Home>Discussions>INTERIORS>Molding & Carpentry>Should I tear down plaster walls and replace with drywall?
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Re: Should I tear down plaster walls and replace with drywall?

Label the trim pieces with numbers or letters and make a diagram of where each piece will later go. Also, then is your chance to place trim pieces on saw horses and sand rough edges of paint (they will cut your hand wide open if not sanded as you handle them), then prime them with good acrylic bonding primer if you are going to use latex-based trim paint as a finish paint. Go ahead and give them two coats after filling nail holes, etc., put them back on. Chaulking and filling is then easy, and only requires a brief touch up of paint. Saves many, many hours of repair and painting and allows you to reuse the original trim. Missing pieces, broken pieces can be duplicated by a good carpenter. Good luck! I vote for drywall. :o

Re: Should I tear down plaster walls and replace with drywall?

Good idea to check for lead in the paint before sanding.

Re: Should I tear down plaster walls and replace with drywall?

The open space you encountered is due to how plaster was once done. The board behind the base is called "Plaster stop" and it's what the plasterer's finished the walls to. You'll find the same around every opening in the walls made this way and usually at the corners too. Bach then the trim was run before the plaster to give the plasterers something straight to work to.

Unless the new wall thickness is exactly equal to the old, the old trim will not fit correctly if you drywall as that is thinner than plaster. Your options are to furr out the walls as needed before drywalling or to remain with plaster. You can also drywall tight if the framing is straight enough, then using the carefully removed original trim, splice in or re-cut it to fit the new situation using pieces taken from closets or from a single room that gets new moldings. Personally I'd drywall as it's easier and cheaper than plaster, plus it's getting really tough to find people who can do old-fashioned plaster well these days. I know of only a few that can do this and two of them are retired :eek: Finding good drywall people is a lot easier.

In my experience you're likely going to find that the old studding under plaster isn't straight- it didn't really need to be with plaster finishes, so you may have to furr out the walls anyway to drywall over them. If you go this route, base the thickness on the openings- match the window and door casing depths, then give yourself a little extra thickness at the inside corners and a little less at the outside ones. This is so that the existing trim will either fit or be a shade too long, which can be trimmed of needed. Fail this and you'll have something wind up too short. Or just replace the moldings with new, but please stay authentic with the type. I gag when I see cheap speedbase and 356 trim in a 100 year old house that has all it's other historical aspects in place.


Re: Should I tear down plaster walls and replace with drywall?

I went through this recently in a very early 20th century house and about 20 years ago in a 19th century house like your's. Just a few words of wisdom.

Removing plaster is not a difficult job, but it is a filty one. And I do mean filthy. As mentioned before, have a sample tested for Asbestos before you do anything. Even if the sample comes back clean make sure to suit up and wear respirators (not just dust masks). In addition to the centuries of mouse poop and every kind of dust and pollen imaginable (especially if the house ever had coal heat) plaster in some cases has other compounds in the dust that can be harmful if inhaled, especially in large quantities.

Be prepared for your studs and joists to not be true. Both times I redid old plaster walls and ceilings I sistered 2X4 joists and studs to the existing framing and trued my framing. That is certainly an additional cost, but I ended up with very true surfaces. When I did this I ran full length studs from the top plate to the bottom plate so I was adding structure not just adding weight to an old structure. It also should allow you to use the original trim if that is the depth that you stud to.

In NY state I would also consider a vapor barrier after insulation and before drywall. That is a very low cost way to increase heating and cooling efficiency. You don't say if it is a two story house or not. Basically if it is two or more floors, cover the walls on the lower floors and the walls and ceiling with 6 mil poly sheeting, stapled to the joists and taped at the seams. If it is a single story do the walls and celing on the only floor you have. That stops air migration through the insulation. If you use spray foam insulation instead of bat insulation it negates the need for the sheeting. The vapor barier is code in most of Canada, but I have used it in colder climates in the US as well.

I am not a contractor nor an expert in old homes. I have just owned a few in the past and went through what you are facing.

Re: Should I tear down plaster walls and replace with drywall?
Aburgess wrote:

Thank you so much for all the help! I was leaning more towards the drywall for the budget but also because I can put it up myself. I am curious why take out the trim? I am thinking that will be hard to do and keep it in a good enough condition to reuse. Thanks again!

My parents had the plaster taken out of their 1799 house, as it was coming down on its own. Lots of wood work in the house and somehow the guys did it without removing any of the trim and it looked great. It can be done but I just do not know how they did it.

Re: Should I tear down plaster walls and replace with drywall?

I have a book that I highly recommend. It is out of publication as far as I know buy you may find a copy in your local library or a used copy at Amazon or eBay. It is called "From the walls In" by Charles Wing.

Before you start tearing the walls down, you need to know if it is a balloon frame or stick frame, especially of two story. If it is balloon framed, you will have to install fire blocking before you can cover the walls.

If you have knob and tube wiring in the walls, it will need to be replaced before any insulation is installed.

I would look into using unfaced fiberglass batts in the wall cavities, then covering the studs with 4x8 sheets of 1/2" thick foam boards with foil facing on one side. With the foil on the inside of the room, tape the seams with a foil tape, this will make your vapor barrier. Then cover with 1/2" sheetrock. The result will be a cost effective and energy efficient room. The total wall thickness should be closer to your current walls so the trim should fit better than just sheetrock alone. Make sure your electrician accounts for the extra thickness when installing new outlet or switch boxes.


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