Keep original plaster or install drywall?

cnvhOctober 26, 2005

Last fall, DH and I bought a 1906 farmhouse that was built and owned by the same family since the beginning. For the most part, the house is in great structural shape, but hasn't been cosmetically updated in a LONG time. Some esamples:

Electrical outlets. Most rooms have one outlet, MAYBE two at most. The dining room has none, and until we remodeled it, the upstairs half-bath had none, either. All but two of the outlets are two-prong, not three.

The kitchen. Let's just say it's VINTAGE. The stove is a 1956 Tappan Dough-Boy, a huge white and chrome behemoth that looks like the front end of a cadillac. At first I saw it and cringed, but I've grown to love it; it works like a champ and is completely retro. But it's pretty indicative of the nature of the house-- and I'm pretty sure the stove was purchased new for the last time they remodeled the place.

Architectural touches. The doorways to the kitchen and living room, and between the living room and front parlor, are all elegantly arched. Most of the flooring (under the hideous carpet, which thankfully they didn't GLUE down) is hardwood, wide planks with small gaps that remind me of, well, an old farm house, which is what it is.

Insulation. Basically, there is none in the walls AT ALL that we've been able to see. All but three of the windows in the house are vinyl replacements, and despite the lack of insulation in the walls, I think the place must be pretty tight, because it's not drafty and it holds its heat in the winter nicely.

We are remodeling at a snail's pace. So far, we have just about completed the first major room overhaul-- the upstairs half-bath, into a 3/4 bath. (It wouldn't have been our first choice of a room to tackle, but a toilet leak neccessitated the remodel.) Next we'll probably redo the upstairs bedrooms, and here is my dilemma (actually a dispute I'm having with my DH, and I'm hoping to get some solid arguments to help win my case):

The walls are the original horsehair plaster. Since there's no insulation behind them, DH plans on removing ALL the plaster walls, putting up insulation, and replacing the plaster with drywall. I want to keep the plaster, mainly for the disastrous mess removing it is going to cause, but I'm getting the sense that the mess factor is not the only deterrent to pitching the plaster walls.

So my question is-- why keep plaster? And if you keep it, how do you insulate behind it?

I need to make my case to the hubby; as he is a man, he of course thinks he is all-knowing when it comes to construction things... no offense to you guys of course!!

But please help me win my argument!!

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If the walls are in relatively good shape, I'd keep the plaster. My dad (husband was still working in TN) helped me to blow the insulation in from the inside of the house. We drilled 1" holes from the inside on all outside walls. We started at a corner, measuring in about 8 inches. I then took a coathanger and bent it to go into the hole to make sure I was somewhat in the middle of the stud. If I was, we went over 16" and drilled another 1" hole. We did that all around the room. We drilled out all the holes (top of walls and under windows) and blew in the next day. It was really easy to do and didn't make much of a mess. The hopper you either rent or borrow, stays outside with only the hose in the house.

Our house only had the floor outlets way back when. We had to change out the fuses for a circuit breaker box. When the electricians were here, I didn't like where the outlet was in the bath, and only 1. They fished the new ones thru the walls. Somebody long before me, added wall outlets in almost all rooms. Our daughter only has 1 outlet and not in the right spot. It can be done. Oh, and ours are the ones you partially put in a plug then twist, or rotate the part the plug goes in. 2 prong. By the cupboard that houses the tv and all the other equipment, the electrician accidently drilled thur that wiring. I wanted it changed out to a 3 prong anyway. Again, they fished the wires thru the wall.

Isn't the point of buying an old house to preserve what you can? And isn't the plaster part of the charm?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 11:15AM
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I know I may get slammed for this, but we didn't buy the house with noble intentions of preserving it back to its original state, although we certainly have no intentions of destroying what natural charms it DOES have, like the floors and archways.

But what benefits does plaster have over drywall? Does it help with the structural integrity of the house (I know there's a ton of lathing behind it)? Aside from aesthetics, how is it better than drywall? I know drywall is 100% easier to install from scratch, but there MUST be reasons why it is better to keep the original plaster if it's already there.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 11:30AM
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HANDS DOWN plaster reduces the amount of noise you hear in the house. There is no comparison, in my mind, between plaster and drywall.

Couldn't you blow in insulation? Imo, that's a much better way to go for lots of reasons (e.g., environmentally more sound, more cost effective in long run, more efficient, though that's open for debate, as you'll see elsewhere).

