5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 4 Plaster)

By Scott Sidler • January 2, 2012

5 worst mistakes historic homeowners plasterThe walls of any pre-war house are most likely wood lath like in this picture covered with 3 coats of plaster. The work took a long time and was very labor intensive. Not to mention, it required a skilled plasterer to make sure the plaster was properly applied and the wall was smooth and level.

Then when the GIs returned home from WWII, the baby (and housing) boom hit America, and there was a huge demand for quick, affordable housing. A new product was just beginning to get some traction in the wall covering business call gypsum board (or sheet rock.) It was a wall that could be screwed or nailed to the studs by a relatively unskilled laborer at close to twice the speed and half the cost of the traditional 3-coat system. And since this wall wasn’t applied wet like plaster, it could be painted right away and thus got the nickname “drywall.”

A traditional 3-coat plaster is typically 7/8″ thick and when you add in the 1/4″ wood lath that supports the plaster wall, you have a wall that is more than 1″ thick! Compared to today’s most common drywall thickness of only 1/2″, that is a difference worth noting.

Today, the cost of a full 3-coat plaster wall is still expensive and timely to install, but when you live in an old house with one already installed, you should try to reap the benefits of someone else’s labor all those years ago.

All to often, we see historic houses gutted to the studs to install new drywall to replace the “outdated” plaster. Sometimes the plaster has been neglected past the point of no return, but most times it can be repaired. Usually it’s torn out in the name of insulating the wall cavities. But as with anything in the building trades, there is more than one way to skin a cat! In order to save folks the mess and expense of tearing out their walls, we recommend removing a few clapboards on the exterior in order to insulate the house to modern standards. Remember, historic homes typically have no plywood sheathing under the siding, so insulating with this method is just as effective plus it’s faster, cleaner, and much cheaper!

The Benefits

Here are just a few of the benefits of having a real plaster wall to consider before you think about removing yours:

  1. Thicker walls mean better sound dampening.
  2. Thicker walls mean double the R-value of ordinary drywall.
  3. Wood lath serves to strengthen the wall by adding additional racking resistance.
  4. Plaster increases the historical authenticity and therefore resale value of a historic home.
  5. It’s already there! It’s always “greener” and cheaper to retain existing elements.

Hopefully, this has given you some things to think about when it comes to your plaster walls. If you’d like to read more about repairing and maintaining your historic home’s walls, check out our video post How To: Repair Plaster Walls or our other post How To: Repair Old Plaster.

Read the rest of the 5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners:

Part 1 Windows

Part 2 Floors

Part 3 Siding

Part 5 The Details


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165 thoughts on “5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 4 Plaster)”

  1. We are remodeling a home built in 1920, has never been remodeled. We want to demo a wall that is separating the kitchen and dining room. The walls are plaster, remodel the kitchen and put a sliding door where a window is… What is the best route to do this? We were thinking of taking down the wall (it is not a support wall), open up the kitchen/dining area. Replace a double window in the kitchen with a single window and put the sink along that wall. The plumbing and electric will also need to be done at the same time. any input will help!! Thank you

  2. I have a house that was built in 1917 and am in the process of remodeling. Due to various reasons the lath and plaster has been removed and I am down to the studs. Since the lath and plaster was anywhere from about 3/4 to 7/8 of an inch thick what would you suggest to bring the new drywall wall out so it matches up with the door and window frames since they don’t make 3/4 inch drywall. Although it is a lot of work, I was thinking of placing 1/4 inch wood strips over all the studs and then drywalling on top to bring me out the 3/4 of an inch. This would be less expensive then two sheets of drywall. Any thoughts or other ideas on how to do it would be appreciated.

    1. Kyle,
      In order to allow drywall to line up with your doors and windows, furring the studs 1/8th – 1/4 inch is a good option. Another option would be to install “thin wall blue board ” and veneer plaster the wall surface flush to your door and window frames. The advantage of a veneer plaster application is that you can adjust the thickness of the plaster to accommodate the variation in wall thickness needed to line up to your door and window jambs. Drywall contractors can install and fire tape the blue board and a plasterer can apply the base and finish plaster. Some plastering contractors will install both board and plaster. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a plaster finish in your 1917 home? You may want to look into it. Most estimates are free.

    2. Use a 6 ft. level (or whatever size you have) and you can shim the studs out accordingly. Start with the 1/4 in around the windows and doors and you might find in some areas you need more or less depending on what the level shows between studs. Shimming the wall out to straighten it will make a big difference, drywall work that is super wavy looks unprofessional to me. Plaster is harder than drywall but it is also 3 times the price so I would recommend to hire the best quality drywaller you can and make sure to have all the prep work done properly before the drywaller shows up. (I am a drywaller and plasterer by the way so feel free to respond with any questions)

  3. We just purchased a home built in 1835, so I’m assuming lathe and plaster. The previous homeowner somehow (glue) attached carpet to several of the walls over the plaster. She claimed it made it so her pictures wouldn’t move once placed on the wall. First question, how do I get the carpet off? Secondly, how do I fix the walls that are most likely going to look horrible after taking the carpet off?

    1. Hi Valerie,
      I think it’s so cool that you have a home built in 1835. That’s amazing!
      Our best recommendation, simply because we can’t see it in person, is to use our directory to find a licensed preservationist in your area and they can make a more accurate recommendation upon seeing it in person. http://www.thecraftsmanblog.com/directory.
      I hope that helps and best of luck to you!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  4. Just bought a1913 Craftsman in Nahant MA.
    Ceilings on 2nd floor all cracked, not repairable.
    1. Go over with blueboard and plaster?
    2. Demo ($1700 and dust!) and hang new blueboard and plaster?
    There is knob and tube… Removing ceiling would make THAT job easier. And new forced hot water heater is system going in… Could make that job easier too.
    Which is best route?
    3. Just go over with drywall whether demo or not, and not plaster?
    Thank you for helpful blog!

    1. Hi Susanne,
      I looooove the sound of your 1913 Craftsman! My gut is to say no to option number 2, but we can’t really provide an accurate assessment without seeing it in person. Our best recommendation would be to use our directory http://www.thecraftsmanblog.com/directory to find a licensed preservationist in your area who can give you the best direction upon seeing it in person.
      Best of luck to you!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  5. One thing this neglects to mention is that lath and plaster are much harder to work with for any modifications…
    I wanted to make a window bigger and everyone was telling me how easy of a project that is, cut a hole in the wall, get an standard window and pluck it in, finish up. Cheap, done in 2 days.
    When I actually started getting quotes, it turned out they were assuming drywall; with lath and plaster it’s much harder to cut (some contractors straight up say “I don’t work with lath and plaster”), the window has to be custom ordered (weeks of waiting), etc. A huge pain and much more expensive.

    1. I work on old homes that are almost exclusively plaster and lath. I cut in outlets, switch box, windows, door and change opening all the time. It is easy to do without damaging any plaster around it. It was much more difficult before the tools we have today but it’s easy now and not that much more difficult than cutting drywall.

      1. I would agree Scott. The mistake many tradesmen make is that they cut wood lath and plaster with a reciprocating saw.
        This causes the wood lath to shift violently and damage the plaster surface. It’s fine to use a Saws-all on drywall, but unwise to use it on wood lath and plaster. Use another less intrusive tool.

        1. Yes. I use a 4 inch diamond edge blade on a grinder. No vibration, just smooth cut. It does put out a lot of plaster dust so use a good OSHA mask.

  6. I have a brick home built in the 40’s. All plaster walls! We are remodeling the kitchen which has drywall for the upper half and paneling on the lower half. I ripped the paneling off to discover layers upon layers of wallpaper. The upper half sticks out a bit more than the lower half. With that being said, how do I repair these walls? Do I patch up the lower half with drywall to match the upper half? Or tear it all down? Will I have to remove all of the wallpaper? I mean there is ALOT!

  7. So glad to have found this!! We have just purchased a 1937 cottage, and I’m debating what to do with the walls. I don’t know if they are plaster or not, but they do have some sort of paper on them, and in many of the corners, the paper has pulled away, and cracked. The inside of all the closets have planking that looks like it had the cheesecloth backed paper on it. But I have peeled a tiny piece of the paper away from one of the corners in a bedroom, and there is definitely either plaster or gypsum underneath. If the closets have planking, and I also see it behind the kitchen cabinets, do you think that is what all my walls have underneath the paper and gypsum/plaster as opposed to lathing??

  8. Can anyone tell me the best way to prevent ripping out my plaster walls so I can insulate my home? It’s a 1922 brick home so it’s not as easy as remove a couple of clapboards.

