Original plaster vs. sheetrock/drywall?

slateberry51January 12, 2010

I was perusing an old house blog when I stumbled on a comment along the lines of "I used to live in a turn of the century something-something (I can't recall the house style), but all of the original plaster had been taken out and it was replaced with drywall. I moved on because I wanted a more authentic look."

OK, that's just the gist of what they said, not verbatim.

Now, I know that there is a huge difference between plaster and drywall from an installation and maintenance standpoint, but I have a hard time telling the difference in my house. For example, one wall of my daughter's room had a weird cracking/buckling thing going on when we moved in, and we pulled out the plaster and put up drywall, on just that one wall. Sitting in her room now, I can't tell the difference between it and the other, original plaster and lath walls.

What am I not getting here? Is it because we had a plasterer come and throw a thin layer of plaster over the sheetrock (like, 1/8")? Did that save us? It's not the same as plaster-and-lath.

I'm asking because I'm doing a lot of wall patching in my trunk room. At this point it's a real mish-mash of drywall and the original plaster and lath, and I just want to know if I'm messing up royally. Also I'm not bringing in a pro plasterer this time, I'm just using joint compound to skim the drywall and blend the edges into the original walls.

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Well done plaster walls look smooth and flat.

Well done drywall (higher level finish like level 5) should look as good.

Sound qualities are very different though.

The mass and stiffness of plaster tens to reflect sound more and limit transmission through the wall.

Middle of the road plaster often has some gradual swells and hollows that can be seen with grazing light.

It is not a sign of a quality plaster job.

It should be dead flat over the entire wall.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 9:55AM
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Hey brickeyee,

well, there will definitely be swells and hollows in this poor room. I shimmed out the patches as best as I could, but the ones where the angle meets the knee wall were tough. On the bright side, there will probably be a cabinet in front of that spot.

I looked up level 5. Sounds like that was what was done in my daughter's room. No wonder it looks so nice. I didn't know to ask for it. Beginner's luck!

Here is that tricky knee wall:

Here is a link to more about my trunk room project:

Here is a link that might be useful: trunk room

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 11:22AM
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Bedrooms and 'non-public' areas of houses have almost always had a lower level of finish than the 'public' rooms.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 9:23AM
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Yeah, and in my house, that goes right along with the non-public areas having a lower level of tidyness too! Although when you have 3 young kids, every space in your house becomes public. We have a ski ball machine in the basement, each kid has their own room, plus a "kids living room", but where do I find them when their friends are over? Packed like sardines into the dressing room off my bedroom, just sitting their talking. It's wierd!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 11:19AM
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Brick's statement is verifiably true. What it means in actual practice varies by how wealthy the original owner was. The best rooms may have been paneled with mahogany or quartersawn oak from floor up to and _including_ the ceilings, and the bedrooms could have had hard white plaster, hung with canvas, and hand-painted murals. Murals being the less expensive finish. So it's all very relative.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 11:21AM
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I'm impressed by your drywall patch! DH always cuts the bad plaster to the nearest square or rectangle shape. You've matched the outline of your bad shape...
You wrote:
this time, I'm just using joint compound to skim the drywall and blend the edges into the original walls.
I think that should give you a fine result for the trunk room. We've done that in various spots and DH has become very skilled over the years at blending the skim coated patch... but it takes practice, patience and lots of gradually feathered out coats. When the rest of your walls have a smooth finish and the patch is feathered in well, you can have a good result.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 1:14PM
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Patience and lots of coats--that's good to know. I'm lucky to have a former landlord in the neighborhood who manages several older houses. He's lending me his tools, so I have a corner tool, some very large spreaders, and this square pallete thing for holding the mud while I'm working. Thanks for the tips!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 1:58PM
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I just remembered--mahogany and oak paneled ceilings don't get me excited--it's a cork ceiling I want. I was touring a house in Newport, RI, and the dining room had a herringbone cork ceiling. That is what I need. My kids put the DIN in dinner. Of course, by the time I get around to a project like that, my kids will be old (maybe even gray-haired) and soft-spoken at the dinner table.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 5:26PM
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IIRC, that room was decorated by Associated Artists, a L.C.Tiffany decorating company. They did some indescribably tasty rooms in the Aesthetic mode.
I checked; my memory served me in this case.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 8:51PM
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The "square pallete thing" is called a hawk, and the "very large spreaders" are called trowels. At one time the best trowels came from Marshalltown, Iowa.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 10:32PM
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