Unless the plaster is crummy, I would not tear it out.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 11:51AM
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Plaster is harder and tougher; you can put a dent or a hole in drywall with your fist. You have to be careful moving furniture because a little miscalculation can leave a big scar. Plaster? Plaster is forever. You can't dent it, you can't put a hole in it without putting some real effort (and probably a tool) behind it.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 12:01PM
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Keep the plaster if for no other reason than it will keep your costs down. You don't NEED to remove it to insulate if you blow in insulation. Hubby and a friend did all of our big 2 story house themselves.

Terry has good advice on the how-tos. It's certainly not brain surgery.

Sound reduction is another good point.

I don't understand the reasoning behind tearing it out--especially considering the mess (been there, done that), the expense, and drywall just is NOT the same feel. The job doesn't need to be as hard as your DH wants to make it.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 12:11PM
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Plaster is a luxury wall material these days. Your DH might think twice about junking it if you get an estimate for replacing it.

The lath doesn't add much, if any structural strength, but the plaster and lath together add considerable sound insulation, some thermal and moisture buffering of the indoor atmosphere, and if kept in good condition, a reasonable infiltration barrier.

Blown-in wall insulation is one choice for adding some R-value, however, I believe you'll get more energy-savings dollar return in insulating the attic first, then making sure you house is really buttoned up to stop air infiltration, windows with storms, etc.

I guess, for me, the best reason to keep it there is because replacing it is so costly. Dry wall and plaster are not equivalent choices. You already have the Mercedes of wall coverings, why tear it out and replace it with a Hyundai?

Take the time, trouble, and money you'd spend on replacing the drywall in addition to putting in the insulation and spend it all on other ways to increase your home's efficiency.

(Scare the bejabbers out of your husband and call a plasterer for a quote....)


    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 12:13PM
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after removing 5 layers of wallpaper in a bedroom the 100 year old plaster walls look great.

after removing 1 layer of cow wallpaper from the remodeled kitchen the drywall is a mess. i've never lived w/ this stuff before and i couldn't believe it was a wall. painfully easy to dent and with all the charm and sound insulation of cardboard.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 2:18PM
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All outstanding points, thank you!

For all I can tell, the walls are in good shape, but I know NOTHING about plaster... What constitutes NOT being in good shape?

My only real concern about keeping the plaster walls is this: in one of the downstairs rooms (the farthest from the bathroom, so I don't think moisture is an issue), the paint is peeling and flaking off the walls and ceilings like CRAZY. In some places, it's coming off in big 2 or 3 inch pieces. Underneath, the surface is a bit chalky; you touch it, and you can see dusty residue on your fingers.

Is this the plaster? I doubt it, because I'm sure there must be numerous layers of paint under the flaking layer, but I'm worried that if I chip all the patches of paint off and prime/repaint, I'll get the same problem due to the dustiness.

Maybe I'll put the paint concern in a separate post, unless anyone here knows what may be going on...

Anyway, I think my crazy DH's main concern is getting behind the walls to do the electrical work. He's an electrician by trade, so he of course thinks he knows everything about every aspect of construction, haha... But I'm sure his main motive, whether he says it or not, is that it's a lot easier to do the wiring at the wall stud level rather than from in front of the walls.

I think I may just have to stand my ground on leaving the walls as-is, if they are "in good shape."

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 2:59PM
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Stand your ground. It maybe easier to rip it down to the studs and rewire BUT you will lose that warm feeling you have in your home. Plaster and lath holds the heat/cool air in much better by itself than dry wall does and you will never get back the soundproofing that plaster and lath walls provide.

That peeling you are concerned about could be Calcimine on your walls and ceiling.
Do a web search for the Oldhouse Jorunal they had a good article for it. How to test for it and how to cure it.


    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 3:09PM
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I just went looking at old posts in this forum and found calcimite paint mentioned; that does sounds like the problem we are having.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 3:28PM
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Plaster is charming and muffles sound. You will truly miss it if you lose it! I recently lost some of my plaster & lathe during my kitchen remodel. What a difference even in a small space!

A local violin maker told me he loves the sound of the violin against plaster walls, it is a rich warm sound. His studio is in an old bungalow with plaster walls and it's a lovely showcase for his work. Perhaps the sounds of children and other delights benefit from the plaster! It's hard to hear from one end of my house to the other, and I credit the plaster & lathe. Can't put a price on quiet.

My electricians have had no problem with wiring, we're wired to code and to our eccentricities. Some don't want to mess with it, others have plenty of experience and don't need to be told why it's important for me to preserve it.