    Any help appreciated.

    1. I’ve got a similar situation and I believe it’s worthwhile to conserve the plaster as much as possible. If the underlying structure is sound – while you won’t be able to re-create the damaged plaster, you can substitute drywall or the like.
      First you need to figure out what the source of the damage is. In my case (and probably yours), there’s a water/moisture issue, and/or an issue of pressure(weight) from later additions to the house.
      In my case, there’s a very, very slow water/moisture leak, from the outside. I say slow, because I’ve owned the house for 30 years and observed the situation all that long.
      I’ve ruled out many sources of the moisture, down to one (a deck, that I had an EPDM membrane installed 20 yrs ago). The EPDM is reaching the end of its life – so I’m going to have it pulled up & look at what’s underneath & related structures like the railing that pierces the decking… once that is done, and I’m sure there’s no more seepage – I’ll have the damaged plaster cut out & replaced with drywall nailed to the lath.
      This plan is based on consultation with many contractors – some of whom knew NOTHING about plaster, others who did understand the benefits of old plaster.
      Good luck.

    2. We recently had insulation added to our our lathe and plaster walls. The contractor drilled holes (approx 3 inches around) in regular intervals alongside the interior walls and blew in the insulation. It required some skilled repair work by tint but only has and to patch a few small holes.

    3. Hello, I too have an old brick home with lath and plaster. Whatever you do, I don’t recommend removing any of the walls because you will not find wall space behind it. What you will find behind that lath is heavy gauge wire that supports the brick on the outside. I recently had to remove plaster from my kitchen walls because it was all destroyed crack wise there wasn’t anything we could do but drywall it, this is how I discovered how the walls were built. It was a lot of work and we ended up insulating it with a product called Reflextic. It’s a insulation and vapor block that comes in rolls. So I read that if you apply this same type of barrier in your crawl space and insulate the attic and replace windows you will be fine. That’s what I ended up doing. Hope that helps. RestoringMuskogee

    4. We have a 1928 bungalow cottage in San Antonio. Original shiplap siding. Not sure if the interior walls are original plaster or not. Anyway, we insulated with blown in material. We opted for the holes to be drilled on the outside and the holes plugged, finished and painted. Much less invasive and damaging. We are also much happier with our summer electric bill! Good luck!

    5. I have a different type of plaster in my house. The plaster in my house has a drywall backer and plaster over the top of that. My house also has a stucco exterior. I had an insulation contractor stop come over to my house several years ago. He installed blown in fiberglass insulation into my wall cavities. Anyway, he gave me the option of drilling through my stucco (which I really did not want to do) or drill holes into my plaster walls. I obviously chose the latter option.

      My contractor drilled two roughly 3″ diameter holes per stud opening. One of those holes was near the ceiling, and the other was about a foot off the floor. My contractor added blown in fiberglass insulation through the bottom hole until his machine met resistance. He then finished filling from the top. He drilled holes every 16″ apart (also used a metal coat hanger to verify location of next stud prior to drilling). I worked right behind my contractor patching the holes in my plaster with lightweight spackling. Depending upon what kind of siding you have, that might also be removed and insulation installed that way. I prefer not to mess with the side of the house that keeps the elements out if it is working.

      I did my project in 2002 when utilities were a lot cheaper. The previous owner of my house stated his utility bills were close to $200 a month. I currently average about $150 a month at today’s rates. I spent about $1000 on my project (just the insulation contractor). I paid extra for the wall patch and paint. However, I think I got my money’s worth on that project. As an FYI, my contractor told me it was roughly an 11 year payback to insulate walls. Of course, there are other reasons to do it (comfort, noise reduction, etc.). Hope that helps.

      1. You did the right thing Keitj; opening the interior walls to insulate. Your interior walls are what is known as button board and plaster or Rock Lath and plaster. Opening the exterior stucco compromises your black paper moisture barrier and waterproofing and patching the stucco is much more involved than the interior repair. Often insulation contractors prefer to open the exterior stucco because it’s a easier to clean their mess outside than keeping the inside clean. I repair walls for a living and I’m telling you the interior repair is a better way to go.

  9. There’s a lot to be said for keeping the old ways when restoring an genuinely “historic” home – not to be confused with an old house. What’s historic about it – did Grant throw up in the corner one night? If it’s just an old house that’s been scabbed onto for 200 years, there’s no viable reason to replicate the “good old ways.” Clean up the accumulated crap and put it back right. Got double hung, 12-pane windows – garbage – go with double insulated either replacements or inserts, then sell the old ones to some other sucker. You can always glue / paint on the divided lights. K&T or 14/2 armored cable w/o ground – garbage. Plaster over lath or doubled-up wallboard – garbage. Trying to do any repairs correctly on plaster is expensive or a PITA. Got a dinky 100-amp panel that’s chocked-full of single-pole breakers – dangerous garbage. Chuck it and put in a 200-amp commercial panel and proper GFCI and Arc-fault breakers. Bet you have an exposed service entrance cable too, with rubbery schmoo around the splices and plugging the holes around the meter- 10:1 there’s no drip loops either. Service entrance – big olde glass insulator on a lag screw hanging on the end rafter too I bet. How this house passed inspection at the sale is criminal at best.

    When you open up these old houses you’l find a myriad of critters, shortcuts, compromised structure – especially in bathrooms, code violations / dangerous-as-hell wiring shortcuts (multiple buried junctions, splices, lamp cord to outside boxes, buried romex w/o GFCI ) the list is endless.

    Iv’e done a couple wreck-outs on my own homes (’50s and ’60s-built homes), and it was infinitely cheaper / faster to start with “framing holding up the roof,” when making the renos. I’m working on friend’s 72-year old cape cod house now and that’s 1″ plaster over drywall over rockboard is taking twice as long and costing twice as much as just tearing it all out and doing it right. I won’t even get into the cedar-shingle siding and unvented attic – it’s vented and insulated now.

  10. To the Sophie Donelson and House Beautiful. another editor from more magazine Brette Polin recently got involved in dirty coraption business with crazy cbs anchor Otis Livingston to steal money from House Beautiful magazine employees banks accounts. never trust Brette Polin and Otis Livingston they both crooks.

  11. I have lived for almost 50 years in a house that was built with plaster ceilings and walls. We installed air-conditioning in the early 70’s which had to be installed in the attic (our house is a ranch style) and when new ducts were installed some 15 years ago for some unknown reason the overflow pipe leading to the outside was disconnected and the overflow from the pan placed in the kitchen overflowed for several years.
    A number of workmen checked the roof to explain the leak into the ceiling, we had the roof replaced, but for several years the same area showed soaking stains. Finally the A/C serviceman discovered that the overflow duct had been blocked or disconnected, hence the constant leaking into the plaster ceiling. – A worrisome and very noticeable crack has appeared as well as smaller cracks showing the exact outline of the overflow pan.
    Despite repeated attempts over a few years to find someone who could and would repair the plaster ceiling we have not succeeded and are getting more and more concerned that this part of the ceiling will break off.
    We live in Hamden, CT, and any suggestions,referrals we could contact would be very much appreciated
    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Hanna!
      We’re sorry to hear about your current issue, but hopefully you find our directory helpful in finding the right person to repair your home in the most historically accurate, appropriate, and beautiful way to preserve your building. https://thecraftsmanblog.com/directory/
      Have a wonderful week!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

    2. Hi Hanna,
      Im a plastering contractor in Los Angeles and just today I’m seeing your note. I have been scouring the internet for plasterers in New Haven and .. well .. they are pretty scarce. Seems to be a number of drywall contractors .. but unless they have the experience you need for plaster, best skip over them. If this far into the year you are still in need of a craftsman, give me a little time and I’ll see if I can locate one for you. Otherwise please let me know if you’ve resolved your challenge.
      Rick Davis

      1. Hi Rick, I need to plaster the walls and ceilings of an old 2000sf house in Los Angeles. The house is currently torn down to the studs and we are deciding between putting up sheetrock/drywall and plaster. Do you have any recommendations?

        1. Wow Debbie,
          I’m just now being notified of your response. I will never the less respond to your question. An application that gives you the benefits of genuine lath and plaster is a veneer plaster application, ( over blue board or fiberglass coated wallboard). An ideal veneer plaster is a two coat application using USG brand Imperial Base coat and finishing it with Diamond Finish or a local manufactured dry mixed and packaged gypsum based finishing material; commonly known as One-Coat in California. As far as I understand, this veneer application is also considered “Genuine Lath and Plaster”

          1. I forgot to mention .. if applying over fiberglass faced board, you must coat the board with an adhesive ..such as Larson’s Plaster Weld, prior to applying the plaster.

