Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Painting a vaulted ceiling can seem like a daunting task, even when you have experience painting other parts of your home. Proper preparation and following a series of structured steps, however, can make the job easier.
Painting a vaulted ceiling involves steps before and during the painting process. These include evaluating the scope of the project and gathering equipment. Then, the preliminary tasks of removing fixtures, moving furniture, and covering the area. It culminates with painting the edges and ceiling.
Read on and discover more detail about the best way to segment the painting of a vaulted ceiling. In the process, you will learn methods of making the painting process more manageable, less stressful, and – above all – obtain excellent results.
Evaluate the Scope of the Painting Project
Before getting started with painting a vaulted ceiling, you should assess the scope of the task at hand. By this, I mean that you should consider whether the project is within your current skill-set for painting.
At no time is this meant to discourage you from tackling such a project. Even if your painting skills and experience are minimal, painting a vaulted ceiling is realistic. However, if you face a situation involving a vaulted ceiling in an open floor plan that reaches two stories in height or higher, you may want to reconsider.
It is more of a practicality and safety issue if anything else. For example, painting a vaulted ceiling with a height surpassing two stories would require more specialized equipment than what the average homeowner may easily access. Additionally, it would involve you using scaffolding and extension ladders, that if in the hands of a novice, could create safety risks.
However, if your vaulted ceiling does not surpass the heights mentioned above, even if you are new to home improvement, you will be able to complete the project successfully.
Gather the Necessary Tools and Equipment
Before painting a vaulted ceiling, you need to gather all of the tools and equipment you need. It would be best if you did so from the onset. There is nothing more frustrating than having to pause midway because you are short of paint or are missing a critical extension device.
The exact set of tools and equipment you will need for your vaulted ceiling depend on your project’s specifications. However, most vaulted ceiling projects will require the following items.
When painting a vaulted ceiling, you will need to easily, safely, and comfortably access varying heights. As such, you will require multiple ladders. The exact combination will depend on the specifics of your project. These, however, are the most common ladder types used in vaulted ceiling projects.
An A-frame ladder looks very similar to a basic step ladder. The difference is that it is more stable and provides additional clearance when deployed. This extra clearance is an invaluable help when any painting project is involved.
When dealing with a vaulted ceiling, getting an A-frame ladder with a deployable paint can shelf will prove helpful when you need to do the edging and other retouches.
An extension ladder allows you to deploy the ladder to higher elevations that you would typically reach with an A-frame or step ladder. You pull out the length extension that you need, and the extension is locked into place by safety teeth to the lower base of the ladder.
Extension ladders will allow you to access the highest points of a vaulted ceiling painting project. However, since they rely on the upper extension to rest against a wall for stability, proper placement is vital for safety. Ensure that it is resting against a solid wall and that the footing beneath it is stable and free of anything that can cause the legs to slip.
When using an extension ladder, it is best to have an additional person present to hold the ladder’s base as you ascend and descend from it.
A trestle ladder is a variant of an A-frame ladder. The main distinguishing feature of a trestle ladder is the railed standing platform at the top. It provides a stable platform for you to stand at the highest point of the ladder. Such a feat is something that cannot typically be accomplished with other types of ladders.
When painting a vaulted ceiling, you can use a trestle ladder as a form of scaffolding. Unlike traditional scaffolding, however, trestle ladders can be moved easily to wherever you need them.
A unique looking piece of equipment, an articulated ladder consists of three or more pairs of hinge points placed along the ladder’s length. Each of these hinge points is lockable. Such a placement means that you can lock the articulated ladder to form a variety of shapes. You can use it as a basic ladder or secure it to create a standing platform.
A step stool, preferably one with multiple rungs, is handy when all you need to reach involves adding less than a yard (meter) to your reach.
While painting a vaulted ceiling requires reaching the highest level of a room, keep in mind that you will be doing a lot of the work using handle extensions. When using handle extensions, many times, all that you will need is a few extra feet of reach to access the area to be painted without resorting to using a ladder. Step stools are ideal for this.
Extension Poles and Handles
Extension poles are devices that can be attached to the handles of paint rollers and brushes to increase their reach significantly. Some come in a telescopic style that allows you to modify the length.
Extension poles come in lengths of six to 12 feet (1.83 to 3.68 meters).
Depending on the maximum height of your vaulted ceiling, extension poles and handles make it possible to paint a ceiling with little to no use of ladders.
To paint the largest surface areas of your vaulted ceilings, you will want to use paint rollers. They are faster than brushes and provide a more uniform application of the paint.
Paint rollers come in widths of 9, 12, and 18 inches ( 22.5, 30, and 45 cm). Unless your vaulted ceiling has exposed beams that are spread out quite tightly, you are better off choosing a wider roller such as the 18-inch model. It makes the painting process go faster.
