Keep plaster walls or replace with drywall?

artemis78October 25, 2010

We're remodeling our kitchen, and need to decide whether to go down to the studs or preserve the existing plaster and lathe walls. Our house is circa 1915 and these are plaster over wood lathe with a smooth finish.

One of the four walls must come down to the studs (removing a chimney) and will then be drywalled. The others are in good condition and would only need minor patching. Somewhat astoundingly we are clear for both asbestos and lead paint in these walls so there is no real reason to remove them or leave them on that front.

Are there compelling arguments for getting rid of the plaster? Drywall guy says we will have problems with plaster cracking and should replace it all so that it matches---but then again, he's the drywall guy. We do have cracking as the house settles, but it's an old house and that seems par for the course---doesn't bother us too much. We are adding some electrical, but no new plumbing and 2/3 of the wiring to be added will be in the wall that's getting taken down to the studs anyway (which leaves one new outlet each in each of the remaining three walls).

My concern on taking the plaster out is that the wood/plaster combo may be providing good sound insulation right now, but that might not be the case...? (The three walls in question are two exterior walls and an interior wall between the kitchen and our bedroom.)

Thoughts on this? Thanks!

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If the walls are in good condition I would leave them alone.

I also agree that sound is better deadened with the older style walls.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2010 at 7:40PM
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Congrats on your remodel - And yes the drywall guy would say you will have problems - A good answer would be "they have withstood the test of time for 95 years, so I'll take my chances" -

You are dead on about the natural buffer of sound that plaster provides -
You mentioned most the electric & plumbing will be going in the wall that is going down to the studs - You may want to wrap your plumbing runs with some type of insulation - as you will notice pinging, swishing, whirring in that wall

Consider yourself fortunate that you don't have to take everything down to the studs - embrace the plaster

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 8:45PM
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As part of my kitchen remodel all walls and the ceiling were taken down to the studs. I wasn't happy about that, but what do I know...I'm only the homeowner. My contractor was insistant about that and somehow I ended up with no say in the matter as much of the demo was done while I was at work. It made it easier for them as my kitchen had double thickness plaster and cement board walls.

If you can keep the plaster, do so. I know I will regret them replacing my good walls with wallboard.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 10:51PM
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Drywall is basically cheap, imitation plaster. There is certainly no reason to tear it all out if you don't need to.

My only concern would be matching the texture. Plaster is much smoother than drywall and has a pretty unique look. A good drywaller will be able to skim coat and get a decent looking match, but it is extra work. If they just tape the seems like in new construction, it isn't going to match the existing walls very well.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 10:52AM
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To add to what bill said.

History Lesson--when drywall was first introduced to the market, it was to replace the underlaying lath board that is used by plaster and lathe. But it was still plastered.

Our first house, built to FHA standards right after WWII had walls like this. They were very nice.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 7:40AM
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:"when drywall was first introduced to the market, it was to replace the underlaying lath board that is used by plaster and lathe. But it was still plastered. "

Two coat plaster on gypsum lathe.

The sheets were only 16 inches x 48 inches.

The final plaster usually ended up right around 3/4 inch, but had the properties of a solid plaster wall (3-coat plaster).

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 4:49PM
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There are several reasons to remove the plaster. Given this is a 95 year old house, the exterior walls likely have little or no insulation. Removing the plaster lets you check the framing for rot and/or inadequately sized headers. Plumbing within walls, especially drains, should be replaced as a matter of course. Kitchens are the most expensive space in a house and this is your chance to avoid future problems.


    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 7:23PM
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Thanks all. Framing/rot check is something I hadn't thought about! The walls aren't insulated, but we are not especially concerned about that because we're in a very mild climate (and in fact want the south-facing wall to remain uninsulated because in the winter months it warms the kitchen, which isn't heated). Plumbing was new three years ago so no plans to do much with that, though it may be wise to check it while we have good many decisions!

