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Repair or Replace - Plaster Walls

Hello, We recently purchased a 1911 home and have encountered plaster and lathe walls in the bedrooms. There are several layers of wall paper and it seems to be holding the wall together. We don't want to leave the wallpaper on because it was painted over and you can see the seams. But when we try to take the wallpaper off, it seems that the walls behind are really porus and soft. There are a lot of cracks and loose parts all along the bottom and around all the window and door frames. I would like to keep the plaster, because of it's apparent durability and sound/heat benefits but are we just setting ourselves up for failure? It's really crumbly. I will try to attach pictures.:confused:

Should we just take it all down and not bother to try and repair everything? The final layer was wood panelling nailed to the wall. So there are several holes in the plaster from nails.:(

Re: Repair or Replace - Plaster Walls

Living in a similarly aged building, I have always opted for the repair option. After many moments of frustration during the operation I have found myself asking the very same question. Which is better, repair or replace?

I still say repair. I have replaces some walls and ceilings with dry wall. After you clean up the mess from the demo and deal with cumbersome sheets of dry wall, you always wonder why you didn't just repair.

I know that once the dry wall is up, taping and skimming is much easier, but if you're not careful in stepping it out from the studs you will have to re-size you casings, baseboards, and crown molding. Usually in older buildings these are not cut at 45degrees at the corners so re-sizing can be grief.

"Ask this old house" did a show on plaster repair once. They drilled holes into the plaster with a masonry bit a couple of inches apart and on either side of the cracks. The masonry bit drills through the plaster, but not the lathe. Using a caulk gun they filled the holes with some bonding agent. Then they sank some screws into the plaster to pull it tight to the lathe. The excess glue was scraped away, and after it dried the area was skimmed.

My method is not too different. I counter-sink dry wall screws around the cracks, and then tape and skim. I finish the whole wall off with a couple of coats of topping joint compound.

If the area is crumbling pull away the loose stuff and screw in a shaped piece of dry wall over the lathe. Then tape and skim.

The Joint Compound Topping Coat is great stuff and will bond to anything, so don't worry about loose bits of plaster left behind. It does shrink , so if the area is more than a 1/4 inch deep you will need a dry wall patch, or you can build it up in layers.

Hope this has been helpful.

Re: Repair or Replace - Plaster Walls

Don't tear down the plaster!!!

Try Big Wally's Plaster Magic. (Declawlor mentioned this product in his reply-there is a video on this site and on the Big Wally's site.)I have a 1910 home with some badly cracked walls and ceilings, and using the Big Wally's has made them solid and practically perfect again.

I should also mention that prior to moving into this house last year I had never attempted to repair ANYTHING...so if can do it, anyone can.

Good Luck!

Re: Repair or Replace - Plaster Walls

Hi and Good Luck with your repair. Several things to consider:
1. The real issue is how good is the plaster wall? If the plaster is coming loose from the wooden lath, you can use several methods mentioned here to reattach it. If the wooden lath itself is coming loose, that is harder. You will need to reattch the small boards to the framing studs.
2. Plaster will not hold up to moisture as well as new sheetrock designed for high-moisture areas.
3. If you decide to remove the plaster:
Make sure to use a good dust mask and real hepa vacuum if you decide to tear out plaster, it can be dusty. Tape off the room from other living areas if possible. I use 5 gallon buckets to haul out the plaster. The plaster usually separates from the wood lath, and you can carry that out separately. It makes nice shims btw if you are hanging new stuff.
4. You might be able to hang thin 1/4 inch sheetrock or durarock, or Hardiboard over the plaster instead of removing it. Usually when you hang new stuff like that it affects the trim, but you might be able to build it out a little.

Good luck, Scott

Re: Repair or Replace - Plaster Walls

why don't you just knock out the old plaster from around the crack, clean the area and re apply base (brown, scratch) plaster? it would make a new key on the lath and hold tight. you could use buttons or whatever to screw the surrounding plaster tight while the new stuff sets up, then remove the buttons and top everything with mixing compound (mix it yourself joint compound), so you can sand it and finish it easier than having to skim the entire wall.

Of course, you might have to replace or re-attach the lath to the studs. Also, be very careful with lath, because they'd rather crack than be screwed into most of the time. I drill pilot holes in the lath if I'm screwing into them and I try to stay away from the sides or ends of the lath board.

I suggested mixing compound instead of pre-mixed joint compound because it will bond better and not crack while setting up (chemically sets from within, not air dries like joint compound). It's also a better bonding agent with the pre-existing plaster.

I don't really know what I'm doing though.

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