I like the idea of getting a quote on plaster replacement/repair. You may need this person in the future as you work on your home, it's quite a craft.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 4:32PM
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Do you have kids? If so, keep them away from that chipping paint. It almost assuredly has lead in it. If you clean it up (which is a good idea), do it by hand (small, disposable swiffer or something that doesn't generate dust) and w/ lots of water. Don't use your regular house vacuum to pick it up. Don't do this if you're pregnant! Do further research on how to clean up lead paint, but keeping a clean and tidy (undusty) house helps (something I know, but have trouble practicing).

Can you drop the wiring through the attic then fill w/ cellulose?

STAND FIRM! We'll all support your decision to keep the plaster!

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 4:44PM
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Ripping out the plaster will release a ton of lead particles into the air, if the walls have been kept painted over the years. It's also a colossal mess - you'll never, ever stop finding plaster dust no matter how long you live in that house.

I have a great electrician who sometimes does have to cut a small hole in the plaster, and it's easily fixable. Drywall is not as repairable as plaster - you pretty much have to take out a large section back to the wall studs on either side of the damage and replace all of that. Plaster is easy to fix, but expensive to replace (and try finding someone who does new plaster these days - impossible).

Pet peeve alert -- :) It's "lath," not "lathe." A lathe is a machine you use to make turned, carved table legs/chair legs/spindles, etc.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 10:37PM
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I guess I have a somewhat opposite view, at least in part. We recently had to tear out to the studs all the lath and plaster in my kitchen (a 1918 foursquare) which had a thick layer of black glue and masonite on top of it. I did have the option to re-lath and plaster and chose not to do so. Time and effort was a consideration, I chose what was workable for me at the time. This place has already been changed from the original and we are not intending to take it back to where it was, although that would have been nice if we could have done so.

I do not, nor will I have, plaster dust left no matter how long I live in this house. It was open to the studs for a couple months, the plaster dust was gone and now all I have is a little sheetrock dust on the back of my counters where I have not yet decided on a backsplash.

Most of the rest of the house is plastered except for the parts of an addition that was added before we moved here. I do appreciate the sound and heat insulation that the lath and plaster give. That said, I also hate the cracks that seem to be interminable. A door slammed, a child jumping, a semi passing on the highway, a low flying military jet, or anything else it seems leaves cracks. Plaster may be hard to nail into, but the cracks appear out of nowhere it seems! And you just can't paint over them. They need to be repaired and repaired correctly or the fix is worse than the problem. There are pros and cons on both sides, and this forum will probably help to understand the pros. But sometimes, they just aren't enough to justify not sticking up some sheetrock---in my opinion only!

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 1:23AM
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Hmm, I hadn't realized that plaster helps to insulate? Maybe that explains why the house holds its warmth even though there's no insulation?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 8:41AM
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Wow, I'm glad I saw this post! I hope my question is helpful to the OP, too.

We have a 1929 bungalow with plaster walls. There are a few cracks and crumbles, especially under windows, but most of the plaster seems to be intact. However, it has all been wallpapered, and some of the rooms have a burlap-type wall covering that may be hiding a multitude of sins. We won't know the extent of the damage till we remove the burlap (and I'd rather not deface these rooms until the GC is ready to start). My GC has recommended drywalling throughout, rather than repairing the damaged areas and stripping the wallpaper. Is that the most cost-effective solution? Can drywall be installed OVER the plaster? That would at least give us the benefits of warmth and soundproofing.

Thanks for your advice,


    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 1:00PM
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Why not do the removing of wallpaper yourself? It can be a PIN, but can be done. We are now down to the plaster on my mother's bedroom and we had our soon-to-be-hired GC in to look at some other things.

He said if it were him, he would put drywall on the relatively cracked ceiling (you can install right over, if you're sure you've found the studs). He also, however, said that since I'd done all the work, there was no reason not to just patch the plaster and go for it. It won't be perfect, but it will suit our purposes and be more suitable for the house.

He mentioned that it would've been hard to find someone willing to do the amount of work we'd done. If you can tackle this on your own, why not?