    3. Still having problems? … cut back the piece that’s messed up. Screw in a piece of sheet rock in its place and patch it plaster. Lay on over seams first, let dry, then coat the entire patch, hit down 4 times or until smooth, waiting 5 to 10 mins between hits.

  12. I’ve an 1834 Gambrel in Warren RI. There is a chair rail (at window sill height) that runs around every wall on the first floor. There is crown molding everywhere. The plastering extends from the chair rail to the crown molding. The original plaster seems to have been ripped out and the lathing overlain with sheetrock. Where the sheetrock meets wood (every edge) we have a problem.
    So now the sheetrock overlays the lathing and lies between the crown molding and the chair rail and every window side and window top. That’s 13 windows. And in a 200 year old house the narrow plaster fill between sheetrock and crown molding and chair rail and window frame and door frame gets a workout and crumbles at the edge. Every edge. I have considered just ripping out the edge and introducing a silicone bead. But I’m betting you folks have a better idea.

  13. Hello,

    My 1894 home is entirely lath and plaster. I had to chop out a defunct chimney in the third floor which was between two beams or two by fours. It’s only about 12 14 16 inches in between. I figured why use drywall because of trying to stay true to the home and also the difference in thickness. So I’m going to try my hand at installing lath and plaster. Should be interesting.

    Does anyone know what kind of plaster to use can I use the pre-mixed containers of plaster of Paris? Having a hard time finding this information online for some reason. THANKS!

    PS Thanks Scott for this informational page and for the continued emails.

  14. Hello! I’m a carpenter who learned my trade from years of watching an old carpenter work on my parents victorian and then out of necessity when I was a single mother and had to do what I could to ensure decent housing for my children — such as offering to do much of the carpentry work (as I learned from others and research) so the landlord didn’t have to. I also wanted to ensure the historic value of the place I lived in was preserved.

    That said, fast forward years later I am now a carpenter professionally and also had a contracting business for ten years.

    I am so glad to see that this blog advocates the preservation of plaster and lath walls and other historic elements of older houses. The destruction I see of old houses, many of real historic value is depressing. Not only is such destruction unnecessary – and I can confirm with my own experience the validity of your points – but it is a waste of money, increases our waste problem and encourages more energy waste and needless consumption. Everything good practice of living is against!

    A lath wall is all of things mentioned above, plaster unless completely degraded can stay with demolition being minimal to the needs of other contractors (access for updated wiring or plumbing) and repair much easier! The elements of increased structural integrity, increased sound dampening, higher R-values and just a tougher general finish all testify to the better quality and value of a plaster/lath wall.

    In fact, in the times I’ve had to demo and replace plaster walls I never, EVER remove the lath — only the old plaster. There is no reason whatsoever to remove lath and in fact, studs or timbers were never meant to receive finish materials and as a result the greenhorn/DIYer will face a nearly insurmountable task to try to obtain a satisfactory finish with drywall over rough timbers or studs. Craftsman don’t work that way.

    If you must remove plaster, do so carefully and dilligently, leave the lathing in place, remove all plaster behind moldings and place your sheetrock behind moldings and crown as proper. If you can skim coat a cracked wall (as I’ve done before) to an ‘old world” style finish, so much the better. Although architecturally such a finish wouldn’t necessarily be period correct for most American historic structures, just keep that in mind.

    Preserving old houses is an essential part of good craftsmanship — you are in fact preserving the origins our the craft of carpentry; the true art form. Even I, now working within the world of commercial carpentry, make it my study to learn the old ways and collect the old tools — take care of them and know how to use them. This is the element of craftmanship.

    Production building made for an increasingly corporate and bank controlled market interested only in the bottom line carries none of the ethic or value of community, conservation or most basically, the aesthetic values and rewards that are so deep within our human psyche.

    Preserve the old ways, honor those that came before us because when we do that, we gain a better understanding of ourselves, our present hubris and an ability to think clearly on our path forward as a people.

    1. Hi Kathryn,

      I’m wondering if you could help me with one of my projects. I’m trying to do some renovations to a 115 year old house and the walls are plaster and lath, with wallpaper and many, many layers of paint on them. I’ve been removing everything from the walls and I’m hoping to paint them. My problem is that while getting them cleaned up, I’m finding a lot of spots where someone has patched holes using the wrong product or where the plaster has just given way. What product would you suggest to fill these holes and spaces that won’t crack and cause me more problems. I want to do this right the first time! I have some pictures, but I don’t see how I can attach them here. I need an expert’s opinion!

    2. Love your comments and respect for craftmanship . I was taught by my dad to do drywall and have since progressed into the other trades with an eye towards restoration being my goal . I have many times went over plaster with 1/4″ to 3/8″ drywall with glue and screws using long screws to fasten the drywall to the studds behind the lath thus putting pressure on the old deteriorating plaster and pushing it into place. The glue will adhere the plaster to the drywall in effect creating one surface of the drywall and plaster. The reason plaster begans to break down and crack in many places is because they mixed horse hair in it as a type of weave but after about 100 years the hair begans to deteriorate and the plaster in turn becomes very brittle and the keys that go between the lath break off causing the plaster to “float”away from the lath . This seems to be more prominent in houses that have been exposed to extreme temperature differences do to being empty or exposure to moisture . Coating over this does nothing but put a very temporary band-aid on a wall that is falling apart under it’s surface.

  15. Hello all. I purchased a 1960s ranch in the northeast and the walls are 1/2 drywall with holes every 6 inches with 1/2″ cement over it and what looks like a light layer of plaster over that. Some called the dry wall cheese board but I cant find anything like it anywhere. If anyone could shine some light on this it would be appreciated. Also any tips on how to burn the whole thing down and start new also welcome. Pics if you would like a visual. Fml.

    1. Hi Caroline, hey Scott…
      None of that really matters as far as the plaster is concerned. You should get a handle on the location of the studs, spaced generally 16″ apart. When you can get good wood screws into those, that’s how you get solid attachments to the wall

    2. You can actually partially see through the lath in his photo above, how they’re nailed to the studs. Same with the ceiling joists but I believe they are spaced out farther?

  16. Hey Scott

    I a have a home in CT which the town reports ad being built in 1789, however, it received additions and renovation roughly around 1830 and again around 1880 based on changes in nails and framing methods we have found. We recently had to removate an exterior wall and discovered blind nailed plank wainscoting underneath several lyers of drywall. Also throughout the rest of the house the quality of the plaster job changes below the level of the window stools to the floor leading us to believe the home had wainscoting throughout and was removed and replaced with lath and plaster. There does appear to be a change in lath from riven to split in several places. Was it common practice to remove or cover wainscoting during typical 19th century renovation? If so since we have existing sample we would want to replicate the plank wainscoting throughout but only if we can be reasonably sure that we are not altering the interior in an inappropriate way by doing so.

    Thanks in advance

    John Hart

    Woodstock CT

  17. I have a 1925 bungalow the under pinning of the house is cracking and some areas has even fell down. Its made out something that looks like chicken wire and cement pasted on it. Do homeowners still use that process or is it outdated and should I just go with cinder blocks or something like that.

  18. HI just purchased an old farm house.Have been reading a lot about insulation. A lot of negatives about blown in insulation causing water damage to old exterior walls. Your thoughts on an alternative?
    Thanks for your help…

  19. I own a 1924 home that recently had a house fire. The fire started in the basement and sent plastic toxic smoke throughout the house. I have been told the house needs to be guttted to the studs. It make me sick to think of all the plaster that will be torn down. I believe the plaster saved my life and the house from burning to the ground. The question is to replace the plaster with plaster or replace with drywall. I loved the plaster. What to do?

  20. I have purchased an 1872 Italianate home. All interior walls are brick covered in plaster. Wallpaper is in every single room. We are wondering if the walls will be paintable after we strip the wallpaper. Will we need to skim the plaster to make it smooth? Also- what about any lead paint that may be underneath? Just questions, as we’re beginning to panic a bit. Any suggestions on how to handle it would be wonderful!

    1. The condition of the wall below the wallpaper will determine the plan of action. Removing older wallpaper is typically a responsible and proactive mover for the continual safety within an old home. Any home built before 1972 has a stronger possiblity of containing lead paint. It could be far down in the layers of paint, and can be detected with a lead “gun” or analyzer. This is important to be aware of when it comes to small children living in the home.

    2. When I finally got the 5 or 6 layers of wallpaper off my plaster walls most of the plaster was in pretty good condition. After the wallpaper was only one layer of water-based tempura paint which easily washed off with water.

