Many people believe that "plaster wall repair" is an oxymoron. They feel that plaster walls cannot be repaired.
I won't go that far, but it's true that some plaster walls can be difficult to repair, especially if they appear too far gone. That being said I’ve never met old plaster that couldn’t be fixed. But, like rust on a car, you need to strike at the first sign of problems. It’s much easier and cost effective to preserve what is there and fix it, than tear it out.
Plaster has been around a long long time. Before the Pilgrims landed in America, before Rome fell, before the Egyptians built their towering pyramids... home builders were using variations of plaster to sheath their abodes.
To date, the earliest evidence of plaster was found in portions of southern Turkey and northern Syria. Plaster was applied to the houses there around 12,000 B.C. That's before pottery was even invented.
In its most pure form, plastering has not changed much in 14,000 years. Wet "mud" is still spread over some type porous surface until it is smooth. It is functional, durable and looks great - that hasn't changed. The tools and ingredients have undergone some evolution, though.
Have you ever tapped on a plastered wall with your knuckle? It feels like solid rock, right? Well that’s because plaster is, essentially, rock... pulverized rock, reconstituted and spread on to walls and ceilings.
Of course, you can’t just grab a wheelbarrow full of gravel from your driveway, grind it to dust, add water and spread it on your wall. There’s more to the recipe.
Today we’d like to share an inquiry emailed in by Janine from Pennsylvania. Janine is using Big Wally’s Plaster Magic to repair a damaged plaster ceiling (25’ x 30’) in an old house, circa 1850.
“I’m looking at contractors to deal with the big holes but have started using Big Wally’s for D.I.Y. crack repairs (about 250 linear feet). I’m on my 5th tube or so of adhesive and I’m getting less sloppy with dripping conditioner and backflow of adhesive. Still, when I spray the conditioner in, lots drips back out. Any tips (other than practice) for ceiling work?”
Just like an old car, your home requires maintenance. The insertion of small amounts of capital into a building over an extended time period can mean the difference between a beautiful, functional house and a falling-apart, expensive headache of a house.
At this point, you may be expecting some tips on maintaining your plaster walls and ceilings. But it’s not the plaster that needs maintaining, it’s the structure supporting it.
Let’s look at a typical problem in New England houses: ice dams. Ice dams occur when heat escapes from an incorrectly insulated house and melts snow at the eaves of the roof. The water then runs to the edge of the roof and freezes solid. The resulting dam pools enough water behind it to seep back beneath the shingles and leak into the house.
We recently saw a television commercial that made us laugh, then nod our heads in agreement, then cry (Okay, we didn’t actually cry. But the seriousness of the commercial’s message was well received).
The ad was for a carpet cleaning service. Two cleaning techs are driving down the road in a company van when they see a worn-looking rug rolled up and tossed out on the side of the road for trash pickup. The driver of the van slams on the brakes, dashes out of the van and kneels beside the rug. “No!” he cries. “I could have saved this one.” He glances up at the offending house… “I could have saved this one!”
There are lots of tools, processes and materials specific to plaster repair. Some of their names you may recognize, some may sound vaguely familiar, and some may be completely foreign.
Thus, we present to you a plaster repair glossary. Read them, study them, memorize them and wow all your friends at cocktail parties when you explain that a “hawk” is not only a bird of prey of the Falconiformes order, but also a flat sheet of metal with a handle, made to hold globs of wet plaster during the application process.
If your home was built before 1978, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) says it may contain lead-based paint. You've most likely heard about the dangers this presents to your family and pets, and we often are asked how to deal with plaster walls and ceilings that may contain lead paint.
Since Big Wally's launch in 2007, we've received a lot of questions from first-time home buyers and ambitious do-it-yourselfers about what tools and materials are needed for a plaster repair project. We admire these people - it's always wise to make sure you have all the tools you need BEFORE you start a project. No one likes getting halfway through, only to realize they're missing a crucial tool (we've all been there).
If you own an older home (especially a pre-war house), you are likely to have plaster walls or ceilings. The operative word here is "older", so you may have plaster repair high on your list of weekend projects. But what if you're not the handyman-type, or the job is simply too involved to handle independently? In that case, you'll need to hire a contractor to fix that cracked plaster wall or ceiling.
Whenever you approach a plaster repair project, there are three crucial issues to keep in mind:
Beauty and Durability
Today we'll address issue #1: The Building.
It's easy to get caught up in all the details that surround home improvement projects. Budget woes, scheduling conflicts, interruption of your in-home routine... these are all valid concerns when tackling a plaster wall or plaster ceiling repair project.
But, it's important to remember that the building is your client. Just like any client, you want to make sure it is happy and satisfied with a job well done.
A few weeks ago, Rory was called to a circa 1900 home to repair a hole in a plaster wall. The hole was formed when a careless electrician used a sawzall to cut a space for a light switch. The vibration of the saw caused damage, resulting in an approximately 12" diameter hole that needed to be stabilized and filled in with new plaster.
Here's a video tutorial of the entire plaster repair and patching process.
Rory was called to a circa 1900 home to repair a hole in a plaster wall. The hole was formed when a careless electrician used a sawzall to cut a space for a light switch. The vibration of the saw caused damage, resulting in an approximately 12″ diameter hole that needed to be stabilized and filled in with new plaster.
After stabilizing the lath and plaster with Big Wally's adhesive, Rory was ready to move on to part two, which involved applying patching plaster. Using Big Wally's patching plaster, which is specially designed to be flexible and bond with existing historic plaster, Rory filled in the hole with a "rough draft" of sorts, also known as a "scratch coat".