In fact, his willingness to work with us (letting us do some of the work) was what sold us on this contractor.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 2:45PM
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Thanks, Clark. It's a good suggestion, but we're really not DIY'ers, and both of us have physical limitations (DH broke his shoulder last year, and I'm undergoing physical therapy for a back problem), so we'd have to hire someone to remove the wallpaper (perhaps a handyman, if the GC or his painter would charge too much). That's why I'm weighing the cost of wallpaper removal plus plaster repair versus drywalling---there might be considerable savings in labor costs, although I'd really rather preserve the plaster, for all the reasons stated earlier.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 4:24PM
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Another non-preservationist opinion -- we have plaster and drywall over plaster in our house and its hard to tell the difference between them -- I know a collective gasp, but its true. Its simply not the same thing to put dry wall over plaster as it is with just drywall.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 4:53PM
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The problem with dry wall over plaster, at least on the walls, is that it will build the wall surface up by the depth of drywall, which will change the relief between the wall and the window and door trim, and skirting boards. To my eye, this makes for an unattractive change in proportion.

Installing dry wall over a cracked ceiling isn't as noticeable, unless you have crown molding, where the change would be more viisble.

And installing the dry wall will put a regular grid of holes through your plaster that would have to patched if you ever decided to go back.

Another option is to investigate the cost of having the existing plaster skim coated. If the plaster is essentially sound and the most serious cracks and divots are repaired, a skim coat will look very nice, and being thinner than dry wall, not a problem visually.

If the plaster has a bit of sag here and there it can be snugged up with plaster washers, beforehand.

To find a plaster skim person, call plasterers, not dry wall guys. It's the same skill (pretty much, anyway) but men who hang sheet rock aren't all that fond of plaster!


    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 12:58AM
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Christopher Nelson Wallcovering and Painting
    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 7:01AM
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MTnester, perhaps you can hire a kid to do the work? Or where do you live? I'll come do it! It's like doing dishes after a party to me, fun in a repetitive, time-to-think way... Seriously, if there are limits, there are, but gosh, I'd try to preserve the plaster. GCs, imo, often tell you what they want to do as if it's gospel and you're a heretic if you don't want to follow their advice. But you're still the one paying the bill!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 7:22AM
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Molly, thanks for your comments, and especially for pointing out the problem with the window and door trim. I will ask the GC how he would deal with that. The trim is pretty deep, so maybe it's not a huge problem (esp. with draperies covering the window frames). I think the GC would probably remove the crown molding and baseboard trim while installing the drywall, as he did when he remodeled the kitchen.

Hobbs and Christopher, thanks for your comments, too, and for the link to the magazine article. I think we have the calcimine problem in the ceiling of one bedroom, but that's another story!

I guess there's no way around it: we'll have to remove the wallpaper if we go the skimcoat route. But that does appeal to me (if we can afford it). Otherwise, maybe we can do a combination approach: drywall the worst walls and skimcoat the rest.

Clark, in our neighborhood (in Baltimore), we have several young men who do handyman jobs (cutting grass, raking leaves, etc.), so if there's no skill involved, I could probably find someone to do the scraping. There are four rooms plus a hallway, so it's a pretty big job.

I need to talk to the GC, but I can see that his advice won't be objective, because he prefers solving problems with drywall, not plaster.

Thanks, everyone!


    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 10:46AM
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I got seriously lucky with my carpenter! I didn't want to lose the plaster. The kitchen I had no choice, and there is a big difference in that room compared to others. In our bedroom, he did his homework, and applied some sort of sheet stuff (it looked like joint tape but in a sheet) over the scratch coat and did a skim coat. In my batroom, I reconfigured where everything was. That 50's tub was in the cove part of the ceiling, with a jerry rigged wall in front of it. While ripping it all out, including that marlite (?) stuff in the tub area, I discovered plaster missing. What did he do? He mixed up plaster and went to it. You cannot tell where he fixed it at all. It was missing in the curve part and he did an excellent job. The best part was he barely charged me anything for all that he did here! He also told me he wasn't used to working for someone like me. I did all the "destruction" part of it, cleaned it all up, then it was his turn. He's used to working for people who want him to do it all. He was a joy to have work here and he wasn't interested in just sticking up drywall instead of fixing the plaster. Plaster washers are also very is NuWal. This room would't look as awesome as it does, if not for those products. And this room I did by myself...with a little help from hubby....

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 10:56AM
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Oh, one more product recommendation (link elsewhere on this forum). Wallwik (, works wonders at multiple layers of wallpaper. Benjamin Moore stores sell it.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 11:09AM
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Well I am eternally in everyone's debt... DH and I had a talk about the walls last night, and I went through all the "key points" of the argument in favor of keeping the plaster, from the massive bulk of trying to dispose of it, to the soundproofing, to the alternative means of insulating behind it... None of it seemed to stick, until I mentioned that plaster naturally keeps the room warmer, to which he paused, thought for a minute, and replied, "I suppose our house DOES hold heat pretty well."

