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How to deal with contractor: cracking plaster


jp_beaudry's Avatar
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01-10-10, 04:43 PM   #1  
How to deal with contractor: cracking plaster

All,

I could use a little advice on the following situation. I live in a 100 year old house, and after stripping the wall paper in two rooms, I hired a well rated plasterer to skim coat the horse hair plaster walls to bring them up to paint-ready condition. Though the skim coating was well done, smooth and tight, major cracking is now developing everywhere less than a week after job completion. We're talking five and six foot long cracks, two and three per wall. It's pretty obvious that the skim coat isn't bonding to the original plaster in many places. The contractor will stop by tomorrow to look and come up with a plan.

How should we go about fixing this? I'm thinking the recent skim coat will have to be removed as much as possible, then a bonding agent (Plaster-Weld or Weld-O-Bond) applied, then re-skim coat. The reason I'd rather have plaster is to cut down on dust that joint compound would otherwise cause. I have done 2 rooms with j/c 5 years ago and they still look great, but I just don't have the patience anymore. Also, blue boarding was not an option I wanted to pursue since I wanted to preserve the wood molding. Likewise, I am not considering removing the horse hair plaster as it's in great shape, just not immediately paintable.

Note that the plasterer had come prior to the job starting to evaluate the condition of the rooms and to provide me with an estimate. At the time, I had asked about his using a bonding agent or whether I needed to prep the walls further, but he said that it wouldn't be necessary because he was going to use a "diamond" finish (whatever that is). I am not a happy camper.

Any advice welcome,
JP

 
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01-10-10, 06:32 PM   #2  
No matter what you think needs to be done, let him talk first. Let him tell you why it happened & what he is going to do to repair it.

 
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01-11-10, 02:08 PM   #3  
Being a drywaller I'm not an expert at plaster. That being said I have done my fair share of decorative texture with diamond finish plaster. You always have to use a bonder before this application. Maybe he means something else than I do but the product is USG diamond finish plaster. Good luck and like Pulpo said give a good listen. Just the fact that he is comming back is a good sign.

 
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01-11-10, 07:23 PM   #4  
Did he provide you an estimate or a bid/quote? If it the latter then he will have to stand behind the number he gave you and fix the problem. How do you know it is not bonding, is it falling off? Just because it is cracking does not mean it is not bonding. I have seen joint compound crack when it is put on thick. Give the guy a chance to fix the problem and make you happy then then jump to conclusions that he did it wrong. Like Coops said, hes coming back. He could easily blow you off.


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01-12-10, 09:46 AM   #5  
Please let us know what your contractor tells you and the solution to the problem and how it is resolved.

Were there cracks in the original plaster? Do the new cracks follow the lines of the original cracks? How thick was the Diamond applied? What wall prep was done? Washing, scraping? Were the original walls painted ?

I'd like to know how this turns out.

 
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01-13-10, 05:45 PM   #6  
What did he use to skim with?

Have you tried rapping on it with your knuckles to see if the bond is loose?

If not, and the cracks are due to shrinkage from something applied too watery, and/or the dry rate was too fast - then maybe simply spackling the cracks will suffice.

 
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01-23-10, 03:21 PM   #7  
Thank you all for the advice thus far. Here's an update.

The plasterer stopped by as promised and agreed that the new skim coat wasn't adhering to the old surface. We could actually press on the surface near the cracks and see it move relative to the wall, like a sheet of paper floating on a desk. Within a few days, he came back with his gear, tore down much of the plaster and started over. Though I was obviously not pleased with the project now being behind schedule, having to clean the house at least one more time, and having to contend with the disruption once again, I have to admit the plasterer was professional in his attitude. The redo took 2 days to complete and though I wasn't home the whole time, I saw evidence of bonding agent as well as dry wall screw usage, which I take as a good sign.

However, today marked one week after completion and I was intent on getting going with priming and painting, so I went in there to take a good look. Cracking and peeling is still happening, less than last time, but significant and unacceptable nonetheless. The plasterer will stop by tomorrow morning for further evaluation. Patience is wearing thin in the family.

Over the phone, he suggested that he has some sort of crack sealer product that can take care of the spots where adhesion isn't an issue. I'd like to look that stuff up, but he couldn't recall the name. Do you guys know what that might be? I found a two products online, one in the UK (Polycell) and one in Australia (Resene), nothing yet for the US. I'd like to know if I should accept that as a solution. I'll search the paint section of this site.