    3. I have a 25lbs mirror will it be sturdy enough to hang on plaster walls with one screw? The house
      was built in the 1920’s

    4. I have a 1935 house and one of the room has wallpaper completely stuck on the plaster and impossible to remove. We decided to use primer and paint it over. It turned out to be beautiful. One will never believe there is wallpaper underneath.

      1. Can you tell me if there were any areas that had peeling paper and how you repaired it before proceeding with primer?

        1. I had to paint wallpaper that had been glued directly to the Sheetrock in my father’s house. I put fiberglass tape over the seams and just enough mud to sand them flat. Any bubbles were cut out and frame in fiberglass tape, with the whole area sanded smooth. When I was showing the house, I pointed out what I had done and none the potential buyers had a problem with it; it looked just like drywall or plaster.

  21. So, I am so glad I found this site! We just bought a 1925 bungalow and I love it, but I really want to restore it to era appropriate style…buy there is some era appropriate funkiness that I am having some isdues with. I haven’t seen anything lile the wall and ceiling texture. The ceilings have a wide curve cove and the artex texture is really high relief and looks (I kid you not) like merengue. It looks as if a pass-through built-in was removed from the dining area that shares a wall with the kitchen and was patched poorly. I am seriously considering having the room stripped of plaster down to the lathe and having it plastered without texture. What is your opinion? First…is it even posdible without damaging the wall structure? Would it destroy value or historical integrity?

      1. I was a plasterer for over 20 years and I see absolutely no reason why you would take off perfectly good plaster, as long as it’s not peeling off the wall. I would suggest sanding the walls down, starting with scrapers and then some sanders, then, if needed, put a skim coat over the top of the old plaster.

    1. Although there were textures in bungalows of that era, a merengue texture was most likely added at a later date; typically using drywall compound. Stripping the plaster and re-plaster smooth would be totally appropriate. I would recommend you over lay the old wood lath with chicken wire or expanded metal lath prior to re-plastering. This will not only add to the load bearing capability of the wood lath, it will also help to reduce the possibility of cracks, ( very common over wood lath ).

  22. How would you insulate a 1922 home with a brick exterior? The cost of blown in from the outside is beyond my budget. I’ve been considering tearing out an exterior wall at a time and insulating then going back up with dry wall. Suggestions?

  23. Hi-I have a 1930s bungalow that we are currently adding onto out the back. It has German siding 7 1/2″ and my contractor can only find german siding at 7 1/4″. What do you suggest we use for the siding on the back of the house that wI’ll look like a nice compliment or match to the front. Will this 1/4 inch throw things off so much that it will look awful or should we just go with it?

    1. If he can blend it in I wouldn’t have a problem using the 7 1/4″ but if it causes things to be misaligned where it meets with the old siding then maybe custom milled siding might be in order.

      1. I bought a 100+ year old farmhouse. Exterior walls are lath and plaster with studs turned sideways. Including exterior siding, the wall is 1 3/4 thick. I am thinking about adding foam board insulation to the inside of the walls with Sheetrock over so I gain r factor. Does this sound workable?

  24. Great Blog!

    I have a bungalow just west of Toronto, Ontario Canada built in the late 1960’s. We have just renovated the basement with gypsumboard insulation and vapor barrier and the warmth of the walls compared to the upstairs plaster walls is night and day. It is a brick exterior. Looking for suggestions to insulate those plaster walls .

  25. We are considering purchasing an 1840s home with beautiful plaster walls . . . but knob & tube wiring under them & no heat on the second floor. I’m guessing there’s no way to save the walls if we add heat & upgrade the wiring so it’s insurable? Is there any hope at all for preserving it?

    1. Absolutely hope! You don’t have to tear out the old wiring, just decommission it then install new wiring. There will be holes to patch but discuss with your electrician that you want as minimal damage as possible and hold them to it.
      For heating there are a lot of options other than conventional systems. Mini split systems offer minimal damage and efficient heating. Also UNICO is a system with very small duct work that can be installed without much damage to the existing walls.

      1. Hi – I am curious what a “split system” is for heating.

        My house is a 1938 quasi bungalow set into a slope at one of the ancient shorelines of the ancient Lake Bonneville in Utah. The builders placed a 13 foot high (at the lower end of the backyard) retaining wall around the backyard, there is also a fully below-ground basement (an addition was put on ~ 1950s).

        It was designed in part by a guy who was a heating-ventilation contractor, and I bought it from his estate in the ’90s. Has plaster on lathe walls that seem to be in very good condition – on one lower wall, a narrow crack developed a several years ago that I think needs to be fixed by the “screw the plaster back to the keys” method. But plaster is fairly unusual, I’ve had difficulty finding anyone here who knows how to fix it. I’m semi-competent, so I may attempt to do it myself in the early fall.

        I’m also interested in improving the heating capability of the house – to lower energy bills. It has an odd hot-water system that has wall-mounted pipes in the 1938 section and under-floor pipes in the addition, with forced air vents near the ceilings. There seems to be no good way of insulating the walls… at any rate, I have found your blog very helpful.

  26. Do you have any recommendations on sound-proofing a plaster and lathe party wall? The construction goes like this – plaster and lathe, large cavity in between, plaster and lathe. Each home has tall ceilings, a somewhat open floor plan and wood floors.
    Asking the neighbors for assistance in this matter is not possible. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have. Thank you!

  27. We have a 1900 house that has solid vertical redwood plank walls under plaster and lathe. I have never heard of this and it presents some issues in terms of some alterations I would liek to make to the house. For example, I would like to cut a doorway where there is not one, but as there are no studs, and only solid plank walls, I am worried about how to do this. Have you ever seen a house built like this, and what are your suggestions?
    (Some idiot added drywall over the plaster at some point, too).
    Thank you

  28. We have a 1900 home with original 5 inch wide fur subfloors that were polished and varnished. We love them, but they bounce, and there are 1/8 inch gaps between each plank, and the wind blows through from the basement. Should we cover them with new floors, or is there some other solution to help make the house warmer and the floor smore sturdy? Is it possible to cut out the entire floor, put down plywood, and then re-install the original wood planks over the plywood? My husband says that is a ridiculous idea, but I think it might be a solution to saving the beauty of the original charm. What suggestions do you have?
    Thank you

  29. I have an old house, about 100 years old with wood slat and plaster. Is there aspestos in that stuff? I’m tearing walls out and my lungs feel full of dust, I’ve been wearing a mask but I didn’t always have one on when knocking all the plaster off the slats. My walls look just like the picture above. Concerned.

  30. Hi, Just purchased a home in Idaho built in 1918, it has plaster walls, but they are mostly in good condition.
    The problem I have found is there is no insulation in the exterior walls. Taking off the outside siding and adding insulation is not an option, as the whole home was resided with stucco some years ago. I know blow in insulation is a bad option for exterior walls due to not having a moisture barrier. What are my options, other than redoing the exterior wall with dry wall?

  31. I have an 1890 brick four square in Columbus Ohio. The third floor is a finished space. The knee walls and ceiling form essential the top 5 sides of an octagon. The walls/ceilings themselves are plaster on wood lath and are beautiful. That said, the third floor is cold in winter and hot in summer. I need to add insulation, and would like to do that without tearing out the wall surface. Behind the knee walls on all 4 sides is attic craw space that allow me to see there is no insulation in the space between the roof and plaster. Is it possible to blow in foam insulation of some kind? Had a contractor out that was pessimistic… Then never even quoted the job. Please let me know your thoughts so I can start shopping again from an informed position. THANKS!

    1. There are spray-in foams usually sprayed flat into an open wall/ceiling cavity. You would want one that doesn”t expand, and I don’t know if they can blow it end-on into a long cavity. You need to google up a spray-foam contractor.

      You’d be creating what is called a “hot roof,” with foam that is a moisture barrier filling the cavity, no ventilation. It’s legal here in Oregon, and I think it’s considered good practice, but it’s newish….

      You could blow with fiberglas or celulose, but the problem there is ventillation between the top of the insulation and the bottom of the roof. If air can’t circulate under the roof, condensation can build up and cause rot. If there’s a way to get a water-vapor permeable (cardboard) baffle in under the roof, to maintain an inch or so air space, you can blow it, but the roofing nails usually get in the way.

  32. I did a demonstration of historic lime horse hair plaster at my church using a 4×8 ft small wall section and wood lathe. After three coats of lime plaster, scratch, brown, and finish, the 4×8 ft section weighed several hundred pounds! A similar section of sheet rock would weigh less than 50 lbs. Good demo of the strength and weight of lime plaster. I own an 18th century historic home in Southside Virginia.

