crossposted from Remodeling: what's under this wallpaper?

girlndocsFebruary 22, 2010

I'm renting my house, which is 90 years old. Recently some old wallpaper under the paint in the kitchen started cracking and peeling off. Beneath the wallpaper is something that looks and feels almost like mortar, or sandapery concrete. Hard like rock, and speckled beigy-gray.

I took a great photo of it but now my camera is broken and I can't show it to you. I hope my description is enough for someone to recognize what this is.

My landlord is arranging for asbestos and lead testing right now for all the layers that have cracked open and peeled, and in the meantime we need to figure out whether this material underneath is something I can scrub, prime and paint, or whether it really needs to be covered with drywall or something else.

Personally, I like the texture, and it's certainly nicer than the sloppy-looking, bumpy, peeling paint over wallpaper look; so, assuming it's safe and doesn't need to be covered, I'm happy to prime and paint it.

Thanks!

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Billl

It's plaster. It was fairly common not to put a finish coat (the white, smooth stuff) if the owner was wallpapering. If the wallpaper is to be removed, your landlord should add the finished coat.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2010 at 8:36AM
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karinl

You'll know if it is the final coat from whether it is smooth or not; also, if you have broken bits (like we do) you can actually see that it's a layer of rough grey mortar (ours looks like concrete) with a skim coat of white plaster on top. I don't believe that either material contains anything dangerous (ours was crumbling off the walls and so we removed most of it 17 years ago... not dead yet, and just had my lead levels checked - normal).

You'll note that the look of aged plaster is considered so attractive that they actually make wallpaper that mimics it, but you're quite right that the look of paint over multiple layers of wallpaper has never found similar favour.

Removal of those layers can be tough. There is a special scraping tool made for the task. The final bits come off with a spray of water and a regular scraper for me, but that's off the skim coat. If you're pulling wallpaper off an unfinished layer of the rough plaster.... I'm not even sure this tool would help.

KarinL

Here is a link that might be useful: Wallpaper stripping tool

    Bookmark   February 23, 2010 at 1:43PM
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Moccasin

And, be aware that you WILL have lots and lots of DUST.
It will be everywhere. Even in your heating/air conditioner ductwork. That is, if you choose to take it down.

I would estimate the landlord will not do a major job with you living in the house/apt, but may choose to do the job between tenants after you move out.

I just discovered something which they call "orange peel" and it can make small repairs match the particular finish you have. So a quick and easy fix may be the way your landlord chooses to go. I am about to use this product for the first time, so cannot tell you how it looks finished.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2010 at 11:57PM
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girlndocs

Well, a home lead test reveals that one or more of the layers of old paint has lead in it. Since it's all cracking and falling off the walls badly, that means that a) it has to be removed, promptly and b) I can't do it myself.

I also doubt very much that the landlord is going to pay for a finish coat of plaster. If it's sealed well with a good primer can the paint job be done directly over the rough plaster? That's what seems to have been done under the wallpaper, and in the one original room where wallpaper has apparently never been applied.

Karinl, this stuff is falling and I mean falling off the walls. I doubt very much that special tools will be needed to scrape it off. I was washing part of the wall and bumped a crack with my elbow and it promptly sheared off in a 2-foot strip and hung there; just literally fell off. There are huge cracks everywhere.

Fortunately, the layers in the living room and bedroom (also graced with the paint-over-wallpaper treatment, but not in nearly as bad a condition) all seem to be lead-free. If I feel ambitious I may take those on myself.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2010 at 12:16PM
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sautesmom

The landlord won't pay for it?
I don't know where you live, but he may not have a choice under safe housing laws! Free lead falling off the walls is hazardous, and he has to make it safe for you to live there. I would think a sealing coat and fixing it would be cheaper than removing all the lead and putting up drywall!

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   February 26, 2010 at 9:00PM
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girlndocs

Oh yes, they do have to remove the free lead within 30 days, so the clock is ticking now. It seems to me (not that I'm making the decisions, sadly) that the cheapest and simplest route would probably be ripping away the old wallpaper and scrubbing/scraping the lead paint off the plaster till it tests clean.

I just don't think they'll sink "extra" money into hiring a plasterer to put a finish coat of plaster on it, so I'd like to know if it's OK to paint and prime over the rough coat if that's what it comes down to. They have to hire someone certified to do the removal, so I hope that will prevent some hideously ill-advised "cheap quick fix".

    Bookmark   February 27, 2010 at 11:25PM
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graywings123

the look of aged plaster is considered so attractive that they actually make wallpaper that mimics it, but you're quite right that the look of paint over multiple layers of wallpaper has never found similar favour.

Bahahahahaha!

    Bookmark   March 1, 2010 at 7:56AM
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