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Plastered? Walls and Ceilings That Is. Repair or Install Drywall?

Just after the launch of our blog we received our first email inquiry with a suggestion for a topic.

Tammie asks:

Older homes- 1925 - 1929. When there are plaster cracks in the ceiling especially the stairwell... 1- What is the best way to patch? 2- If there are big cracks/broken pieces is it better to remove it all and re-plaster or drywall?

3- Is plaster thought to have more character? Thanks you two.

Thank you Tammie for starting us off on a great topic! We love older homes and the character and quality of workmanship they typically reflect. To answer your first question, we actually need to get to the root of the cause before suggesting a repair or replacement method. Have you identified a root to the plaster failure? If not, the following assessments may shed some insight:

• Have you assessed the condition of the lath that the plaster is attached to? Is it bowing? Broken? Pulling away from the joists? If yes, the plaster and lath will need to come down, new lath installed and then plastered.

• Could the fallen plaster pieces simply be from typical house settling? Yes. To determine if the settling is typical for the age of the home, we suggest you take a walk around the outside of it and inspect the foundation. Do you notice any cracks in the foundation walls? Is there a veneer on the foundation and if so, is it falling off or separating from the wall as well?

If you noticed cracks in the foundation, what is the width of it (or them if there is more than one?) Narrow? (Can barely fit a sheet of paper in it) or wide (Could fit a credit card or two in the opening)? If you have foundation cracks that are wide, you may have a soil failure, erosion or moisture matter at hand. This could be caused by the soil type or if there is standing water around the foundation. If there is excess water moisture in the soil or standing water on top of the ground - Do you have gutters, a French drain or any other method used to move water away from the foundation? If you do - are they clean and free of debris that may cause water to rest there? Either way, if there are wide cracks, it would be wise to have a contractor or two – come out and inspect the foundation. If the issue is not a simple case of typical settling – you will need to address this before addressing the plaster repairs otherwise you will be working against yourself. • If foundation issues are not the root of the cause – have there been any water leaks that could cause moisture build up in the area where the plaster is cracking and falling off? If yes then you will need to get to the root of the leak (if you haven't already done so). With regard to whether you should repair the plaster or tear it off and drywall the area instead – the answer is subjective. If the home is a historic one and more specifically if you are seeking tax credits for the restoration of it then the only answer is to follow the historic restoration/preservation guidelines. If you are not experienced with plaster repairs or even if you are an experienced DIYer who isn’t afraid to tackle such things - we do not suggest tackling this on your own. There is great amount of skill that goes into plaster repair and a knowledgeable expert will be your best solution. Your qualified professional should provide a finished product that leaves the repair undetectable and what you may think needs to be removed - may actually be "easily" salvageable to a pro.

If the cost of the plaster repair vs. tearing out and hanging drywall is at the forefront of your decision process – it is likely that a tear out and replacement with drywall will cost you more than repairing the plaster (if there are no other contributing factors to the failure of the plaster). Really, the only benefit we can see to removing plaster and sheet rocking instead is if you are undergoing a major renovation and need to gain access to the space inside the walls. Even then - do or don't is debatable. Plaster provides greater sound dampening and a higher R value than drywall. It also has a greater fire rating, meaning in the event of a fire, it takes longer to burn than drywall. Last but not least, if you wondering how to go about finding a qualified plasterer, we suggest placing a few calls to your local lumber yard or drywall supply company. They should know just the person(s) to direct you to. Thank you again for a great topic lead!

If YOU have topic you would like to see addressed in our blog, please feel free to email your question or suggestion and if you have pictures, include them as well.

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