How To: Repair Plaster Walls

How to repair plaster wallsPlaster walls are some of the most misunderstood parts of an old home. And many homeowners are quick to tear them down and put up drywall. But replacing plaster walls with drywall is not only a major mess and expense, but it also destroys the character of your home. Each plaster wall is unique. You can truly see the hand of the plasterer who made the wall as opposed to monolithically boring drywall. Combine that with the extra strength and soundproofing a plaster wall provides and you now know why I won’t do drywall anymore.

The most common problem with plaster walls is cracking or pulling away from the lath behind it. If this is happening in your house there is a simple solution that you can do to save your plaster and your money. At my historic restoration company we started using Big Wally’s Plaster Magic for our plaster repairs. Funny name, serious product. The system is easy enough for anyone to use and works great! In my opinion, it’s a much a better system than the old way of doing plaster repair. This isn’t a paid endorsement. I get no money from Big Wally (unfortunately!). I just wanted to help you find a better solution to save your plaster walls.

So, we put together the video below to teach you the process we use and how you can do it in your own home:

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.

http://www.austinhomerestorations.com

24 comments

  1. Anyes Kadowaki Busby on said:

    Hi Scott,
    I love my old walls. Every so often, when someone would come into our house for an unrelated issue, they would stop and look at the walls and say they knew somebody that could put up dry wall for us. My answer ” Does this house look like a cookie cutter house in the sub divisions?” Jeesh, this brain wash about drywall. Thanks for the video, it’s terrific.
    Anyes
    The Dusty Victorian

    • Bluezette on said:

      When interviewing contractors to work on our small 1924 Craftsman bungalow, that’s one of the clues I use. Any contractor who’s not sensitive to, and appreciative of, my home and its historic features doesn’t get to lay a hand on any part of it. And yes, it does eliminate the vast majority of potential contractors. :-(

      • Laura, I’m glad you’re so particular about who gets to work on your house. I only wish that more people thought like that. I’d probably have less work fixing their mistakes, but there would be more historic homes that haven’t been remuddled.

  2. Tricia on said:

    Anybody know of a historic home-sensitive contractor in the Kansas City area?

  3. Ron on said:

    Hi Scott, Love the website! I live in earthquake country and I need to bolt my bookcases into these old walls. Any tips on how to bolt the bookcases into the walls without causing major damage to the plaster walls?

    • Ron, I would just screw into the studs for security if possible. If securing it to the studs isn’t a possibility then you should pre drill holes for anchors that are rated for the weigh of the load you need to support. Just avoid any hammering as that will loosen the plaster’s connection to the lath.

  4. Mike on said:

    Hello Scott,
    Thanks for the advice on plaster walls. I have a question. I am closing off a wide passageway (5’8″WX6’8″H between two rooms in a 1920s Craftsman with plaster and lath walls. I will try to match as best as possible the plaster and lath on one side of this passageway (the other side is 1930s knotty pine). I don’t have the skill to do plaster so I will use drywall. I understand the match will be far from perfect so I am thinking of pictures and wall hangings. Still, can you give me any tips on softening the contrast between the plaster and the drywall?
    Thanks in advance.
    Mike

    • Sure thing, Mike! First, make sure you use a drywall thickness that is equal to the thickness of the plaster walls. It may take doing 2 layers of drywall (maybe 1/4″ and 5/8″ sheets) to get to the right thickness.
      Second, try making your joint compound for the transition between plaster and drywall closer to the consistency of the old plaster. Maybe add a little sand if appropriate. It just depends what the old plaster is like.
      But the only way to really blend it is to skim coat the whole wall. Whether you use plaster or joint compound that will give you the best product.
      Good luck and let me know how it goes!

      • Mike on said:

        Thanks a million, Scott. The project begins on August 12.

  5. Muriel Stephens on said:

    Hello Scott,
    We purchased a 1917 Craftsman that used a steel mesh instead of lathing for the plaster walls. We have had to replace some ceilings because the nails holding up the lathe have turned loose , and one actually fell in. Will this product work as well with metal lathing? Any suggestions>

    • Muriel, I have never tried using it on metal lath. I’ll have to find out and get back to you. Great question!

    • Muriel, here is the response from the president of Plaster Magic: “Plaster Magic can be used with metal lath in specific circumstances. It will
      not stabilize cracks like it does with wood lath or masonry where Plaster
      Magic bridges and reinforces the plaster.
      The circumstances where I have had the most success is when the plaster has
      come loose from the wire lath.
      (I use the term wire or diamond lath to make it clear I’m not talking about
      pierced metal lath.)
      If you can see or believe that the plaster keys have let go from the lath
      (this usually happens with limited exposure to a water leak on gypsum
      plaster) then the adhesive will redevelop the keys necessary to hold the
      plaster in place when the plaster is pushed back to the lath and the
      adhesive is squeezed through the wire lath and allowed to coalesce. Brace
      the plaster back to the lath either wall to wall or floor to ceiling.

  6. florence on said:

    we plastered the interior of our strawbale house 10 years ago. there are areas in the bathroom that are looking shabby now, above sink, around tub. Is there a way to remove the inevitable stains from soap scum, water, lotion etc? is there a protective coating that can be applied after the fact to prevent more staining? thanks

    • Dan G. on said:

      Bathroom areas should have been done with a custom plaster mix. While I am NOT a plasterer, I have seen a home with bathroom walls many yrs. old that had zero evidence of mold or wear right above the tub and sink. I would contact a VERY experienced plasterer and think it would be worth a consultation fee to get an experienced opinion. I HAVE used a latex additive made for tile thinset on drywall face and plastered over the drywall also using the latex additive for half the liquid in the plaster mix. This wall is now 10 yrs old and shows no cracking and looks like the other plastered walls in the room

  7. charles j. on said:

    Any advice for plaster crumbling thats adhered to a red brick wall? Some areas you can see the brick.. and it doesn’t look too have any moisture in it..
    Thanks.

    • Charles, look into Big Wally’s Plaster Magic. Their product works to reattach plaster to masonry. Then you can patch the missing sections with new plaster.

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