Tear down old plaster ceiling?

manlem01February 26, 2007


I'm renovating a pretty ugly room. I've just torn down the ceiling tiles (no asbestos, woohoo!) and am left with a less than level, water damaged and wallpapered plaster ceiling. I'm trying to determine whether I should tear it down to the studs, reinsulate and put up drywall, or just try to put up 1/2" drywall over what you see in the picture. I expect there would be lots of shimming either way.

The source of the problem was fixed with a new roof long before we bought the house, and I don't see any signs of rot in the studs but the plaster and lathe are less than great.

What would ya'll recommend I do in this situation?



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Your post makes me grin and think of the philosophically eternal question of "doing it right" vs "the PO did what?!"
Personally, I think there is a balance between the two. We redid all of our electrical system the "right way" and because we have done so much, and just slapped repair jobs over other things so they function and another generation can "do it right" later. Case in point: our bathroom ceiling had the same problem as yours. I used the same wood furring strips that you have, marked out where the joists were, and used some seriously big screws to screw in 2x2 plywood through all of it right into those joists. What little bowing is left, I have camouflaged with 1x2 as mini beams on the seams of the 2x2 plywood pieces. End result, the new ceiling is looking much more glamorous than even the original plaster. (I'll put a in process pic below, I plan on eventually gluing a little wooden dodads over the visible screws later.) So your dilemma is: "right" or "patch". Hmmmmm?

a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank">

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 7:31AM
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Unless there are large areas of the plaster that are starting to detach, I'd leave it in place.

Removing plaster from any surface is a pain in the butt. From a ceiling it's close to a mini vacation in hell.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 10:39AM
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What about installing some reflective foil on the plaster, shimming the sleepers as necessary, and installing drywall under it all? That would give you some extra insulation with the least amount of hassle.

I always avoid tearing out plaster except when necessary - it has some insulation value, is a good air barrier, gives added fire protection and is an excellent sound barrier. Plus it makes a mess and unless you need the extra inch of headroom, tearing it out doesn't really give you anything you can't achieve without tearing it out.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2007 at 1:34PM
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"I always avoid tearing out plaster except when necessary - it has some insulation value, is a good air barrier, gives added fire protection and is an excellent sound barrier. Plus it makes a mess and unless you need the extra inch of headroom, tearing it out doesn't really give you anything you can't achieve without tearing it out. "

My sentiments exactly!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2007 at 9:15PM
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manlem01 -- Take a look at my 'Before Pictures' album, and you will see I had a similar problem. The plaster was too far gone for repair because of a prior leak like yours. I had discussions with several contractors and plaster experts about whether to remove the old plaster and replace with new, or to drywall over the old plaster. There was no consistent answer and first we chose to 'do it right and replace with in-kind materials'. Since we cut costs by doing demo work ourselves, that job fell on me. I started to pull down the plaster in a small area, and soon realized that this was an extremely messy job with dust going everywhere. Kframe is right -- working with your arms over your head and then having to carry plaster rubbish downstairs to trash is like a mini vacation in hell. We decided pretty quickly to install drywall right over the old plaster ceiling and it looks great. We only lost 1/2" in height, which was a concern for us since our ceilings are only 7 ft. See my 'House Pics' album for the completed project.


Here is a link that might be useful: Pictures of ceiling before and after

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 1:12PM
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Marcus, I added new pics that show just the finished ceiling. They are the last two pics on page 3 in House Pics album.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 1:50PM
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If you do decide to remove it:

You cannot overestimate how much dust will be created, and how invasive it is. Isolate the room from the rest of the house using duct tape and rolls of contractors plastic in the doorways. Put a good sized box fan in a window to exhaust air from the room. MAKE SURE your CHA system for this area is completely blocked off at the vents, so it cannot spread it past the plastic barriers you put up. You may have to turn the CHA off during the demo. I would drape plastic covers over any sensitive electronics, as some of the dust will get through anyway.

If there is insulation of any type resting atop the lathe, you;ll need to decide how you are going to deal with that.

