Are plaster walls and ceilings worth saving You make the call — Home and Gardening -

Are plaster walls and ceilings worth saving You make the call - Home and Gardening -

Are plaster walls and ceilings worth saving? You make the call

Are plaster walls and ceilings worth saving? You make the call

‘They don’t build ‘em like that anymore.»When someone says that about an older house, he’s often talking about the sturdy lath-and-plaster walls. Those who love vintage homes and have such walls may want to keep them intact.

Sometimes, though, problems arise that make this difficult. Even normal settling of a house over the decades can create cracks and bulges. While these don’t necessarily indicate serious structural problems, they can be unnerving and unsightly.

Cracks and Bulges

Typical problems include:

* Spider cracks — These fine lines often show up in the ceilings and walls of houses built prior to 1950, said John Agotti of Precision Contracting, Ramsey (201-666-1270). «There’s no give in plaster, so if there’s settling and movement of the floor beams above, that’s normal and usually not a sign of structural issues,» he said. One solution is to «skim-coat» the whole ceiling or wall, though it’s no guarantee that eventually the cracks may not come back.

* A bulge in the wall — Agotti explained this usually occurs when the wooden lath underneath has started to pull away from the wall stud. You’ll need to break through the bulge and diagnose the underlying problem before you cover it up again.

* Small holes and cracks — For these, the homeowner can buy a plaster repair kit and make the fix him- or herself.

More extensive damage should be evaluated by a professional.

«The older plaster walls with wood laths behind them are tricky to fix,» said Glen Gustafson of The Bergen Home Wright, Oradell (bergenhomewright.com). «If the lath shrinks from drying out, you get a horizontal crack in the wall and the plaster starts to peel off.

«Sometimes you can just scrape off the loose plaster. We use a product called Structo-Lite, like spackle with some aggregate, and can build up a thick coat with it. It will stick to the lath and mimic what was going on with the plaster. Then we’ll spackle over that to build up the surface.»

Are plaster walls and ceilings worth saving You make the call - Home and Gardening -

«We had a house where a pretty big chunk of plaster came off,» Gustafson recalled. «We did a patch that way, and it’s lasted about four years without (the crack) showing up again.»

Damage Control — a Coverup

If your plaster ceiling has a wavy look, the «keys,» or anchors between the plaster, probably are broken. «On a second floor, any activity over time will break away the keys,» Gustafson said. In some cases the plaster can be reattached, but in others the old-fashioned look must be sacrificed in the interest of safety.

«Once you exceed a perimeter of about 100 square inches, you have to follow the (federal government’s new) lead-abatement rules, which are almost identical to asbestos abatement,» said Agotti. «That tends to drive up the cost of the project significantly.»

This is one reason why he and other contractors prefer to deal with a badly damaged plaster wall by laminating drywall over it. «One-quarter to 1/2-inch drywall is the easiest and most cost-effective fix,» Agotti said. «When we do laminate, and there are doors and windows involved, we take off all the trimwork. Whatever thickness of drywall we install, we have to build the trim out to that depth to put it back on.»

Gustafson also will laminate drywall over a plaster one «if it’s too far gone.»


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