So he says as long as I don't insist on having a half dozen waist-height electrical outlets in every room (who needs 'em? BAH!), he's got no problem keeping the plaster. YAY!!!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 11:29AM
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MT, I'll come over and do it, I'm just down the road in Catonsville, Md.

The moulding is an issue -- my errant thought was that since the GC was doing it, he would remove it and reattach after drywall. Yes, the mouldings are more dramatic when they are out further from the wall surface, but in cases like ours where they are nice mouldings, they still look good.

If I personally had a choice, I would pull off the wallpaper and skimcoat, but thatÂs because I would do it myself and its probably quite a bit cheaper than new sheetrock with free labor.

So either way, I think it looks fine, just figure out what works best for you. Oh and I just got the MTnester -- slow today.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 12:12PM
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Plaster is harder and tougher; you can put a dent or a hole in drywall with your fist. You have to be careful moving furniture because a little miscalculation can leave a big scar. Plaster? Plaster is forever. You can't dent it, you can't put a hole in it without putting some real effort (and probably a tool) behind it.

My son has put his fist through a plaster wall before. You definitely do not need a tool to dent or damage it.

We have plaster and drywall in this house. Rewiring was done upstairs after the walls came down, and it was very easy to do. It was also easy to blow in insulation from the outside of the house into the remaining plaster walls (a DIY project anyone can do!)

The negative to plaster is how costly it is to replace. Many will say they can DIY, and to some extent you can. However I had my dining room repaired by a professional plasterer and what a difference between his work and DIY! He was not cheap but he was worth it. His advice on my plaster was to rip it out and replace it with drywall, very interesting when you consider his profession. Plaster also cracks with age.

Good luck with your decision. There are pros and cons to both products.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 12:13PM
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Plain drywall is not your only option if you are unable to keep or repair the original plaster. You can also use blueboard and veneer plaster. At least in my area, the prices are nearly the same, since the additional labor for the plastering is offset by the ability to do the whole job in one pass. Of course, veneer plaster is not the same as plaster-on-lath, but it's certainly closer than regular drywall.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 1:21PM
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We have a very old home with plaster walls. I've given a quick read-through of the responses you've gotten so far and I don't see any mention of balloon framing or knob & tube wiring. We have both in our house. Balloon framing actually allows you to blow insulation into all of your exterior walls very easily without disrupting your plaster; however, knob & tube wiring makes insulating in this manner potentially dangerous (fire hazard). Check your house out for these things.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 1:45PM
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Uh-oh, (you may not want to show your DH this ....) I don't think plaster does all that much for temperature insulation. For sound, yes, and as a gross thermal mass to buffer *changes* in temp, yes. Does it have a significantly higher R-value than sheet rock, I dunno, but I would be surprised.

When I wrote it buffers changes, what I mean is that it doesn't change temps very quickly, so that means it stays cooler in early warm weather, retains warmth at the end of a heat spell, etc. Plus because it absorbs and holds moisture, it can feel cooler to the touch. (And modestly, from a fire protection point of view that moisture can keep walls a tad cooler, longer, in a fire, depending on the season.)

Regarding taking off your skirting board before doing any sheet rock: you make discover that doesn't work well, as in many cases the plaster was done after the baseboard was installed and so they are pretty much stuck together. This is not true in all places, but it is very common when the whole house is to be plastered from the start. What you may have is a two part baseboard, with an added, molded exterior nailed to a plain baseboard that was installed before plastering. (Your window and door trim may also be the same way.)

Even if you have thick trim, reducing it by the thickness of drywall will change how it looks. This "submerging" of trim depth is one the reasons why vinyl siding makes such mess of many exteriors. Too me it looks like a coin or a sculpture that has been worn down and the clarity of the design's relief gets lost.

BTW, it retrofitting electricity to my house, we decided (after, er, considerable debate - my husband is the electrician) to install the outlets in the wooden skirting board, and not the plaster. It is easier to fill the hole, should we ever decide to do so, with a simple dutchman, and all our skirting boards are painted so a repair there would be less noticeable.


    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 2:31PM
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We had plaster walls in our house, and after tree damage, the kitchen and dining room were stripped and sheetrock used. Those rooms are not as quiet now and although we were able to put insulation in i haven;t really noticed any difference in the heating bills. The plaster walls 'feel' better and do not dent as easily. If I had the choice I would keep the plaster walls

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 9:43PM
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Just want to express my thanks to all the additional posters! I'm still in the info-gathering phase, but I'm glad to hear all the differing opinions and experiences, as it helps me know the right questions to ask. I'll have to make some calls, get some quotes, and discuss with the GC. This will be a huge project, as we'll have to put furniture in storage and probably will need to move out while the work is done. Also, I still am working on the paint colors and other decorating issues. The GC may not be ready for us till some time next year. But thanks, everyone, for giving me more knowledge to use in planning!