  33. I found this site while searching for an answer to my existing dilemma, and it looks like it just may be the perfect place.

    We have been undergoing a VERY long renovation of a 50’s brick cape in Southern CT. For those areas that we have needed to demo (and some we didn’t) we have been insulating and air sealing as we have been going, with great results. Now we are down to one last bedroom which is a 2nd floor bedroom, approx 180sf, plaster-on-gypsum board walls which are in excellent shape for their age. There are three exterior walls pretty evenly split between a 2×4 wood dormer and brick on 4″ cinder block with a few air gaps in between (this is one gable end of the house, with a reverse gable in front, also brick/block). The attic is insulated to R38 and we plan to blow in cellulose later to bring to R49. The 2×4 dormer walls are insulated with 50’s era balsam wool, which I’ll kindly say is better than nothing at all. The block portions are uninsulated save for the air gap.

    This bedroom when heated has always held heat fairly well despite itself, especially so now with better attic insulation. Where I am torn now is whether it is worth it to break down the exterior facing walls to properly insulate, or just to air seal as best I can (new windows have already been installed and trim is being replaced so I have access). My wife, whose patience has pretty well run out, has no further stomach for the typical dust/debris/hassle that doing this would bring. Me, wanting consistency, feel obliged to bring it up to modern standards, but I am also very tired.
    And therein lies the question. I have seen others suggest that demoing a wall just to insulate it is seldom worth the trouble, especially for a 2nd floor room with an attic insulated to modern standards. Does anyone have experience doing it, and was it worth it? As an alternative, I would be willing to consider other solutions if they are not too obtrusive or slow… the room WILL be getting SOME minor updating so drilling holes etc is not out of the question.

    1. GS, rarely worth the time and mess or demoing everything to insulate those extra walls unless it’s already part of a major renovation plan. And when you say your wife is pretty down too that means it’s time to stop. Happy wife, happy life! That supersedes any restoration advice I could ever give!

    2. Pressing the restoration industry to create a drywall that includes aluminum layer inside could solve the problem of barrier-shield that Tyvek provides and prevents the need to remove horsehair plaster, insulate, and drywall – because insulation is meant to prevent warm air from escaping, and preventing warm summer air from entering. Preventing sun from radiating in summer helps to keep homes cool in summer.

      Density of plaster is great but doesn’t solve insulation problems of old homes.

  34. Thank you for this article. we bought an old home with lath and plaster and made the mistake of having a painter come in and blow texture over the lath and plaster throughout the entire home. now, less than one year later the texture is cracking off the walls and ceilings. we are desperate for a solution that is low cost to fix this. Should i just buy spray adhesive and try and glue it back on? or do patch repairs where this is happening (30% of walls/ceilings)? Or should i start the process of removing texture – do you have articles on that process? Any thoughts greatly appreciated. Thanks. – Learning the Hard way ????

    1. Dianna, removing the texture is the best way forward from my perspective. Scrapping the loose stuff off and making sure whatever remains is strongly adhered. Then skim coat the walls with either modern plaster like I mention on this site or use traditional veneer plaster and a bonding agent.

  35. I’m going to disagree. Whenever you try to nail anything in to lath walls it bounces back at you. It’s far too much a safety hazard and annoyance to put up with if you don’t have to.

    1. Oh lord. You’re not supposed to hammer nails in it at all, ever. Not ever. You’re damaging the wall when you do that. Just drill a hole. I’ve never heard a worse reason to use drywall over plaster …

  36. My house is brick veneer with lath & plaster walls (1938). It is set on a slope, with the bedrooms downstairs, and in one bedroom the wall is partly below grade. The portion of the wall below grade has constantly peeling paint & a bit of bubbling (the affected section is only about 3′ h x 4′ wide). What can I do to fix this & not be needing to skim-coat & repaint every other year? Note, the house is in Salt Lake City, and there is no groundwater problem. I’ve been told that this type of interior wall surface damage is a common problem with the masonry walls below grade in this area (that the cement used in that era tends to hold a slight bit of damp) and the only fix is to dig out & seal the exterior in the below-grade area (EXTREMELY expensive, no way).

    My neighbors had this problem & ‘furred out’ the wall, but the bedroom is already small (and it is the largest of the three b-rs, is basically the ‘master’ bedroom).

    1. Susan, below grade paint peeling is almost always moisture related like you suspect. And yes I would recommend sealing the exterior masonry below grade. I know it’s expensive but it really is the only permanent fix that doesn’t create other potential issues.

    2. Well, the hard way would be to remove the gypsum plaster that is problematic (almost all houses after 1910 or so have gypsum, not lime, plaster) and replace it with a lime plaster. Probably you’d want a plasterer to do this … how many square feet of wall are we talking about?

  37. I just received my copy of your book yesterday….I can’t wait to get started on my newly acquired 1925 Spanish Bungalow!!
    We are having Electric and plumbing updated. I am going to start refurbishing the windows and window sills!!
    So Excited!

  38. What about putting drywall over the plaster? I was planning on taking all of the moldings and door frames down and just putting 1/4 drywall over it.

    1. Terrible idea. You have a lot of labor, the hassle and expsnse of drywall and love your important classy reveals – the distiance between the flat surface and the curvaceous molding profile.

    1. Lauren, you don’t want any insulation on the backside of brick because it is not waterproof. You may have a hard time finding an insulation that will work in your situation without it creating problems.

  39. Thank you for this article. we bought an old home with lath and plaster and made the mistake of having a painter come in and blow texture over the lath and plaster throughout the entire home. now, less than one year later the texture is cracking off the walls and ceilings. we are desperate for a solution that is low cost to fix this. Should i just buy spray adhesive and try and glue it back on? or do patch repairs where this is happening (30% of walls/ceilings)? Any thoughts greatly appreciated. Thanks. – Learning the Hard way 🙁

  40. I just purchased a 1905 Denver Square in Denver. I am just now deciding what to do with the plaster walls. I am a little confused by some of the comments. Can I get your thoughts about the following: 1- I don’t love the pattern of the plaster walls. I had requested that the contractor skim the walls. Is this a bad idea? If it is ok to do, what product do you recommend. 2- I also read that I should not use regular paint. Honestly, I didn’t even know that plaster had to have a different kind of paint applied. 3- A few of the ceilings had some water damage. The contractor is planning on just drywalling over the ceilings where there is damage. After reading this I am not sure this is a good idea for long term. 4- Lastly, some of the walls have lead based paint. I realize that I should not sand or eat the walls :), but does painting over them handle the problem? This house has been a rental for MANY years, has been run down, but still has so many charming features in tack. I am excited to take on this project! Convinced to keep my original windows. Meeting with a restoration company next week. Thank you for your help!

  41. Hi Scott. Love the info you’re providing. Very helpful – thanks! Here’s my issue. I have a 1917 house in DC… Nothing special and fairly plain. The exterior is covered in asbestos siding. Something I’d rather not deal with a the moment, but I am working on the interior. I was thinking that I’d remove the plaster from the exterior walls, as it is not in the best of shape anyways (but not horrible) and that would give me the opportunity to insulate, add a vapor barrier, etc. Since I have asbestos siding, wouldn’t it be best to do it this way? I cannot imagine how much extra work my hvac has to do to keep up. Not to mention all the electrical work that needs to happen as well. What are your thoughts.

  42. Scott,
    What are your in depth thoughts regarding the removal of old Rock Wool insulation from an old 70 year old attic before adding new blown in fiberglass? I had always believed in the past that you should remove it all & start aknew to get the best & purist results. However, on this particular house I observed that by the time I got a section cleaned up & reinsulated eventually old farm dust from the local farming that seems to really be in high gear these days had just put more dust in there & the whole effort seems in vain. That being the case I began to question my previous logic, at least for this home. So then I wondered, is it really even necessary or worth it all or is it just a farce, so long as you clean up any heavy debris. The farm dust is going to get in unless you seal off every nook & crany & you don’t want to do that either by any means. What are your thoughts with pro’s, cons, & details. Thanks, Dave

    1. David, removal of the old insulation is not necessary, but it does provide some good results. The old rock wool if it’s dirty and compacted is doing little good anymore. It is just taking up space that new insulation could be filling and providing beneficial R-value. Not to mention the potential health concerns if the insulation is filthy and soiled.
      In the end it’s not necessary, but it is often worth it to remove the old stuff first.