Removing the plaster and lathe separately makes removal of each from the room much easier, though it may take a little longer. But if you're in a hurry, just zip a sawzall lengthwise alongside the joist to cut it all loose and let it drop. But be careful of wiring if you want to do it this way.

You'll need to protect the floors in this area unless you intend to replace them later.

The flat side of a 3 lb mini-sledge hammer works well to loosen the grip of the plaster on the lathe-it breaks off the plaster "keys" that actually stick thruogh the lathe and hold the plaster onto the wall.

If you can get at it from the attic, it might be easiest just to get above it on the joists and bash it loose with a hammer.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2007 at 10:46AM
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I removed plaster ceiling in 9 of the 10 rooms of my house because they looked like yours (or worse) and had been buried under drop ceilings. Prior owners did some shoddy work TO SAY THE LEAST, including screwing drywall onto a crumbling plaster ceiling, which ended up lumpy and with cracking seams and had to be removed as well. Plaster ceiling often fail sooner than walls due to GRAVITY!
I can't bear covering up problems, so my advice is to remove it though it is a messy job. Get heavy contractor trash bags, a good crow bar, dust mask, shovel, duct tape. Bundle the lath neatly, and shovel the plaster into the bags. good luck!

    Bookmark   March 7, 2007 at 12:42PM
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We removed it in a former 1926 home. The kitchen had been enlarged to take in the breakfast room/butler's pantry some time in the 1960s, and the ceiling sagged where the divider wall once stood. There was also an old leak in a corner masked by cabinets and the plaster was loose in that area.

We first tore down the plaster and hauled it out, then the lath. It actually went pretty well. DH was up on the ladder demo-ing and I was dragging the junk to the truck for a later trip to the dump.

I should add that the house had three finished stories over a basement and was constructed of hollow clay tile. Retrofitting wiring, plumbing, etc. was a nightmare be cause there wasn't really a way into any ceilings or floors or exterior walls. Having the ceiling opened up allowed us to put lighting where we wanted it. (We also built out a false wall along one exterior wall so we had someplace to run wires and something from which to hang the cabinets, but that is another story entirely).

Oh, and ditto everything airqualguy said about the prep work. We were fortunate that we had not yet moved into the house, so didn't have to live there during the demo. But we still taped off the ventilation and the door entranceways. Even with that, the plaster dust found it's way throughout the main floor.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 1:44AM
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I'm a little late to the party, but maybe this will help someone else. The PO of my house did 'everything' wrong and preferred to cover up problems, I'm so glad I went through the effort to tear down the lathe walls and ceiling! I just got back from my mini vacation in hell. It wasn't so bad.


* 1-2 disposable coveralls with hoods
* Dual filter face mask rated for lead and asbestos
* The usual hammer and pry bars
* 2 1/2' pry bar with hook on end (for ceiling)
* Hard hat (for ceiling)
* Tarps, tarps, and tarps

The real game changers were the disposable coveralls and long pry bar for the ceiling. I did a 14'x10' ceiling in about 3 hours, not particularly hurrying.

Tip: When I got my rhythm, I inserted the pry bar into the ceiling and yanked down, knocking chunks of plaster down (hence hard hat). With the plaster off, I could clean the lathe of debris (insulation, acorns, etc.) and yank those down next.

With the advice of the forum, I carefully sealed the room from the house, opened the door to the outside (or windows if you have them), and let her rip. It was a little warm in the coverall, but it sure beat being covered in dust and debris. And, plaster can actually cut and damage hair. I wouldn't want to endanger my Patrick Swayze style hair.

If I were to do it again, I'd still tear down the plaster and lathe. I've done it in previous rooms, and it's worth it to check the electrical/plumbing, rewire new outlets as needed, add insulation if needed. And it uncovers what the PO before tried to cover up, possibly avoiding future calamities. I've hurdled more curses towards the PO of my old house. I think his first name starts with F%. On the plus side, after tearing down the newer first wall, then the original plaster/lathe walls, I've gained a couple more feet of square footage :) And please, please, please, for the love of Pete, don't glue drywall to studs!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 10:28AM
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