And Clark and Hobbs, thanks for the offers to scrape the wallpaper!


    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 10:09PM
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Stripping wallpaper must be done carefully so as not to damage the plaster but I wouldn't call it "skilled" labor. After all, I did it without any idea what I was getting into! I pulled, scraped, and melted paper off almost every wall and ceiling in my house the year we bought it and I'd do it again. Great to free the house of that muck. I really developed an appreciation for my plaster after spending that much time with it up close & personal.

Maybe you could hire a responsible teen, or a couple of them with music & snacks to keep them happy.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 11:57PM
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Hello, I know I'm coming in to this post at the tail-end, but I am desperate for getting some resolution about the walls in my new studio.

The studio is in a VERY old building with plaster walls. Since the space has been used over the years by artists, there really wasn't any concern about proper care of the walls, and the cracking in awful. Crumbling, too in some areas. The walls are 12' high, so it's a daunting situation.

My challenge here is, I do not have the normal remodeling budget, so I cannot afford to spend money on GCs and the like. I do, however, have a great deal of determination and am highly resourceful. I just don't know the best route to go with this project. Do I just hire someone to hang drywall? Or is it possible to for me to add a plaster or compound of some type over the entire wall areas? To top the challenge, the prior tenant put some terrible texturing technique over the plaster, which was of course originally smooth.

It's not economical for me to restore the space to the original thing... it's just an artist studio. But, I will have clients to the space and also work as a graphic design studio there, so it needs to be presentable. I may not be there more than a few years, so (sorry to all the true restoration people) it's more about least amount of money, DIY, and time saving while simply bringing the walls to a better state.

Can anyone help? I've been researching and this posting has already been very good with information, but I'm still at a complete loss with the best solution.

Thank you in advance,

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 9:42PM
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when my hubby and I bought or 107 yr old house in nov of 06 we went to town on our daughters room first. the whole house has horsehair plaster all we did was gently scrap of the old walpaper (used a spray bottle with warm water and a putty knife on diffucult spots) then skim coated it with drywall compound it was cheep and looks great it fills in small holes and cracks just fine for bigger cracks you have to digg a little to make the compund squish in. then when sanded and smoothed everything out. we painted it like it was reg drywall but kept the old look of the plaster (it is not PERFECTLY smooth) and the sound realy does make a difference!! we have been debating whether or not to take it down to insulate or not (some of the walls are the back side of the roof. very hot in the summer) but i like the idea of blown in insulation

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 12:48AM
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I have plaster walls in my house and we've decided to re-wire the entire electrical system and bring it up to date. The electrician who came to give me a bid today said that the work of fishing wire up into the plaster walls was going to add a significant amount of labor cost to the project. We are potentially facing having to replace all the plaster walls anyway because they've been damaged by having wood paneling installed over them.

Do you think it would save us money on the electrical contractor's work if we demo'ed the plaster and lath ourselves before he begins his rewiring work?

Would the cost of putting up drywall and insulation negate the savings on the electrician?

Here is a link that might be useful: My blog, Our New Old House

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 4:36PM
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Fishing electrical wire adds to the cost, but not significantly, if you are reasonable.

1. Put as many electrical outlets as possible in the baseboards, where the electrician can it pop off, run the wire, and replace.

2. Put as many wall switches and other electrical outlets next to a door frame, where you can pop off the trim and do the same.

3. In an area like a bath or a kitchen, you can run the outlets in a single row and just cut out the plaster there, then replace with greenboard and some nice covering (like tile in the kitchen right above countertops) so it will look nice. Normally, you cannot just cut away plaster and lathe in an area, but if something (like cabinets and counter tops affixed to the studs) is securing the lathe strips where they were cut out to the studs above and below, it will be OK.

Plaster is generally more energy efficient than drywall and keeping it is much more environmentally friendly. Plus, it absorbs and releases humidity, which helps to keep the ambient humidity in a house better for our health. If you sell your home, the plaster should improve its value to history lovers (which historic home buyers generally are).