  43. Thank you for taking the time to educate us on the value of historic homes. My husband and I just purchased a colonial home built in 1932, just outside of Portland, OR. The gentleman we purchased them home from is 97 years old! His parents built the home and it remained in the family until we purchased the home in Oct. After reading your article my husband and I decided to keep our plaster walls and NOT replace them with drywall. The issue we have is that 3 bedrooms have wallpaper that we don’t much care for and is in disrepair. What’s the best way to remove old wallpaper over plaster? Should we cover it up and paint over it? Also, the pain on the ceiling is peeling off – can we just sand down the areas that are peeling and epoxy over it prior to applying fresh pain? As the home was built prior to 1978 – we are almost certainly dealing with lead issues. We have small children so this is a major concern for us.

  44. I had (some) of my gypsum walls reskimmed with lime and rehabbed in my 1914 home. Used a limewash instead of paint and after some gentle sanding (800 grit) the walls are like colored stone. So beautiful! Never put house paint on plaster!

  45. Hi What is the fire rating for typical wood lath and plaster wall? I need to (hopefully) show the building inspector that it is 1 hour rated or greater Thanks for your help

    1. It depends on the plaster material and thickness of the wall. I believe that a 1″ thick lime or gypsum plaster wall has a rating of close to an hour. Not sure where to direct you to for confirmation though.

  46. We just bought a 1940’s house it has plaster wall I have read some of your comments but haven’t heard of anyone asking about asbestos in the plaster walls. I want to remove all the plaster walls only because we heard its very dangerous ? I assume they used asbestos in plaster in 1940 . How dangerous is this? I would like to keep the plaster walls…what to do.

    Thanks Jill

    1. Jill, the only way to tell if there is asbestos in your plaster is to take a small 1″x 1″ chunk and send it to a testing facility. There is no danger with plaster walls unless they are crumbling and falling down, so I wouldn’t take it down unless it’s already falling down.

      1. Hi, I am so torn. I am taking out the ’70’s kitchen in a 1866 house. The center interior wall is a 15′ brick wall with a chimney in the center. 1/4 of the wall has drywall over bad falling plaster and some broken brick. 1/4 of the plaster is in great shape, and the rest is rough with many bad repairs that no one cared about due to wallpaper.

        I believe in preservation, but I, also, like exposed brick in the right places. If I remove the plaster, it is gone forever. I am going for a free standing commercial kitchen look more for function of keeping country mice from setting up house under the standard kitchen cabinets.

        Help! I can’t decide.

    2. Asbestos in plaster is not that big a concern as long as it is intact. The issue will be if you need to do repairs or are cutting into the wall. It is more likely that you will cause problems by removing the walls yourself. The biggest thing you’ve need to worry about is dust and crumbling pieces. If you are really concerned your should get it tested before doing anything.

    3. Why on earth would you assume they used asbestos in plaster in the 1940’s? Do you also assume they used swiss cheese in house paint? Do you assume they used motor oil in crop fertilizer?

      1. Tim, it was not uncommon to find asbestos as a binding agent in plaster walls in the first half of the 20th century. It’s not everywhere but it was prevalent enough that it bears some consideration.

  47. I didn’t see this question covered above, but hope you can help. I’m living in a 1930’s frame bungalow with plaster walls/ceilings. The problem with the ceilings are peeling paint in small areas. Underneath the paint, however, it seems the plaster ceilings were coated with what looks like a lacquer and which might explain the peeling paint. Was this a customary way to treat plaster ceilings years ago and if so, once I scrape off the existing paint, what kind of primer and paint should I use. I’ve tried water-based primer followed by a latex in another room and while most seems to be fine, I did have a one inch, by two inch piece peel. I’m not sure if this was because I missed that spot with the primer or if I should have used an oil-based primer.

    1. I have a128 house with similar problems, particularly in upstairs. if you scrape down to first coat or bare plaster, then rough sand ( 80 grit) and skim coat with 45 or 90 minute joint compound to feather out to intact paint surface. Use a stain covering primer like Zinnser ( use kind for new plaster, ask at paint store) and then paint. My upstairs bath had mildew in between layers of paint so I use paint stripper to take it down to bare plaster ( yes, entire bath ceiling), and then skim coated, primered and painted. it looks flawless and I am really happy with the results

  48. Hi Scott,
    I recently purchased an old Victorian style home here in Spokane, WA, that was built in 1903. It has lath and plaster. The only problem is that the lath and plaster in this home was done poorly compared to most. It is only 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and there are cracks all over and in some parts falling away from the lath. My question for you in this case, is it worth trying to repair? If I were to replace with sheet rock what is the best method? Still has original crown molding trim throughout.

  49. Our house is over 100 but since it had been in the family we KNEW that there were layer upon layer (Dad painted his mother’s house regularly) of lead based paint we chose to cover the plaster walls (encasing) with wallboard/plaster board and restore the vat stripped heart pine woodwork. Not only could we not afford to have the paint on 12′ walls removed by remediation, we needed to move in as soon as possible after a move from west coast to southeast.

  50. A quick question…..I own a duplex that has a lath and plaster dividing wall, the City of LA inspector says I have to remove it and use 5/8″ drywall instead…is he correct?

    The lath and plaster seems(to me) to be far stronger than the drywall that he wants to replace it with. He is basing his conclusion on fireproofing.

    1. Every city has its own codes, but your wall should be grandfathered in and not require changing. Besides that, a lath and plaster wall that is 7/8″ thick (which is typical) is much better at fire blocking than a thinner 5/8″ drywall. I’d get a second opinion!

      1. Hey Scott, I DO plan on getting a second opinion however in LA nowadays there is no such thing as ‘grandfathering’ anything in. I keep hearing that phrase but anytime I have to deal with the city they pretty much tell me to take a hike! :-/


        1. wow, Andrew, that really sucks! you got a bad inspector. it happens. but definitely, if you at all can, keep trying to get a new one. we had 2 different inspectors talk down to our solar installers (a high-end custom company, sunpower, not assembly-line solar city) because they have a very sophisticated methods of running the conduit through the attic rather than across the roof and over the edge. they basically wanted to tell sunpower they needed to do it the way solar city does it, like they thought the company just on a whim tried to do something weird. they’re based out of CA, of course, and went to great lengths in advance to design hardware that’s compatible with building codes and safe for your roof. this is the Cadillac installation, not a fly-by-night hack job, but the first two inspectors talked about it like they were so certain, that this was wrong. sunpower had to call the city and complain that they’d gotten inspectors out who didn’t know they’d already gone through a pre-approval process *when they developed the hardware* and that they needed another person to come out and really listen to their explanation. third time was a charm, and this guy scoffed at the other two, saying there’s no reason they should have held up the approval. one of those previous two guys claimed to be a supervisor (but was apparently making it up?) and both had some sort of power trip thing going on. so in L.A. it seems like you can get inspectors who are just against things, and determined to make your life hard, even when it is not warranted, so you have to just fail your inspection and call to schedule a new one, trying a time slot when you think that same guy won’t be available.

          1. Funnily enough I had a slightly similar issue with a DWP inspector…he said I needed to take the power line that ran through the attic(as they all were done in the 20’s etc) and run it outside the house. This would involve moving a gas wall heater as the chimney/vent would be in the way and then having ugly cable running the length of the house. In the end he went away and nothing happened and all is well 🙂

  51. Nice bunch of comments. I live in circa 1903 colonial. Over 20 years ago had the first floor gutted & sheet rocked by talented professionals. Also included was new porch damaged by Yankee gutters, cedar siding, roof & flooring. The upstairs bedrooms were left alone except for small sheetrock repairs.
    About 10 years ago I removed wallpaper & used plaster washers (a lot) to bring the walls of an upstairs bedroom back together along with a small amount of plastering. The ceiling was fine. I taped & used a lot of joint compound to finish. I sanded with a porter cable disc orbital sander attached to porter cable shop vac. It turned out perfect & has not shown any cracks & was painted.
    Recently (time flies), I finished two tandem rooms upstairs. This time where the damage was severe I used my Fein Sander with the circular cutting blade to cut out the large rectangles of damaged plaster & fill in with sheetrock. This worked out very nicely. Also used plaster washers with sheetrock screws along cracklines (a lot). Again had to use quite a lot of joint compound mainly to level out the repaired plaster walls. This time, two hairline cracks have surfaced, been repaired.
    One little problem surfaced with sheetrocking over lath is that not all lath is either set the same way or the same thickness so either rip out or sand that piece or make an adjustment on the sheetrock .
    Finally, just did a closet where the ceiling was shot, so sheetrocked that. I used ceiling washers on the rest, but the left side was so out of level that I had to put way too much compound on it & spent too much time on it. I should have ripped it out & sheetrocked it.
    When the first floor was done, I insisted that all the plaster be removed for the new sheetrock & they also took the lath out. Insulation was blown in at the time through the outside boards as all the old siding was removed. Everything looks great with a combination of fixing plaster & sheetrocking.