Paint rollers also come in different naps. The nap is essentially the thickness of the roller. It determines how much paint it can absorb and how easily it can apply paint on coarser surfaces. 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch, and 3/4-inch (0.625-cm, 0.9375-cm, 1.25-cm, 1.875-cm) are the most common naps.
With rollers, the smaller the nap, the smoother the surface that it is intended to paint. If your vaulted ceiling surface is very smooth, a 1/4-inch nap will suffice. If your ceiling is textured, the 3/4-inch nap would be best.
If your ceiling is not textured, but it does have a few rough patches, going with a 1/2-inch is your best bet.
Roller pans are the tray that you use to apply paint to your rollers. Make sure to get pans suitable for the width of your rollers.
Don’t neglect to purchase tarps, drop cloths, and painter’s tape. These will become necessary as you prepare the room for painting.
Schedule Your Painting Project Appropriately
Scheduling the time and day for painting a vaulted ceiling is frequently overlooked. However, it is important.
First, you want to schedule your painting project to avoid overly humid days for your geographic area and to maximize the amount of natural sunlight. The drier the day and the more natural sunlight, the faster the paint will cure and dry. Since applying multiple coats may be required when painting your vaulted ceiling, the faster the drying time, the faster you will complete your project.
When scheduling your paint project, also try to avoid windy days. While the reason for this is more obvious when you are painting a vaulted ceiling that is exposed to the exterior, it is also a factor to consider when entirely indoors. Windy days can provoke drafts within the building. Drafts can come through air vents along with unwanted dust and other particles. The last thing you want near fresh paint is needless dust and floating debris.
Also, opening windows while painting is an effective way to clear the smell of fresh paint and expedite drying times. Yet another reason why you should start such a project on days with calm winds.
If you live in an area where windy conditions are the norm, you should keep the windows shut and provide ventilation using a fan. When choosing this method, make sure that the room is free of dust and other particles churned about by the fan. Also, void using ceiling fans in this capacity due to their proximity to the painting areas.
Remove Ceiling Fixtures
Much as you would when painting the walls of a standard room, when painting a vaulted ceiling, you want to remove any fixture found on the ceiling surface.
These may include base plates for lighting fixtures, the fixtures themselves, ceiling fans, hanging hooks, etc. Essentially, you want your vaulted ceiling to be as unencumbered as possible.
Clean the Area to Be Painted
Before any paint is applied, it is essential to ensure that the area is free of dirt and dust. Ceilings tend to accumulate dirt and dust over time. Such accumulation is more prevalent in the corners and in the spaces where support beams are exposed.
If all you have to contend with is dirt and dust, you can perform this cleaning using a large feather or synthetic duster attached to an extension handle. You may need to climb onto a ladder to reach certain areas depending on the layout of your room.
If however, your ceiling has been exposed to water damage or if it has mold and mildew stains, you will need to clean those areas using a microbial agent, mildew remover, or a bleach and water solution. Reaching a vaulted ceiling for that sort of “wet” clean-up cannot be effectively done using extension handles. That cleanup will almost inevitably involve accessing the affected areas with a ladder.
When the vaulted ceiling’s surface requires applying wet solutions for cleaning, it is best to allow the cleaned areas to dry thoroughly for 24 to 48 hours before starting the actual painting process.
Even if the only part of the room you are painting is the vaulted ceiling, you should move all of the furniture out of the room.
First, splatters and droplets are inevitable when painting any ceiling. Removing furniture ensures that it will be protected from such damage.
Secondly, painting a vaulted ceiling will involve placing ladders and step stools throughout the entire layout of your room’s floor plan. Having the area as empty as possible will give you more options for such ladder placement.
Cover and Protect Area Against Splatters
As was mentioned above, painting and splattering—regardless of how careful and meticulous you are—go hand in hand. Aside from your furniture, you also need to protect other parts of your room from splattering.
Chief among these is your floor. Be it tiled, wooden, or carpeted, place a high-quality painting tarp over your floor. If your vaulted ceiling area is so large that covering the entire floor seems excessive, you may cover it in sections. Just remember to move the tarp along your floor as your ceiling painting progresses.
Other areas of a room that requires attention before the start of painting include drapes and other window treatments. Even if you are not going to paint the walls when you paint the vaulted ceiling, it is best to remove them or cover them.
If you have fixtures attached to your room, such as fixed shelving, overhangs, rails, etc., you should cover these with tarps as well.
Most people are aware of how messy you can get when involved with a painting project. Most would dress in comfortable work clothes when painting a vaulted ceiling that they don’t mind getting dirty.
