Bad Drywall Job Over Plaster

renovatingwomanMay 13, 2010

I bought an old home that has a bad drywall job over plaster. Basically drywall was put in without regards to the trim around the windows and staircase. I googled for more information and it appears that if drywall was to be put over plaster then one would have had to have taken out trim around windows etc. right?

Anyways because of this there's jagged edges and I'm wondering what can be done. The home has two stories and this issue is only on the first floor. A drywall person said he could fix the minor cracks which are mostly at the seams of the drywall, and some of the tape that's showing through even on some ceilings. He said it would be about 1k.

I didn't ask yet or get a bid on what it would cost to tear off the drywall and then what, the plaster underneath too and start from scratch on the bottom floor of this house. Basically it's four windows between the living room and hallway that look terrible. And parts of the staircase where someone painted over the wood trim and then drywall sticks out - too thick - like around the windows (I think it was what 3/4" drywall cut around everything)...

I'm getting another bid in a few days - and ideas from a painter who works with both drywall guys and plaster guys. I don't know what he means but I believe he's saying one could take off the drywall and then hire a plaster person? Or would one take off the drywall and the plaster both and start over with drywall? I realize this isn't the end of the world worth say 10k because of four windows that will have window coverings anyways...

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Maybe someone has better option for you, but this is how it worked out for us in a similar situation.

An upstairs bedroom had plaster than drywall. The prior owners didn't remove trim etc, they just drywalled up to it. That meant the trim was only a 1/4" or so above the finished wall surface. Our initial thought was that we would take down the drywall and see if the paster was salvageable. It wasn't. We ended up taking it down to the studs. It was a blessing in disguise though because we found some really questionable electrical work.

However, when we went to drywall, we quickly realized that the drywall was now going to be much thinner than the original plaster, so the jams for the doors and windows actually stuck out 1/4" from the wall and the molding wouldn't go back on easily. We ended up hand planing the jams flush with the new wall surface.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 9:50AM
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What do you mean by hand planing the jams flush with the new wall surface? So you are saying this house was like mine with the trim only 1/4"... mine with horrible paint globs makes it all worse.

I'm actually going to live in this house so I'm wondering about options. A is to see what I can do to sand, get paint off around the windows in the living room and stair area, upstairs doesn't have this issue. Make it look nice enough for now, patch a few holes, paint the trim a lighter color so it doesn't stand out so much and move in.

Option B is to have a handyman/builder help me tear out walls, and I'm certain it's going to be like your case, where the plaster isn't salvageable because why would they have thrown drywall over it to begin with? I'm interesting in demo as I like the idea of smashing things - the mood I'm in lately. I figure it'd be something like letting tension going by kick boxing or something. Of course I'd have an assistant who's actually demo'd walls before with me.

I can see what you are saying if one removed both layers there would be a whole new can of worms - the 1/4" or so extra in the trims and molding? So what would this mean to hand plan the jams flush with the new wall surface to finish the living room and stair area. Also I'm thinking having just watched a dvd from the library about drywall that one would have to have a professional drywaller who gives a dang, staggering drywall so it doesn't crack like it did at seams up entire walls - and who uses special and heavier tape etc for an older house, is that right?

I found the drywall guy quite strange who showed up and told me to just fix the cracks and he assumed I was on a tight budget. I really don't care about demo'ing a room and I now need to find drywall guy number two to give me an estimate on what that would cost. Saving money in other rooms by filling holes and cracks myself other then a ceiling spot. I'm wondering how much experience a drywaller needs and if one could do various things - for example drywall guy one only knew drywall and couldn't seem to understand the issues other then pulling drywall and repacing (ironically after speed reading several books and watching a video the wall he was going to tear out only needed filler and cosmetic work as it wasn't in the area with issues to begin with...

So now I'm thinking that a handyman who really gets drywall - and now that I've read the basics I'm thinking someone could do drywall and help with mouldings and help paint - but drywall guy A only wanted to do drywall. Since someone said I should find a drywall specialist that's what I got. So I guess what drywall A guy thinks is any demo would be done before he works and if no demo'ing is done then his job is to pull out drywall that has a few gaps (ie that doesn't appear to need to be pulled out) and fix holes in other drywall areas that are crooked or cracked.

The moral of the story being - if one is going to do a job, why not do it right from the start? I can't understand sloppy work and the way to protect myself is to do what a woman who wrote a book Renovating Woman did, research each subject to death before even getting anyone to do bids on projects - ie me being a dummy allowed this man to say he'd just fill in cracks blah blah. And now smart me is going to research more drywall books, come here online and figure what this is all about - part of why I bought an old house is because there's some charm to the days when people took time doing original woodwork and unique layouts... drywall smashed up around them isn't that bright but welcome to America and the work ethic...

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 11:54AM
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I'm not sure I follow your post completely, but I'll try to explain a little better what we did.

Originally, our house has plaster. The window depth was the depth of the framing (2x4's) plus the plaster layer (about an inch). That way the wood from the window itself was flush with the plaster and the trim sat nicely on top. The prior owners did what yours did - drywall on top of the plaster right up to the trim (sloppily) so the trim looks like it is buried in the wall.

