Help with damaged plaster walls

JaniefulNovember 30, 2012

I wanted to solicit advice regarding the plaster wall in one of our closets. It is directly below the chimney, and about a year ago I started noticing efflorescence (i.e. a powdery substance) on the walls. I left it for a while and noticed it wasn't getting worse. Today I decided to start scraping it off. Of course loads of paint and other things started coming off.

My house is a brick 1920s home. I'm curious about this particular wall, because I've noticed underneath the plaster is a concrete substance. This is an exterior wall, and the other exterior walls we have explored (for various reasons) are plaster directly on brick. This one seems different. Can anyone clarify what the make-up of the wall would be - brick, cement, and then plaster?

You can see in the upper right hand corner how the scraping led the plaster to start to crumble off. My question is, should I keep on going with that and take off any loose plaster? It is likely A LOT would come off.

I've also notice a slight amount of black powdery mold where the wall meets the ceiling. Should I entirely remove the gobs of who knows what (paint, spackle, etc. etc.) that are between the wall and the ceiling. I'm worried that whole area might have mold.

I guess my question is - how much effort should I put into it, in light of the fact that it is in a closet? It is quickly becoming a huge project, but I also hate to do things half way. Because of moisture (which of course I will fix) the plaster is just shot. Do you think I could fix it myself or should I just hire someone?

I have other cracked plaster elsewhere in the house that needs to be fixed (and not by me, since it is so visible). I guess I could just throw it on the pile, but the fact that it is in a closet makes me think perhaps I could fix it myself.

Any thoughts on the construction of a plaster wall in the 1920s and what you would do in this situation is much appreciated.

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I cannot tell from the picture, but plaster walls have up to three layers. Base or 'scratch' coat (often with fiber), a float coat (some sand to level out the surface) and a then a finish coat (often with lime putty added)

If it is on brick it could have only two layers, a float coat to levels the surface, and a finish coat.

The finish coat is around 1/8 inch thick.

A chimney may have water intrusion problems from the flue if there is no rain cap (chimney 'cover') present.

Water could also be leaking into brick exposed above a roof line and running down.

This post was edited by brickeyee on Sun, Dec 2, 12 at 11:23

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 3:19PM
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Thanks brickeyee. I believe the part that is coming off so readily is probably about 1/8 thick, so I imagine that is the finish coat. I'm leaning towards figuring out how to fix it myself, mainly because it doesn't have to be perfect and could be a learning experience.

It's strange we have water damage there, since when we moved into the house 5 years ago, the previous owners had to put a rain cap on. The damage happened after that. Could is also be coming in where the chimney meets the roof? I'm a little discouraged, because our neighbors supposedly had to have professionals come out to work on their chimney multiple times before they stopped the problem.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 3:24PM
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I'd have someone check the flashing for the chimney--that was the cause of my chimney's similar problem.

And this is a prime candidate for diy plastering, since it isn't visible. One other thing: why in god's name are you being so squeamish about fixing a simple crack in the other rooms? It's dead simple: make the crack a bit wider at the bottom and fill with compound...then use tape and another skim coat to bring it even with the rest of the wall. It's an old house, I guarantee you don't have a perfectly flat even wall anywhere in the house. :)

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 5:32PM
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Thanks, Columbus. I believe it is probably the flashing.

I probably didn't clarify the other plaster problem too well. It's way more than a crack, at least I think it is. I've attached a picture. I imagine once I remove the part that is warped, it will be outside my expertise. Plus the walls are textured and I would prefer it to be the same. I'm not at all anal about these things normally, but this is right in the dining room and highly visible.

Of course, if I can't avoid paying a professional, I'm all for it. We just dropped a ton of cash on an addition and don't have tons to spend.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 7:45PM
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One area on my stairs about 2'x1' had that problem, turns out it was only the top layer--the rough coat underneath was fine. I cut away the loose bit, and filled it with compound, and sanded it even with the rest of the wall--can't even tell it was damaged.

If you can push the plaster back in place, you can use plaster washers to secure it, then cover with compound. Since you are working with textured walls, that would make it easier. Experiment on a spare piece of board or drywall to imitate the texture, and that would be what you do for the top coat.

If you have to remove the plaster in a small area, patch with a bit of drywall and tape and coat the seams and then do the texture.

This post was edited by columbusguy1 on Sat, Dec 1, 12 at 16:59

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:24PM
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Janieful - That bulging crack is where an older, badly done patch has given up. You can see the different wall texture. Remove the loose material and dig back to solid plaster, then make a proper repair with real plaster in several layers.

If you can frost a cupcake or make a PBJ sandwich, you can patch plaster.

That closet problem is the more serious, because it indicates a leak that's been there for a while. Get a roofer in to fix the flashing and look for damaged shingles up hill from the chimney.

This post was edited by lazygardens on Sat, Dec 1, 12 at 22:01

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 9:59PM
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