    Bookmark   August 17, 2007 at 5:10PM
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My husband and I have fished electrical wiring into many of the rooms of our plaster-walled house ourselves, and *sometimes* it's a bit tricky, but it's not that difficult and I can't see how taking it out would save much labor in the long run. Maybe you could ask/call around and find an electrician who is more sensitive to the needs and construction of old houses before you start demo-ing a feature of your home that contributes to its character. Drywalling and all that finishing it entails is as much or more of a pain as repairing old plaster, and the results are far less satisfactory in an old house, IMHO.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2007 at 7:53PM
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my wife and i bought a 1893 farmhouse 4 years ago for a rock bottom price, as the house had been butchered by the previous owner and ended up in foreclosure.

the solutions by the previous owner were to put up drywayy over the plaster, but didnt tape the seams and put wall paper over it. we found that in 90% of the house, it all had to come out, as the plaster was so badly damaged and we cannot afford plaster repair so we DIY all the work.

EVERYTHING came out and went down to the studs, which has its pros and cons... one con is that the drywall tends to be wavy, do to the rough cut lumber.

but we are much happier having all new drywall and moulding as well.

i guess this is one of the "to each their own" thing.

but i do find it MUCH easier to run new electrical, but the dump fees are outrageus disposing of all that plaster, not to mention the mess.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2007 at 6:01PM
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"EVERYTHING came out and went down to the studs, which has its pros and cons... one con is that the drywall tends to be wavy, do to the rough cut lumber.:

Sort of a classic mistake.
It is very fast to rip 2x4s in half to make ~2x2s, then fasten these to the side of the old rough studs so the new wall plane is just proud of the highest point in the old studs.
You can use either a nail gun or screws to attach the new wood, but hand nailing is not a good option. It is just to hard to keep everything flat and straight.
A Laser level projecting a vertical plane and a spacer board can be used to get a perfectly flat wall.
This method is MUCH faster than trying to shim the old studs to a flat plane.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2007 at 11:28AM
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As a high end painter there is nothing I hate to see more than an old Victorian house with beautiful woodwork.....& 3/8" or 1/4" drywall was slapped up on the walls for a quicky fix. I always spot the "non-traditional" fix instantly when I walk into a room. There will never be trim with a crisp straight paint line in that room again!

More often than not the quick fix cost just as much as the price for a good plaster guy to come in & fix the bad areas. As a painter I do plenty of plaster repair. One thing I have used in stable but cracked areas is a 36" wide fiberglass mesh. Its just like the fiberglass mesh tape but 3' wide & sticky on one side. 3 skims & it looks great. you can cut out the size you need for your repair. If I find an area where the plaster & coming off the lathe then I just knock out the bad plaster, secure lose lathe, do a base onto the lathe that is similar to concrete & then plaster over top (i forgot the name of it but its in the same area of the hardware store where they sell the dry joint compound). Genuine plaster can be hard for many to get a smooth finish & its ok to skim out imperfections with joint compound to make things easier.

Just do it right folks! You won't regret it!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2007 at 11:58PM
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We took a more conservative approach when renovating our 1928 Tudor, course our plaster was in fairly good condition.
The house needed new wiring, plumbing, and we needed to remodel the kitchen and bathrooms as well. We decided to create arteries to get these new systems up to other floors. Think of potential opportunities for these arteries when you embark on a remodel. Example, when we gutted the kitchen, we used this artery to get the wiring up to the second floor. We gutted one wall in the bathroom to run our new copper plumbing up and some wiring.
We did gut our basement entirely of 70's paneling and use that to help us channel the new systems up.
So, with a good bit of planning and thinking, you can save the headache of removing the plaster.

I for one believe the plaster and some of the cracks and repairs give the house it's age and character. I've seen houses that have been completely gutted and drywalled, they look a bit sterile to me.

It freaks me out when I see people on tv and whatnot, bashing away at plaster without a respirator or something, you know they're sucking in tons of lead paint and possibly asbestos. Think people!

Negatives of removing plaster:
1. The weight of all that plaster and lathe
2. The lead and asbestos dust, yuck!
3. The nails holding the lathe on take forever to remove, and they're rusty.
4. Removing the character of the old walls.

That said, if the plaster is trashed, beyond repair, have a company come in and take it all down.

If you want to insulate the exterior walls, you can have a company drill holes on the outside and force blow-in insulation in the cavities. Myself, I think it's better to have the house breathe a bit. I really think some of these new homes are over insulated. We insulated our attics to R38 and insulated the remodeled rooms we have done. So far the house is staying cooler with the AC and Warmer with the heating and our bills have gone down. We put new Marvin Infinity Fiberglass windows in and they've helped a ton.