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 8:04PM
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"Plumbing within walls, especially drains, should be replaced as a matter of course. "

A 95 year old house is very unlikely to have the original plumbing.

I would remove as little plaster as possible.

It is VERY expensive to have it replaced, so preserving it is almost always the best option.

Removing plaster that will be concealed behind cabinets anyway to make other repairs and upgrades is often a veryy effective compromise.

I have left a strip of plaster from below upper cabinets to the counter top while doing other required work numerous times.

The exposed strip retains the sound character and appearance of the plaster wall, while the cabinets (and doubled up drywall to match the plaster thickness) generally provide good sound performance also.

Just make sure that setting type joint compound is used on the drywall to plaster joints (mixed with minimal water to be about as thick as peanut butter).

    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 9:08AM
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This is in response to the suggestion of taking the plaster walls out in order to insulate. I offer the thought/question for discussion as much as expert responses but with a strong bias toward leaving the plaster intact because drywall is inferior. (Just compare the cost of new drywall to new plaster if nothing else.)

At a time when my ex-husband was teaching college classes in thermo-dynamics and consulting for a contractor who built super-insulated, passive solar houses that could function without furnaces in cold climates (by way of expert references,) what I retained from some conversations was that the best insulation is dead air. e.g. when the pink stuff isn't fluffy, the trapped air is pushed out and insulation value lost.

So I have thick plaster over wood lath interior walls and thick stucco outer walls in a 1913 house in a very cold climate (Central Minnesota, planting zone 3.) Whatever insulation was ever in the walls is most likely packed down in the bottom of the stud bays. The outside walls are cold to the touch in the winter and cool the rest of the time.

On the other hand, it takes at least 24 hours for the house to lose its heat/cold - change interior air temp - to match the outside temp, even with some windows open. With the thermostat set at 65 during the day and going to 55 at 9 p.m. (very comfortable for me,) the radiators heat up in the morning and stay cold the rest of the day as long as the outside temps are +0.

In short, I vote to keep the plaster and don't worry about wall insulation in a mild climate.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 2:18PM
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We just converted a large bedroom and sunroom in a 1918 house to a bedroom, bath and closet. In the process we moved and added inside walls and replaced with drywall. I would never do it again. We had such soundproof walls with the plaster. Not that way with the drywall. Another vote to keep the plaster!!


    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 12:46AM
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You can also blow in cellulose insulation behind plaster with minimal damage to the wall.

Cellulose is more old house friendly for water vapor movement than fiberglass.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 12:20PM
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Good point. The plumbing might only be 50 or 75 years old.


    Bookmark   November 2, 2010 at 6:56PM
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Thanks all. We demo tomorrow morning and will be keeping three of the four walls barring any cabinet removal disasters! The plumbing is only three years old, as noted in the post above, so we are not touching it in this particular project, except to confirm that the work was done correctly.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2010 at 7:14PM
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"The plumbing might only be 50 or 75 years old. "

So what?

Age all by itself says nothing about remaining life.

While some methods have proven very poor long term (galvanized steel supply lines) others function for many years past their original life estimates.

Cast iron stacks and soldered supply lines hold up for a very long time (except when the EPA orders the water cleaned up so much it becomes aggressive).

    Bookmark   November 2, 2010 at 8:20PM
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Just a quick update on this: we completed demo late last week, and were very fortunate that the demo crew was able to remove our chimney and some built-in cabinets without disturbing the adjacent plaster (and more importantly, with no damage at all to the plaster on the other side of the kitchen wall!) So, in the end, we did not need to take anything down to the studs except in very isolated areas. We had a couple of local plaster restorers come out over the last week and got a clean bill of health on everything from both---only minor patching and repairs needed. The only surprise was one section of wall that turned out to be only beadboard with no plaster at all (an old laundry porch that had long since been integrated into the breakfast room) but we may end up leaving that as-is since the look is a great fit for the house (and it backs a closet, so no sound or insulation concerns there).

Thanks for the help and advice!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2010 at 12:20AM
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