We took out the plaster and poorly done drywall. When we put new drywall in, the standard thickness is not as thick as the original plaster. That made the window stick out of the wall about 1/4". We had to remove that 1/4" of extra wood so that the trim would sit flat against the wall. We did that with a hand plane. It is a tool that cuts off little ribbons of wood, so by going over the area lots of time, you could cut any amount off so that is flush with the wall. There might be a better way (or better tool) but we used the low tech solution since we only had 2 windows.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 1:32PM
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Drywall comes in 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8" and 3/4" that I know of. Two layers of any combination would give you the correct thickness of the wall and also gives a feeling of a more solid surface.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 2:30PM
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I called a handyman who seems to know something and I'm going to get a bid from him. It appears that the drywall if it was 3/4" was too thick but that maybe it could be pulled off to be 1/4" thick and done right around the moldings and trim. I wonder how hard it is to get this layer of drywall off the plaster and how much I could attempt myself. Truth is I can hire someone but I enjoy learning to so anything I can learn and do I simply thrive on for the sake of learning something new. I think maybe some stupid flipper did this and sold the house to the previous owners who were clueless but about five years ago when they got it, it looked ok. The people obviously didn't have money to fix this house and tried to patch and paint and ugh... we'll see what happens next.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 3:13PM
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We have really hard and thick plaster on the original walls in our 1950s stucco cottage. When I demoed the original bathroom because of the mold I found, I took out the plaster walls up to the top of the door frames. That left the original plaster with a hefty thickness at the top of the walls. My contractor had to put two layers of drywall, the kind they use in wet areas, to equal the thickness. But instead of replacing the old woodwork and trim, we bought new woodwork/trim to match the old.

What I am in the process of doing, is applying texturized paint foundation to the smoothe drywall surfaces to blend into the texturized plaster on the older walls. Once that is done and dries for 48 hours, I can then put my primer and color coat on top of it.

In the second half of the bathroom which is yet to be finished, I have decided to remove the top part of the plaster wall and not make the drywall so thick in that bathroom. I want to put beadboard on it anyway, on top of the water tolerant drywall, which is also mold proof or resistant. I don't know all the terms, but I know I don't mind knocking out the top of the plaster to keep from doing a texturized step that might not match anyway. Demo is the cheapest part of the equation if you do it yourself, so it will also save a lot of extra material cost and a lot of contractor time. It's hard to get him over to our small jobs because he is highly prized by some high dollar clients. I think he takes on our smaller jobs for the comic relief.....

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 3:27PM
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How does one demo a wall? What tools? I'd like to DEMO - I can taste it. The handyman guy I called seemed upset that I thought I could demo a freakin' wall to save.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 4:35PM
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It sounds like you really do need to find someone who knows what they are doing. Maybe your handyman will work out. Demolition, or de-construction if you want to be careful and not damage what is underneath, is often doable by homeowners. DH and I have done lots of it. We prefer de-construction and leave the sledgehammer in the garage! It is heavy, makes more mess than necessary and can do more damage than good IMHO. Anyway, doing your own demo does save you money. Get a tetnus shot first :-)! You'll get real good at using a pry-bar... I think my second job could now be cat burgler! Cheers... and good luck with the walls.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 4:50PM
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Are you clear about the advice that Billl gave you? It sounds as if you might not be. What he said about the window frames sticking out 1/4" too far meant that the sides of the window frame (literally the sides of the window, that are at right angles to the sashes holding the glass, the sticking-out edges of which you can not see when the trim is in place) were (after he had replaced the plaster with sheet rock) deeper than the plane of the installed sheet rock. He could have used two or more layers of sheet rock to build up the depth equal to the old plaster, or as he chose to do, he planed these edges down to meet the sheet rock evenly.

He was not talking about planing the visible trim which is installed on top of the edges of the window frame and extends from there over and on to the plaster or sheet rock. The window trim bridges (and conceals) the joint between the edges of the window frame and the wall surface. That's why the window trim sticks up proud (as it is called) from the wall. It can only provide this bridge if the edges of the window frame and the overall plane of the wall covering are even.

There is an excellent book on windows ( Working Windows) by Terry Meany, that you might find useful in grappling with complex construction, and nomenclature, of window frames.

And I have a suggestion, I'd recommend emulating your user name's approach. Do your homework and understand what to do, what not to do and how to do each before you try to engage handymen, or semi-skilled home repair persons. Whatever you do, don't rely on the "professional" advice from workers with less knowledge, affection, or experience in old house renovations than you have. There are excellent resources on line (of course, tons of crappy info online, too); good print resources on the curatorial care of old houses, and of course a wealth of free advice here and on similar old-house positive fora. (Old House Web and Historic Homeworks are two very helpful and knowledgeable sources - Google 'em and post questions.)