I love this quote from the Resene site: "When hairline cracks strike they destroy the striking good looks of the paint finish and the good humour of the customer. " Yep, we're there

 
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01-23-10, 03:57 PM   #8  
I have an idea or two what happened. I don't want to say yet.

Do you know if the existing plaster was lime plaster or gypsum?
What kind of finish was on the existing walls?
What material was the new finish? Diamond? Something else? Did you see the bags?
When your contractor removed the unbonded material what came with it if anything?
What part of the country are you in? What kind of heat is in the house and how warm was it before during and after the plaster was applied? Both the first time and the second time?
How good did the walls look right after they were done? Nice and smooth, no trowel marks good enough to paint with no flaws and blemishes?

It sounds like your plasterer is a good mechanic and an honest, honorable man.

Something is happening that is definitely not ordinary and I'd sure like to know what it is.

How hard is the existing plaster?

Here is an important question:
Had the walls ever had Kalsomine?

How old is your plasterer?

 
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01-23-10, 04:09 PM   #9  
tightcoat: Why don't you want to say what you think happened? A prediction is no good after the fact. I think you're looking for a chemical reaction.

jp_beaudry: Do you live near an airport? Is there a central HVAC unit in the house?

 
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01-23-10, 04:30 PM   #10  
Some contractors have superb skills and have not been around long enough to know some of the things others of us have learned the hard way.

Some bonding agents are not compatible with plasters high in lime content. Diamond is mostly lime. Now some bonding agents are ok with lime.

Kalsomine is water soluble and could release when wet. The bonding agent probably did not seal the Kalsomine. if there is some enough to keep it from releasing. Bonding agents are good products. We use them a lot. The bond is only as good as what the bonding agent is applied to. If it is applied to paint it is only as good as the bond of the paint.

Originally the OP said he didn't think the contractor used bonding agent.

There are compounds on the market like Acryl 60, a very good admixture for Portland cement based materials and sometimes they are mistakenly confused with bonding agents for the look and smell alike. Acryl 60 and its similar competitors will actually weaken if not prevent a bond.

Problem with all these ideas is that the Diamond finish, if indeed that was used would be almost unworkable over an acrylic sealer, Kalsomine. deteriorated plaster or plaster that had burned out.
If I get good answers to the questions in my previous post I can eliminate some things.

I am not looking for a chemical reaction. I think it's environmental or mechanical. Maybe the walls were dirty or sooty or oily.

Oh, that brings up another question:
What room or rooms is the work in? Kitchen?
Is or was there a working fireplace in the house?
Was there always electric lighting? Did prior owners use candles or oil lamps?

And in the rooms that were done with joint compound: What rooms were those?
Did you use ordinary jc or a setting type like EasySand?

OK, now let's figure out what went wrong the first time so it doesn't happen to someone else.

 
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01-24-10, 06:57 AM   #11  
Tightcoat: Let me see if I can answer.
Round 1
  • Existing plaster: typical New England, horsehair plaster 1 inch thick, wood laths
  • Finish: unpainted, leftover wallpaper glue (I removed wallpaper). I don't think the plaster finish has been exposed in a number of decades given the 3 layers of wallpaper.
  • New material: "veneer plaster", I'm not 100% sure of the details, I hired someone so I didn't have to bother. Lesson learned.
  • Removal: nothing from the existing wall seemed to have come with the loose, new veneer
  • Heating system: steam heat, but radiators were removed in those rooms (for access behind radiators). Rooms stay between [50-60]F
  • Smoothness: very smooth on large surfaces (impressed!), not nearly as good around outlets, switches, windows, etc. Those detailed areas are not much better than I have done myself elsewhere in the house (much less thrilled).
  • Existing plaster: the new stuff is very hard, as you'd expect.
  • Kalsomine: I can't answer that, I have no idea.
  • Plasterer: early fifties?
Round 2
  • Rooms: the contractor is working on 2 bedrooms. I had finished a dining room and the kitchen myself with jc (premix stuff, 1 & 3 gallon bucket, don't recall the brand, got from HD).
  • Condition: no fires, no candles or lamps, no fireplace.

Pulpo: No airport, no central HVAC

 
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01-24-10, 07:26 PM   #12  
Well,
I think had there been Kalsomine that the wallpaper paste would not have bonded well.