  52. should sheathing be installed after clapboards are removed? I already gutted and drywalled the dried out plaster years ago. Iv’e painted and caulked the old cedar claps with good paint.

    1. Sheathing isn’t necessary if the house didn’t have it originally. You may end up with complications reinstalling the siding around windows and doors if you do add it. I would probably add some building wrap or at the minimum 15 lbs felt paper before reinstalling the siding though.

      1. I have drywall over the old plaster walls. Im thinking I want to tear off the drywall to have the plaster walls? Or am I going into a big mess?

        1. Kristin, it really depends on what is hiding behind the drywall. You’ll never know how good or bad the old plaster is unless you pull off the drywall. It just depends how much you want that plaster.

          1. Well, I really really want to see what is there…..along with the wood floors. In some rooms they have put new hardwood over the old hardwood floors….looks like they did it about 40 years ago. Big project!

  53. Okay – I have paneling over plaster and lath – and I’m scared of what I’ll find when the panel is removed. I’m thinking of doing a lot of molding/wainscoting – do you still recommend preserving the old plaster above the chair rail?

    1. Pablo, it really depends what kind of condition the plaster is in. If it’s still generally intact why not save yourself the trouble of removing (a very messy job) and replacing with an inferior product like drywall?

  54. SHould I consider DRYWALL replacement to repair my plaster walls and ceilings damaged in plumbing disaster.

    My 75 year old historic home (Stanhope Johnson, architect) in Central Virginia has suffered a terrible “water loss” disaster due to plumber error. As a result we were forced to pull down plaster walls and ceilings on three floors.

    Trusted contractor suggests we should make repairs using sheet rock mudded up to match original plaster materials.

    I understand the issues of cost, mess and manpower, and LEAD TIME needed to even get someone in to our little town to effect a proper plaster repair, but I can’t help but feel this proposition is just adding insult to injury.

    Does it really not matter because it will ‘look the same” in the end? Is the ‘similiar look” in the end product enough of a reason?

    What am I losing by not repairing to original spec?>

    I am sure there are lots of answers on both sides of this issue, but my most trusted voice (my contractor) has a very specific opinion weighed to the sheet rock side of the equation.

    Anybody got opinions, or even better, experience with this kind heartache?

    1. Most contractors will usually recommend Sheetrock because it’s familiar, readily available and they know how to work with it. Chances are they have never hired a plasterer in the past. If a skilled plasterer isn’t available then this his idea isn’t a bad one. In this scenario I would suggest a veneer plaster setup. 5/8″ thick plaster board is installed first (just like drywall) and then a thin (1/8″) veneer coat of plaster is installed over top in whatever texture you desire. You will need a plasterer for the veneer coat but the overall expense should be lower than doing a traditional 3-coat plaster wall.
      Using plaster instead of drywall mud is important for performance and texture. Plaster is MUCH harder than drywall mud. It provides superior abrasion and dent resistance. Maybe not that important for a ceiling but for walls you want that improved performance.

  55. Love this article. We are considering buying a home with plaster walls. They look solid, but have some mildew stains. First thought was rip out walls, install insulation and drywall. But after checking out this article and the one on vinyl siding (which is on this home), I wonder what the problem really is and how to fix it. I hate damp walls and mildew.

      1. Make sure you hire a EPA certified firm to do any repairs on the house so you and your family are protected from lead. As for asbestos there is no way to tell without testing . But asbestos wasn’t used in the US until the late 1800’s.

    1. Oma, a good HVAC system and possibly dehumidifier will do wonders to hep with your mildew problem. Mildew will grow on drywall just like it would plaster so go for the source of the problem not just the symptoms. If you have moisture issues it might be the vinyl siding trapping vapor, a leaky roof or siding, leaking pipes, or any number of things. Somehow moisture is getting in and it can’t escape. That’s the problem to solve. Good luck with the house!

    2. Wow, probably the mildew is from blown in insulation with no vapor barrier. As far as I know, there isn’t an effective way to insulate the exterior walls with plaster walls and no vapor barrier. It isn’t that big of a deal and I would never, ever remove plaster just to insulate. Just insulate the attic well and remediate all air intrusion elsewhere.

  56. Question instead of comment. I have gone all the routes described above in many rooms of our 1832 Greek Revival, but am at an impass in a northeast facing bedroom. The outside walls seem to be more sand than plaster and will never stand a coat of paint. The interior walls are already down to the lath due to great variations in plaster depth which made repair next to impossible. I will use 5/8′ drywall and should get a good reveal at the two doors.The outside walls do not demonstrate the breaking of keys as did the partition walls. Maybe because the interior walls flex more easily. I would like to avoid removing the plaster from those two outside walls and just skim a veneer over them when I do the rest of the drywall.

    Now the question. Is there a difference in the type of plaster used on the exterior walls as opposed to the partition walls? Is there any vapor barrier behind the plaster on the exterior walls? Would it be worthwhile to tear the old plaster down and install a vapor barrier then drywall as the other two walls?

    I am taking a two day break from this project, so replies can be well thought out and critical. I will get over anything you beat me up on!



    1. Ed, the plaster should be the same composition and thickness on the entire interior of the house. Due to the age of the house there won’t be a vapor barrier, but you can definitely add one if you’d like. It’s not quite as effective obviously unless it completely encompasses the house. We use a veneer plaster over top the 5/8″ drywall to help it blend in better with the existing walls. And if you have a sanded finish which it sounds like you might then you can always just add simply play sand to your plaster mix.
      Personally, I would try to save as much of the original plaster as possible, but you’ll have to decided what is reasonable considering the current condition of the walls.

      1. hi scott. i’m really appreciative of all the work you’ve put into your website and all the valuable information. i am now an eager subscriber! i’ve been digging through the archives and your book. we are in the process of purchasing a 23 acre farm and with it a rather large 1870s “farmhouse”. the inspection is just around the corner on memorial day. i was glad to read your tips for inspection and what to make sure to learn about old homes. that was a great find to make as i researched plaster restoration which brings me to my question. i would like to get down to the original plaster and finish with, instead of paint, a lime wash. i love the texture and irregularity of plaster walls. my question is this: am i understanding correctly that the best course of action is to remove the wallpaper -where it exists- check for the soundness of the plaster beneath and chemical strip the paint and proceed with repairing the plaster? if i don’t intend to paint over the plaster do you have different recommendations for plaster repair (and how to determine if it needs to be repaired?) thanks again for all of this timely information about plaster!

  57. I couldn’t find a reasonably priced plaster contractor, so I put up drywall. The house was a rental property (a lot of holes) and the walls were significantly damaged by cellulose being blown into the wall cavity. The insulation settled and coupled with poor maintenance and rainwater management, I ended up with a soggy-mess of a wall. It can be hard to tell a wall is a damaged behind so many layers of paint (I missed it during inspection).

    My question is how should I go about replicating a plaster finish on the drywall? Slightly uneven skim coat and sand? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Chris, I like a modern plaster finish on top of drywall to get the look of old plaster walls. We use a 50/50 mix of veneer plaster and pre-mixed joint compound. You need both in order to have it hold properly on regular drywall.
      Mix them together and apply like you would a veneer plaster finish. Trowel it on and knock down the high points after it sets up. You can add sand to the mix if you would like the added texture. It’s hard to describe the whole process in a comment. I plan to put together a video soon to teach how the process works.

  58. I think John Townsend has the right idea. Do each wall and ceiling on a case-by-case basis, with an aim of preserving as much as possible. There is nothing wrong with using plaster screws and glue injection to stabilize a plaster wall, if it holds together when it’s done. But there’s also nothing wrong with drywalling over a problem wall, if all the door and window frames are shimmed to match the new wall thickness. Drywalling over a plaster ceiling is a great way of making it safe, especially with mid-century “transition” (rock-lathe or expanded mesh) ceilings that tend to collapse catastrophically and can be quite dangerous. And if you really have to get into a wall (insulation can be blown, piped or even stuffed through holes, but dangerous wiring can require much more demolition), it’s no big sin to replace the plaster on that wall with drywall; you can even use 5/8″ or even 1″ (usually double 1/2″ layers) to replicate the solid feel of plaster. If you do a good enough job of either resurfacing plaster or taping/mudding drywall, it will be impossible to see which walls are which.

