Complete rehab of 1901 house - drywall or original plaster walls?

hoopersjudgeMay 6, 2012

Hello, we are in the process of buying an American Foursquare duplex that needs a total interior renovation. The house is really rough and not inhabitable. It needs all major systems installed, insulation,etc.

So we are debating whether we need to gut down to the studs so that we can insulate the walls, install wiring, plumbing, heating ducts... OR if we can reasonably do this leavign the paster walls in tact. Our thinking is that by leaving the plaster walls in tact, we would save money as well as preserve more of the original house.

Appreciate all advice here... thanks much!!

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vjrnts

My vote is for making every effort to keep the plaster walls where ever you can. There might be so much damage in places that you can't, but plaster is warmer and a better sound insulator than wall board, and you won't believe the amount (both in volume and in weight) of debris you'll have to get rid of if you take down plaster walls.

I wouldn't give up my plaster walls unless there was literally no other choice. Look for a contractor who knows and respects old houses and understands your desire to keep your plaster. Some of these guys just want to gut everything because newer has to be better, right?

Do you have pictures that you can show us?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 4:47PM
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lazy_gardens

Unless the plaster, or the studs behind it, is in bad shape, there is no reason to rip it all out.

I had an electrician rewire a 3-story 1880s without removing the plaster. He did drill a lot of holes to run the wire, but they patched nicely.

I have had plumbers do a complete house re-pipe on a house with plaster walls and they just made a few holes where they needed to.

Insulation can be blown in througy a few holes in the exterior walls.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 10:30PM
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Billl

"Our thinking is that by leaving the plaster walls in tact, we would save money as well as preserve more of the original house. "

While I love plaster, preserving it is NOT a way to save money. It is way more time consuming to fish everything through existing walls for the electricity, plumbing, HVAC etc. All those guys charge a lot more per hour than drywallers.

As others have stated, plaster is a superior product and is worth saving. However, preservation is a labor of love, not of profit.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2012 at 10:10AM
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kashka_kat

even if you find that one or two walls have plaster so far gone that its literally falling off the wall - it doesnt follow that youd have to gut the entire bldg -why? Usually if anything is really bad its the ceiling - gravity pulling it down - in which case those could be drywalled while leaving walls intact. Plaster/lath is the superior product - highly soundproof. I live in 2nd floor apt. withtwo crying babies in the apt downstairs and I literally do NOT hear them unless I go down the basement. When getting quotes/info - be sure to choose people who like and have experience with old buildings. The guy whose specialty is new houses and/or putting up drywall is going to tell you something different than the one who specializes in old houses. If an electrician or plumber tells you you need to take down the plaster and lathe or they'll charge a gazillion dollars more - find another one who knows old houses and how to do the work affordably!

    Bookmark   May 7, 2012 at 10:13AM
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kashka_kat

Bill, a lot depends on the condition of the plaster. If there's just some cracks and a few places where its fallen then repairing it (either diy or hired) is indeed cheaper even with plumbing/electrical costs figured in.

Newbies often see a few cracks and places where the plaster is loose, and freak out (I know I did before learning how to diy plaster repair!) I think we need to get a better sense of the condition before making blanket statements. OP says "it's really rough" but doesn't specify condition of the plaster.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2012 at 10:20AM
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lazy_gardens

Bill - Yes, fishing wires takes more time than stapling them to bare studs, but it's not going to be so expensive that it's more cost effective to gut the place.

When you add up the cost of demolition and rubble hauling, and then the drywall and finishing costs you don't save much if anything. If you get hit with lead or asbestos remediation because of removing large quantities of old materials, it quickly gets really expensive to gut. And if you remove 'too much" old material, it becomes a remodel and not a repair ... which triggers other expenses.

=============
Hoopersjudge - You will have to be REALLY certain what your plans are for each room. Get several estimates for "if gutted" versus "make holes", ask owners of fixed-up homes in your area who they used, and take your time.

Take a survey of the walls and ceilings - tap on them, and push on them and map where they are "squishy" or sound hollow (plaster separated from lath). Cracks can be filled, loose areas re-attached with "plaster washers", and missing areas can be replaced. It's amazing what you can do to fix plaster, and if the lath is intact, replastering is not out of the question. It's tedious and strenuous, but definitely possible.

The two rooms that are most likely to benefit from gutting are kitchens and bathrooms: one because the wiring and plumbing runs will probably need major work, and the baths because of decades of water damage.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 3:06PM
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Billl

I didn't say it was always cheaper to gut, I said that saving plaster is generally not a way to save money. If you want to do it for preservation reasons or because you really want plaster, great. I'm 100% in support. It's just not a good idea to count on any significant savings from it in a major remodel. The other expenses can and do add up.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 8:46PM
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Fori is not pleased

My old house had ductwork added in the basement for the first floor with floor registers (and basement with ceiling registers) and the attic for the second floor with high wall registers (and attic with floor registers). That saved a lot of behind-the-walls ducting. Of course that meant it had two air conditioners and two furnaces that weren't connected but since the upper levels were so badly insulated it was good to be able to control things separately.

Anyway plaster is a nice wall. Save what you can but don't beat yourself up if you have to have some drywall. It's OK stuff too.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 11:23PM
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dirt_cred

I'm becoming an extremist! Just reading the title of this thread set off anxiety and a headache.

As to lazygardens and "Insulation can be blown in througy a few holes in the exterior walls," I suppose it depends on your siding, I live in a world with a lot of stucco which can be hard to fix, but on anything, have you ever seen the siding restored adequately once holes are drilled for insulation? Find someone who will blow it in from the inside. It's a much easier fix.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 5:36PM
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brickeyee

"It is way more time consuming to fish everything through existing walls for the electricity, plumbing, HVAC etc. All those guys charge a lot more per hour than drywallers. "

The correct question would be how their charges compare to plasterers.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 9:25AM
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Billl

"The correct question would be how their charges compare to plasterers. "

Or compared to drywallers. I don't know about everywhere else, but there are LOTS of drywallers in my town that work for peanuts. WAY cheaper than someone specializing in plaster.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 9:30AM
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