Hope these ideas help!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 11:46AM
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My farm house in the country was built sometime about 1850-70. Rough cut yellow poplar framing and siding with plastered walls. The lath material is very wavy and flexible, not sure what the wood is, but it appears to be the same stuff they used to use for tobacco sticks.

I removed the plaster and lath on the two exterior walls because it was in such poor condition. The house had settled over the years and there were many cracks and entire sections of plaster had come loose from the lath. The plaster was reinforced with what looks like pigs' hair. Two interior walls are still relatively sound, so have no intention of tearing them out.

There is not a straight or square wall in the house. The rough cut studs are of varying width, so the plastered walls are wavy and not exactly vertical.

While I had the bare studs exposed, I stapled house wrap to the inside face of the exterior siding, and lapped it around the studs, and filled the cavity with fibreglass insulation. Then I panelled the interior wall with 3/8" sheathing plywood, which brings it out to about very close to the same thickness as the old lathwork. I plan to place drywall over the plywood panels, which will bring the wall about out to approximately the thickness of the original plaster. Plans are to wallpaper over the drywall.

I would not simply place drywall over the studs, since you can ram your fist through it (I have seen it done) or otherwise damage. I believe the drywall backed up with sheathing plywood plus the insulation should have at least the rigidity and sound insulating qualities of the original plaster.

But I would not have removed the original plaster if it had been in reasonably repairable condition.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2007 at 8:59PM
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steve-va's recommendation sounds like what we're doing with our plaster walls---the ones that were/are not in good shape. First of all, the electrician fished the wiring through the walls. He said most places weren't that hard to do. I think the area near the pocket doors was one of the most difficult, but it was accomplished.

PO nailed trailer wallboard up on a lot of the plaster walls. (Guess they wanted the look of "wallpaper.") Of course, those walls (and a very few others) are the ones that look horrible (lots of extra nail holes). At a South Carolina Archives and History workshop a couple of years ago, a renovator from Camden, SC, showed us how he repairs plaster walls. Camden has a lot of historic homes that are owned by wealthy people who can afford whatever it takes to restore their homes. Also, SC Archives and History approves this method. Sherwall (available at some Sherwin-Williams paint stores) is applied in strips to the walls---after patching has been done. Skim coating is applied, sanded, and smoothed before priming and painting. The Sherwall is a fiberglass veil and is supposed to keep the wall from cracking. When we're done, we plan to have the Sherwall in six rooms.

PO did so many horrible things. We're trying to undo as much as possible and give the house the TLC it deserves. Just the noise reduction that the plaster provides is a pretty darn good reason to save the plaster, IMO. Anyway, just another option.

My daughter was telling one of her friends about the trailer wallboard, the cheap motel bathrooms, and other lovely features installed by PO. The friend asked her if she had ever been under the house. My daughter said, "Yes, I've been under there several times. Why do you ask?" The friend said, "I just wondered if the PO had installed wheels under there." Thought that was pretty funny but kind of scary though. If the house had been smaller and closer to the ground, we probably would have had wheels to remove!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 5:57PM
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Interesting to read this post. Our "plaster" walls are some kind of cement like stuff on to p of ancient wall board. Dh went through a lot of diamond drill bits to insulate because they wore out every few holes.
On HGTV I saw some people proudly describing how they had renovated their lovely old victorian home by replacing all the plaster with sheet rock. There was no indication that there was anything wrong with the plaster, I think they just thought sheet rock was better. I was totally amazed and horrified. Sheet rock to plaster is like plastic to marble. I'm actually very fond of plastic, but I wouldn't rip marble out to replace it with plastic.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2008 at 12:06AM
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"Our "plaster" walls are some kind of cement like stuff on to p of ancient wall board.:

Sounds like 2 coat plaster.
Orignially with wood lath 3 coats of plaster were used.
The first coat (called a brown coat) had hair in it to help it form keys when pushed through the gaps in the wood lath.
The second coat (scratch coat) was sanded to same on materials and smoothed out the major deviation in the brown coat. It was lightly scratched to give the final top coat something to mechanically lock into.
The top coat was lime and plaster and only about 1/8 inch thick.
One of the first uses for gypsum panels was as a replacement for wood lath (and expanded metal). It replaced the lath and brown coat, so only the scratch and finish layers are needed.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2008 at 10:26AM
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Thats interesting! Thanks Brickeyee. Since our home was built in the 1920s it figures we'd have some new fangled modern invention. It is a great sound insulator. And I love how it looks. Nice to know its "real" plaster.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2008 at 8:08AM
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