Home>Discussions>INTERIORS>Molding & Carpentry>Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper
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Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper

I live in Minneapolis, MN. My home was built in 1893. I, being a first time home buyer, didn't realize when I bought it that virtually every wall in the house is plaster & lath, but covered in layers of wallpaper that have been painted over (layers and layers and layers). I realized this when water ran in a window during a rain storm, ran down the wall, and loosened the wallpaper, causing it to bubble.

I am looking for advice as to what to do about my walls over the next few years as I fix up the house, which is in very good structural shape (besides the walls) and doesn't need much but little cosmetic touches. I've been told I should NOT attempt to scrape the paper off all the walls because it's just too time consuming, and I would then have to fix all the plaster before I could paint, and that can be very expensive. I've also been told I should hire someone to put 1/4 inch drywall up to cover the walls, wallpaper and all, but there are people out there who say that's a very bad idea. Finally, is there a short term fix I can do to fix the patch of wall where the wallpaper bubbled and ripped? It's about 1 square foot.

I want to do the right thing for the house, but I don't have a huge budget. I didn't plan on buying the house and doing huge renovations. I live in a nice but modest neighborhood where I'm not sure it would pay to entirely restore the house (like ripping down all the walls). Should I just get a professional involved to come and do a consultation, and if so, should it be a drywall person or a plaster person? (I would think they'd give me biased answers!)

Thank you.

Re: Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper

In my experience, it's pretty difficult to get so much paper and paint off.

Covering it up could be the easier way to go. I wouldn't try to skim coat it, because the layers underneath are too unstable to trust.

The quarter inch drywall overlay is not a bad way to go, although that could cause issues with the base, door and window trim.

In most houses of your vintage, the trim is wide, 3/4 inch thick as a rule, often with square edges. In that case, applying quarter inch sheetrock over the old plaster can work, because you will be butting the rock right up against the trim, which leaves you still with a half inch reveal. You won't have to remove the trim, shim the jambs, etc.

You would be screwing the drywall in place, into the underlying studs. Over by the door/window trim, you would have to screw there into the lath, since there may not be an exposed stud close to the trim to hit.

This is a very workable option, one I have used for many clients, but the drywall needs to be installed and finished well. You could opt for a smooth finish (which could be papered if you wanted) or a textured surface.

Re: Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper

I disagree. Unless the plaster is loose, and you can tell that by pushing on it, you would be far better off stripping the wall paper. If you go to your locale tool rental you can rent a wallpaper steamer which makes the job so much easier. I've stripped as many as 3 room in one day with a steamer. Plaster is far superior to drywall.

Re: Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper


I totally agree with JLMCDANIEL.

The problem I can see with laminating drywall over the paper and plaster is,making sure you hit a stud and not the lathe, which isn't as stong or stable. The paper removal maybe time consuming but much more worth it when your done. If you gouge the wall you can patch it with powdered sandable joint compound sand it and prime paint and done. You can also fix cracks with it. Hope this helps:)

Re: Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper

The reason I find the quarter-inch drywall overlay so attractive in some situations, as opposed to removing the layer upon layer of old wallpaper - often paint covered - is this: what will you find after you have gone to all the work of getting the paper/paint off?

People say plaster is superior to drywall. In some circumstances, right you are. But - 1893 plaster? Listen, I have worked in many old homes, some older than that, and I have yet to see one that old with decent plaster under the wallpaper. What I usually see is tons of cracks, old repairs, bulges, etc. - a mess. That may one reason those old walls were papered in the first place.

Drywall is softer than plaster, so it dents easier. But finished and textured properly, it can be made to look just like a plastered surface. I do it all the time, and am paid well for it.

I have never had a problem getting the drywall screwed in place and holding securely. You can also glue where necessary.

Just my take on things.

Re: Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper

Be sure that if you have had water leak under your wall paper you DO NOT remove it if there is mold underneath. This would release all the mold toxins into the air. I recently posted information about this at our blog. www.thinkdwell.com/blog if you'd like more info about mold related issues in your home. Also, if anyone is having problems with mold because of water leaking into your home, the most important thing to do would be to stop the leak, because it would assure that the mold would stop growing. Oh, and I agree that putting sheet rock over the plaster is a bad way to go because you'd lose your window/door trim.

Good luck with your wall issues!


Re: Help! Plaster walls w/ layers of painted wall paper

Besides the problem of hitting studs with the screws, gluing to something as unsuitable as wallpaper is going to be of little benefit, and trapping all that wallpaper behind the dry wall just adds and additional food source for mold. Mt house has plaster that was put on in 1865. There has been some need for repairs but it has not been that gigantic a problem.

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