Wallpaper covering bad plaster

RayRaeMarch 12, 2014

Hello All!

I've searched the internet to no avail so I'm hoping someone on this forum will know what to do!!

I recently bought a very old house (1889) that has an apartment attached to it. The apartment has been long neglected and we are in the process of renovating (and trying to keep the cost down by DIY). It appears that the previous owners, at some point, tried to fix the problem of plaster cracks by using wallpaper to cover it up. It looks like maybe it's a special wallpaper for just such a thing? I say that b/c it has no pattern to speak of, just plain paper that has been painted over. To top it off, the paper is peeling, you can see unsightly seams, and you can still see all the cracks underneath! In fact, in some places, the cracks have even torn the paper. I would like to fix the plaster, but I'm unsure if I need to take all the wallpaper off first?? While I don't like the paper, I'm worried that if I start tearing it off, the plaster is going to come with it. I DO NOT want to use drywall in the house if I can manage it, but I also have no experience with fixing plaster walls. Does anyone have any experience with this type of wallpaper? Should I just risk it and tear the paper off and hope for the best?

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My old house circa 1917 had plaster walls that had cracks. I wallpapered one room and painted over it and it looked good until as you described the wall paper started peeling. We bought a wallpaper remover product, diluted this and sprayed sections of the wall. We then scraped the old wallpaper off and it did not further damage the walls. Some friends recommended a steamer but the sprayer worked well.Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 6:39PM
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What I've read is that it was common to put plain wall paper directly on top of relatively fresh plaster, since it provide a very smooth surface that could then be used as-is or painted. I've also found that most of my house has wallpaper directly on plaster.

My wallpaper/paint guy did the following:
- Used a steamer and spray bottle to strip off the old paper. I found it was also very useful to use a razor blade holder and scrape the wet paper almost parallel to the wall. It goes slow, but if you are careful you can get all the paper off without nicking the plaster.
- Used plaster mix (not the same as sheetrock compound!) to patch the cracks and fill in the holes. He also used seam tape if needed to fill and cover wider cracks. Use small amounts and fill gradually. This will minimize the need to sand.
- Used a relatively high nap roller to roll on primer and final paint. The longer nap gives it a little more texture, which hide imperfections better.
Overall the results were great.

I have also done some of my own plaster patching and it is a time-consuming job. The dry plaster mix from Home Depot only stays workable for about 12-14 minutes after you mix in the water, so you mix small batches and patch small areas. However, once it dries it is very sandable and matches the wall very well.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:13PM
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It was common practice in houses of this vintage to make plaster walls without a finish coat. The intent seems to have been wallpaper forever. If this is your case, removing the wallpaper will reveal a rough, sandy plaster that would have to have some sort of finish coat applied before painting. It is possible to apply a finish over the existing walls without removing the paper. Start by thoroughly cleaning what's there. Then apply self adhesive fiberglass mesh which comes in rolls up to three or four feet wide. Follow this with coats of joint compound. Lots of work and requires some skill to get a smooth surface, but it can be done.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 6:00AM
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I'd suggest calling in a plasterer for an assessment and estimate. Although my home is no where near that old (1950's tract home), it does have plaster, although on rock lath not wood lath.

Whenever I painted in the past, I'd always fill cracks with crack compound. It would look nice for a while and then open up again after a year or two. One time I called in a handyman to bridge a crack with tape. While the crack has not opened up, the difference between the taped surface and the rest of the ceiling is very noticeable.

The last two rooms I painted that had cracks, I called in a plasterer beforehand. He undercut the crack and repaired the resulting huge gap with plaster. The job took just that day and the result was excellent. It's been 4 years so far and those cracks have not reappeared and it's impossible to tell where the repair was made.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 1:17PM
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My 1913 house had at least 3 layers of wallpaper in each room. In most of the rooms, when the wallpaper came off, big chunks of plaster came off with it. I called a contractor to give me an estimate. He told me "lady, it's gonna cost you a whole lot". We didn't have a whole lot. So I purchased buckets of spackle and spackled the smaller sized holes. For the larger sized holes I cut pieces of dry wall to fill most of the gap and screwed them in place to the wood that was behind the broken plaster. Then I spackled over the remaining gaps. I had to go over the patched places with more spackle when it dried because the spackle had a tendency to shrink. In some places I used special tape that looked like netting If the holes weren't too big, then spackled those as well. After sanding the patches, I primed and painted. It's been 10 years and the walls are still holding up. I don't want to steer any one in the wrong direction but this worked for me.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 2:56AM
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