  59. One note to the comment above concerning replacing drywall where plaster and lath was removed………… If the wall has doors or windows it’s likely you’ll need to fur it out . Even if you’ve been lucky enough to remove the door & Window trims without damaging them ( we left ours in place) the jamb thickness is going to dictate where those trims need to be. Most of our Jambs are at 6″ width. You can fur out the trim but the profile looks ” off ” next to the wall and base trims………. tried that first……… Rip out, redo

    1. All you have to do is fur out the studs enough to have the drywall at the same depth the original plaster. Example: if you find that the lathe is 3/8 thick (very typical) and the thickness of the plaster to be 3/8″ thick (also quite typical) then you can fur out 1/8″ and use 1/2″ drywall. Your trim will fit exactly as before. I assuming one can carefully remove the trim.
      Alternatively you can hang 5/8 drywall directly on the studs (remember the lath = 3/8″ + plaster = 3/8″ == 5/8″ total thickness.

  60. We have 2 homes in Galveston Tx circa 1884 & 1887. Both are baloon framed houses and after much research an convinced that filling them with insulation could put the structure at risk for moisture damage. The walls were designed to breath and the plaster to insulate. One problem some walls had to be removed to re plumb & re wire (permitted) and we’re faced with several problems. 1, most all plaster and lath is furred out before the laths are applied adding to the depth deficit in replacing the wall. 2 , the insulating qualities of that thick P&L is gone and lastly , replacing the wall so it finishes out to the same depth as the previous wall so your window & door trims reinstall at the same depth.
    Out depth from bare stud to door & trim casings is 1-1/2″ thick . The solution from INSIDE the wall 1st 4’x8′ T&G XPS , then 7/8″ drywall on top. We finish out at the exact same depth as the old wall, create a barrier of insulation on the exterior walls while leaving the framing open to breath. I contacted Dow Chemical in Midland Michigan, they were incredible in running the norms based on our zip code and making recommendations to us on what to use…………hope this helps others in the same quandary

  61. I wish I could have kept my old walls. Too bad previous owners nearly destroyed it!

    If you have a historical home.. an old home. Do what ever you want. Anything! But whatever you do I hope that it’s good for the home so that it WILL out last the current crop of new homes with built w/ oriented strand, chip board, MDF crap et al. …

  62. In the first place the difference in R- value between plaster/lath and drywall is nearly insignificant with respect to the TOTAL R value of the wall itself, assuming there is insulation. There is also only a minor difference in soundproofing. In the second place drywall over plaster utilizing 2 1/2 screws into the joists is a very practical idea for ceilings. Notice I said ceilings but NOT walls. Care to have that plaster dropping down on your head from time to time as it degrades over time? How about getting up there to rip out that ceiling plaster so as to either replaster it or drywall it? You can repair the plaster or replaster but there is no advantage save EXCEPT from a purists’ historical standpoint. Other than that there is absolutely NO ADVANTAGE in plaster on the ceilings. I hung drywall over plaster on the ceilings in our 1935 Craftsman bungalow. The only drywall on the walls is in a couple of places where the plaster had come loose Patching as it were. Other than that the walls are original.

    1. re: drywall patches on your plaster walls…as carol describes above, you can repair broken plaster keys with plaster screws and skim coats.

      1. Yes, you can repair broken plaster keys with plaster screws and skim coats. But you’ll have to keep doing over and over and over. Not in the same place:
        Here, there, over there, here, over here, there, here, in that corner; Get it? Plaster/lathe walls (especially ceilings!) DO THAT. It’s in the very nature of the material. Continually cycling – settling, streching, compression. In essence, living to OLD AGE. Moisture, Heat, Cold, Seasons, Plus it’s just brittle material (why did they need horsehair in the first place?? The fore runner of fiber reinforcement to counteract these forces) How do I know? 1) Many years in the drywall trade when I was a youngster. 2) I now own a Craftsman Bungalow
        built in 1925. Not to mention a degree in Mechanical Engineering much later life. Except for historical homes where it IS A MUST the plaster be maintained, or st Monticello or the White House
        or the like, it is highly impractical (especially ceilings over the course of ordinary homeowner ownership, say for even twenty or thirty years) Lastly:
        1. sound dampening.
        2. R-value
        3. additional racking resistance

        The lathe are flimsy and weak by themselves by virtue of age and the plaster brittle (remember the “keys” in plaster always cracking and breaking off?)
        are structurally only marginally better with respect to 1/2 drywall. If you’re that concerned about those conditions above, use 5/8″ on the walls and 1/2 on the ceilings.
        R Value? might be worth a buck or two ( not much) off your energy bill. Why? Look at the TOTAL value throughout everything through the wall!
        I won’t bother with soundproofing argument – because if the walls are 90 years old, as in my house, the plaster/lathe has settled, cracked, expanded, contracted to such a degree that any sound proofing characteristics are rendered insignificant.

        1. While I’m at it, if we want to be architecturally and period correct, why don’t we keep in place all the KNOB-AND TUBE wiring? I mean, if you going to keep all the plaster let’s also keep the KNOB-AND TUBE? I mean, WE”VE GOT TO BE Historically ACUURATE! Yeah!

          1. John, should we also make sure to replace crumbling asbestos insulation with new asbestos insulation? There is a line between keeping historically accurate materials and keeping dangerous materials. I don’t think anyone has ever been killed by their plaster walls.

          2. “should we also make sure to replace crumbling asbestos insulation with new asbestos insulation?” Exactly my point! I was being tongue-in-cheek. (not to mention the fact you CANNOT EVEN BUY NEW ASBESTOS INSULATION) In my Craftsman Bungalow I took out EVERY SINGLE knob and EVERY SINGLE tube and rewired it myself with 12ga romex, running 37 circuits, from a new 200 amp service panel. Knob and tube in and of itself is not dangerous, but it is highly impractical. I won’t get into all the reasons why. But preserving plaster just because it isn’t dangerous and supposedly adds the resale value? (not mentioning that there’s almost certainly underlying coats of lead paint on that plaster). Money is much better spent on preserving all the wood trim both interior and exterior, solid wood flooring, original doors and windows and wood siding because that is old growth wood which can’t even be purchased today unless it’s reclaimed. And like I said you’ll be fiddling around repairing that original plaster here there, everywhere, over there, over here, on and on; due to the structural problem of the “keys” of the plaster always cracking, weak structural characteristic as a brittle material, lack of fiber reinforcement.

          3. I should have added that one doesn’t HAVE TO remove every single knob and every tube as I did. You can disable the knob&tube system by just cutting both ends of every knob and tube circuit and removing any and all parts of it you can get to. Then running all new wiring. Advantage? In my case, each room on it’s on circuit fully grounded, 20A minimum, GFIC’s wherever required as well, with plentiful outlets & switches everywhere.

        2. One more thought:
          If you find yourself in the situation like that in the picture at the beginning of the article where you have all the plaster removed, but not the wooden lath, REMOVE THE LATH. It’s not worth it and it only adds to your problems of the hanging drywall. Furr out as necessary. If you want leave the lath and recoat with 3 coats of Plaster etc. —-> you are going down a foolish wrong road (in the long run) unless this is a historic building like Monticello or the White House.

  63. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your content seem to be running off the screen in Safari.

    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you
    know. The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem fixed soon.
    Many thanks

  64. Yes! Plaster, all the way! My husband thought I’d lost my mind. To him, the best thing to do was rip off the old 70s paneling (gross!) and then hang drywall OVER the plaster! I nearly fainted.

    There are a couple rooms in this house where the plaster was apparently a bad mix. The scratch coat, which can be seen around some of our old door moldings, had reverted back to mostly sand and horsehair. One touch sent it crumbling.

    Not to be dismayed, I fought for the plaster. Since I do about 98.9% of the labor around here, I won that argument. That happens a lot! He buys, and I work. Seems fair.

    The first room was the master bedroom. There were areas popping loose from the lath because they keys were broken. Not shocking, since they’d nailed furring strips and paneling over it. In all areas besides the crumbling ones, I screwed the plaster back to the lath with plaster screws and washers, skimmed it with hot mud and fiberglass mesh, then skimmed it again. Hot mud wasn’t my first choice, but it worked really well. I’ve never mixed plaster, and I didn’t want to take a chance on my walls.

    The fiberglass (A trick I learned from This Old House) worked brilliantly for strengthening the cracks. Five years later, and those walls are still beautiful. The hot mud and a wide mud knife left a nice sheen to the walls that looks for all the world like the surface is plaster. It took a while to get a feel for the technique, and it’s a bit labor-intensive, but there’s no way I would hang drywall anywhere that I had a choice.

  65. In my Chicago 1920s condo, we have drywall OVER lathe and plaster, a truly unholy marriage! So hard to get anything properly fastened in the walls.

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