I think there must have been some residue from the wall paper paste left on the wall and that prevented a bond of the new plaster to the old.

However new plaster finish does not bond well to an old smooth plaster finish.

Your environmental conditions sound acceptable.

I have seen plaster deteriorate behind radiators. I don't know at exactly what temperature gypsum plaster calicines but apparently. it can be at a fairly low temperature given enough time like behind radiators.

Were the areas of bond failure in the neighborhood of the radiators more pronounced than in the field of the wall?

 
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01-24-10, 08:14 PM   #13  
Posted By: jp_beaudry However, today marked one week after completion and I was intent on getting going with priming and painting, so I went in there to take a good look. Cracking and peeling is still happening, less than last time, but significant and unacceptable nonetheless. The plasterer will stop by tomorrow morning for further evaluation. Patience is wearing thin in the family.
I understand how you feel but tell your family (and yourself if needed) that Rome was not built in a day. Not all jobs are the same. Your job/project is obviously not the run of the mill and is being quite challenging. Your contractor is being a stand up guy and sounds like he is doing the best he can. Give him the time he needs to make you happy.

I also would be surprised if all the plaster in your home is crack free.


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01-26-10, 04:17 PM   #14  
If Zinsser stain block primer, that says on the can, that it sticks to all surfaces, including gloss surfaces - wouldn't that work as a good bonding agent to use on the old shiny plaster before appling a new veneer over it?

On rentals I have done maintenance work on that were built back in the 50's, the plaster came out so non-porous, so shiny, like glass, that whenever there has been say a water leak on the ceiling and the paint blistered, and I started to scrape away the bad area? - I literally could scrape all the paint off the entire ceiling, if I wanted to.

Or maybe the old plaster was chaulky on the outside. Was this ever looked into before work commenced? If chaulky, it could have been cleaned and sealed first. In painting, there are additives even, for chaulky paint. Anytime I do repair work, I rub my fingers across the surface to see, as I know that trying to get something to adhere to chaulk is akin to try to get paint to stick to grease.

 
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01-27-10, 03:26 PM   #15  
No,
It's easy to get something to stick to something else but for a bonding agent for plaster it also must enhance the bond of the plaster to the bonding agent. Any good paint by its nature does not encourage anything to stick to it. Bonding agents go on the wall like paint but is is not paint.

 
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01-27-10, 04:35 PM   #16  
But that Zinsser stain block is a primer though, meant to both adhere to glossy surfaces on one side, and accept a finish coat on it's outside.

I just thought perhaps, that in lieu of this dilemma he is faced with - that if that failure was caused by glossy plaster and/or chaulky outer surface - that this might be a relatively easy fix, that might help adhesion no matter what was left on that wall from before.

With a bonding agent (that should have been used in the first place), what prep work is needed to the original underlying plaster wall surface, to even insure the bonding agent will do it's job? I was thinking that the primer might handle all sins, where the bonding agent might require lots of fussy prep work first? Then again, maybe that is what is needed. If so - so be it. I just tossed out some perhaps brainless brainstorm, with my stick-to-anything primer idea.

 
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01-27-10, 08:10 PM   #17  
I think there was either Kalsomine or wall paper paste residue on the wall. Thing is the plasterer bought that wall once he started. If it was not prepared properly he should have insisted that it be prepared to his specs or he should have included in his bid enough to do it himself. Sometimes one doesn't know what is going to happen until it happens.

note to self: Try a test patch before committing to a whole wall. If the owner won't wait for the test patch don't risk reputation. Walk away.

 
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01-28-10, 09:18 AM   #18  
plaster repair

I'm not sure if this applies, but I'll toss it out anyway. We have had problems with painters who don't carve out the crack deep enough to really get the joint compound in deep enough to really hold it. We have a staircase where the painter did it his way (tape and mud without really carving out the crack) and it cracked within 6 months. I did another section and really dug into the cracks and three years later it still is crack free. Again, not sure if this is off track for what you're dealing with, but .....

 
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01-28-10, 01:54 PM   #19  
Thats definitley a problem...using painters to repair walls I mean

 
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01-28-10, 03:35 PM   #20  
Hey, it all depends on the painter ... and of course the scope of the repair


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01-29-10, 06:23 AM   #21  
Sorry Mark I couldn't help myself. At least you know I'm just kiddin' around.

 
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