However, when you are painting a vaulted ceiling, you also need to address other factors such as head, eye, and face protection. Unlike painting a wall where you are painting a perpendicular surface to the floor, a ceiling is above you, not in front of you.
As such, the possibility of paint dripping onto your head and face increases. Paint on your hair can be challenging to remove. Wearing a painter’s cap or other hat is advisable. If you have long hair, tuck it into the hat as much as possible.
Your eyes and mouth are some of the most sensitive areas of your body. Paint in your eyes, nose, or mouth can cause serious harm. It is best to wear protective goggles and a facemask when painting a vaulted ceiling to mitigate this type of exposure.
Footwear is also critical. Since painting a vaulted ceiling involves climbing ladders repeatedly, you want to wear shoes suitable for that task. Sandlas, loose-fitting shoes, or going barefoot increase the possibility of suffering a ladder accident.
Repair Holes and Loose Trim
Holes or scratches on the surface of your vaulted ceiling need to be rectified before you paint. It involves using wall putty to fill in cracks and holes and make them flush with the surface.
Likewise, you should remove any nails or other items that may be attached to the ceiling that serves no purpose. In other words, you want as flush and smooth a surface as possible to paint.
If there is trim between the wall and your ceiling, check if any pieces are loose. If they are, make sure to secure them with finishing nails or an appropriate adhesive compound.
Apply Painter’s Tape
Before you start painting your vaulted ceiling, the final act of preparation is to apply painter’s tape on the areas that you want to keep paint-free. These can be fixtures that could be removed, trim, ceiling dome edging, etc.
By applying painter’s tape, you don’t have to worry if your paint roller or brush goes over those areas. After the paint dries, you can remove the tape, and the space underneath it will be free of paint.
Prepare the Paint
Once you are ready to start painting, you have to prepare the paint. To do so, open the lid of the paint can. Then you have to stir it.
You can accomplish this by using a stirring attachment on a hand drill. The hand drill method is the fastest way of stirring paint and also provides the most consistency.
The manual method involves using a wooden paint stirrer. The process requires you to stir the paint until all noticeable clumps or watery spots are gone. In a painting project as large as a vaulted ceiling, this can be time-consuming.
Once your paint is ready, you start by painting the edges of your vaulted ceiling first. A 2-inch (5-cm) wide paintbrush is well suited for this task.
Make sure to paint all of the edges before starting on the ceiling surface. Use an upward feathering motion as you apply the paint. Feathering means that the further up the paint stroke, the less paint will be applied to the surface.
Remember, you want the paint to begin at the base of the wall’s edge and cover an area three to six inches (7.5 to 15 cm) onto the ceiling surface.
Once you have applied paint to the edges of your vaulted ceiling, it is time to start applying paint to the larger surface areas. You will use a paint roller for this task.
Place some paint into a roller pan. With a moistened cloth or paper towel, dab the paint roller to get it slightly moistened. Then, roll the paint roller in the tray so that it absorbs the paint. Allow the excess paint to drip back into the pan.
Roll the paint onto the ceiling. Do so by using the roller’s standard handle and climbing higher on a ladder as you advance. Otherwise, use an extension pole as described at the top of the article.
Apply the paint in manageable sections. An area of 4 feet by 4 feet is adequate. Roll the roller in the paint tray as needed to apply more paint as you progress.
Allow Paint to Dry
After you have painted the edges and surfaces of your vaulted ceiling, the paint must dry. The drying time will vary based on the humidity levels, temperature, and type of paint used. Consult the specifications on the paint can for optimal drying times.
Apply Subsequent Coats
Depending on the type of paint used, multiple coats may have to be applied to your vaulted ceiling. Make sure to apply each coat in the same way described above after the previous coat has thoroughly dried.
In general, if your first coat consists of a primer, you will usually have to apply one or two coats of paint on top of it. If you use a two-in-one interior paint – one that incorporates primer into the paint – you may be able to get by with one or two coats in all.
Painting a vaulted ceiling can be accomplished by even a person who is a novice at home improvement tasks. What is essential is to follow a systematic process. The 15 steps presented above should provide you with a good roadmap for successfully painting a vaulted ceiling.
- WikiHow: How to Paint Vaulted Ceilings
- It All Started With Paint: How to Paint a Vaulted Ceiling Without Scaffolding
- SF Gate: How to Paint Vaulted Ceilings
- Renewed Claimed Path: Tips for Painting a Room With a Vaulted Ceiling
- SF Gate: How to Choose Colors for a Vaulted Ceiling
- Dummies: How to Choose a Paint Roller
- Healthy Handyman: 16 Different Types of Ladders and Their Uses
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