perimeter around the area of plaster to be removed.
  2. Use a straight edge to score through that layers of painter’s tape, and down into the plaster itself. You don’t want to score all the way down to the lath (that’s pretty impossible anyway), but just about 1/8 inch down.
  3. Chop out the inner part of the square with a flat prybar. Go easy on it.
  4. When you get near about a 4-inch border near the outline, leave it be.
  5. Use the broad side of a piece of 2×4 as a buffer, and tap along those perimeter plaster areas with a hammer. This should help separate the plaster at the score lines. Do this until all the plaster within the masking tape square is gone.
  6. This may seem ass-backwards, but if you have any loose pieces of lath—nail them down.
  7. Cut out the lath with a reciprocating saw. The reason you nailed down loose lath is because the vibration from the saw can transmit to the lath…and knock out pieces of the “good” plaster outside of the masking tape square. You want to contain your operations to the center of the square.
  8. Pull out the remaining lath by hand, hammer, or with the pry bar.

Remove Plaster Wall
In the picture shown here, the technique is right for removing all of the plaster from the wall, but wrong for removing only a section of plaster.  The green dotted line shows where the masking tape outline would go if you were just removing part of the plaster and lath.