When I was a new old house owner, I figured that most workers knew more about houses renovations than I did. Most did, but only a few knew more about old house renovations than I did, which was next to nothing, at first. Luckily, I didn't have too much money to do renos right away, so I was spared making mistakes by not being able to pay workers. In the meantime I made it my business to learn about how my buildings were put together and, what others had done with similar structures. When I was finally ready to embark, I knew that many of the things I might have blythely embarked upon were really bad ideas.

The best thing you can do for your house is clean it, study it, and learn about it. Only then would I suggest getting involved with workers. What I suggest is both money-saving (which you'll need as good old house work is never cheap) and absorbs all that new-house-I-gotta-make-it-mine-energy that everybody has right after they close.

The handyman who got upset about you wanting to save money by demoing is exactly why you need to learn more about houses before you hire workers. But, please, use your energies to scrub the floors, or dig a garden, or something else, instead of demoing right off the bat. It's not that hard (but a much bigger mess than you can ever imagine, though, and once started you have to see it through to conclusion) but don't use it as a catharsis. It must be done in a deliberate manner, (I really like the "deconstruction" approach noted above) after careful consideration of whether it is the right thing to do. Sometimes it is, sometimes not.

Have you tried to remove the drywall from one small area to see what's underneath? Do you know by whom and under what circumstances it was installed? There may be some clues to be gained by investigating, or querying about it. Again, a case of the benefit of not just launching into it.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 1:03AM
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Replacing decayed/damaged plaster with drywall just takes a couple layers of drywall.

One problem is that the original studs may not be very flat since there was enough plaster thickness to cover defects.

I rip 2x4s in half to make about 2x2s, then attach them to the sides of the existing studs with the face sticking out to make a surface that matches the new drywall.

Attach a single layer of drywall and everything stacks up correctly.

The face of the new drywall is were the face of the old plaster was.

Sistering the 2x2s at the correct height and making a flat plane for the new drywall goes a lot faster then trying to shim the face of the old studs.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 11:43AM
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"An upstairs bedroom had plaster than drywall. The prior owners didn't remove trim etc, they just drywalled up to it. That meant the trim was only a 1/4" or so above the finished wall surface. Our initial thought was that we would take down the drywall and see if the paster was salvageable. It wasn't. We ended up taking it down to the studs...
However, when we went to drywall, we quickly realized that the drywall was now going to be much thinner than the original plaster, so the jams for the doors and windows actually stuck out 1/4" from the wall and the molding wouldn't go back on easily. We ended up hand planing the jams flush with the new wall surface. "

In a room I am re-doing, one of the plaster walls was salvageable, so I repaired the cracks and nail holes in it. The original plaster looks like some kind of lime mixture with pig hair mixed in, coated with a thin layer of something that is rock-hard, but very smooth. I don't know how the workers back then were able to get such a smooth surface on that final coat.The remaining three walls were beyond repair, so I completely removed plaster, lath and all. In one wall, the studs were uneven, so I fabricated shims by using a power saw to rip down scrap pieces of 2X3 stud stock. Then I sheathed the entire 3 walls using 3/8" plywood.

The plywood sheets are laid out horizontally, and cut so that the joint ends always rest on a stud. That was a problem, because the nominal 24" spacing of the studs is nowhere near even, so several of the sheets of the plywood had to be cut a few inches to fit. Some studs are spaced as much as 3 to 4" off from where they should be, but the sheathing went up readily without too much waste. Evidently the builders back in 1850-1870 just eyeballed it and didn't bother to use a ruler or tape to mark the exact spacing of the studs, or maybe they had consumed too much white lightning the night before starting their workday.

Next, 3/8" drywall was installed over the sheathing, but each sheet went up vertically, 90 degrees from the orientation of the underlying sheathing. I used plenty of screws, not nails, plus construction adhesive to attach the drywall to the plywood. I didn't worry too much about whether the drywall joints fell on a stud, because they are all backed up solidly by the plywood sheathing. I just made sure that each joint has plenty of fasteners and adhesive along the edges of each drywall panel. The drywall + plywood comes out to almost exactly the same thickness as the original lath + plaster. At the window and door trims, about a 3/16" gap was left between the drywall panels and trim, so that the crack could be filled with drywall mud, to make the finished surface butt right up against the trim perfectly with no gaps, something that would have been impossible to accomplish by merely cutting the drywall sheets to fit up against the trim.

I can bang on the drywall with my fist with all my might, and not worry about punching a hole in the drywall, unlike the case with typical modern construction where one sheet of drywall is nailed or screwed over bare studs. Also, I feel that the plywood panels under the drywall will make the wall more stable as the house further settles, making the drywall less prone to cracking and buckling. Settling and cracking is what destroyed the original lath and plaster walls.

Don in TN

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 8:07PM
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Pull the trim, fill in behind it, add any extensions needed to the window and door casings, put the trim back up.

It is only worth the effort if the trim is thick or wide.

Otherwise pull it out, pad out , instal new trim.

Any pattern from the past 50 years is usually available, and a few from the past few hundred (it just takes money to have the molding run though).

NO new wood will ever be as good as 100 years old wood for cutting molding though.

The very large clear pieces are long gone for larger moldings.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 1:39PM
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