to update an old house or not to


Old 03-22-05, 08:59 AM
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horse hair plaster walls

We bought a 100+ year old house. Must say it's built like a fort, however it needs updated.

The house has plastered walls, and of course it has large cracks. However, the plaster is the old "Horse hair plaster". It crumbles off of the walls if the smallest hole is made (kids). And well, the holes just get bigger.

We had a "handyman" in to look at the house. He feels we should just plaster over the cracks and the holes. He doesn't feel we need to "gut" the house.

Mind you, we need to put in new electric (knob and tube wiring), and we want to blow in insulation.

So, do we just replaster or rip out the plaster and put something else up?

If we should put something else up, what would the recommendations be?

Thank you for any input.


Last edited by gijanedup; 03-22-05 at 09:30 AM. Reason: title not cathing
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Old 03-22-05, 01:06 PM
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Some cautions about removing the plaster and lathe based on my own experience in a similar house. 1) there may be asbestos in the old plaster, so be careful about removing it and about cleanup. There is also likely to be lead paint on top of the plaster. Even if there is no asbestos or lead paint, it is extremely messy and you won't want to be living in the house. 2) the studs will not be straight and level with one another and you will have to do some shimming to mount the drywall. 3) you will have problems around doors and windows, as the mouldings may not sit flush against the new drywall surface 4) you change the historic character of the house somewhat. On this note, consider that a plaster finish (albeit not on lathe) is becoming popular in high-end house construction. 5)Plaster is quite soundproof compared to drywall. If you start to remove it you will be surprised by the thickness. 6) the wiring can often be redone with minimal disturbance of the plaster. Most of our house was rewired when we moved in and it does not appear that any walls were cut.

There are very good repair products for plaster available. Just do an online search for plaster repair. I have had great success just using drywall mud, fiberglass mesh and in the cases where the plaster has delaminated, injection of glue. I have repairs that are several years old and show no sign of problems. I anticipate that these repairs are not permanent, but nothing is. Even with drywall, yo will be repairing nicks and dents every time you paint, especially with kids in the house.

One other option is to drywall over the plaster. I have done this on some walls, which seemed beyond repair, with pretty good results. It doesn't work well on walls where there is trim though.
Old 03-22-05, 01:34 PM
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With the amount of updates needed in the home, I would seriously consider gutting it. While it is possible to rewire without disturbing the existing plaster, it also much more expensive to do so. In addition I suspect that the plumbing is in need of updating as well and gutting the walls will make this a much easier task to accomplish. Asbestos & lead most likely will be present in a home of this age and proper precautions should be taken. Also from the description your giving;
It crumbles off of the walls if the smallest hole is made (kids). And well, the holes just get bigger.
it sounds like the bond between the lath & plaster is failing. If this is indeed the case, any new plaster coat over the existing will fail as well. If you do decide to repair the existing plaster I suggest that you seek the services of a trained and experienced plaster professional, which depending upon where you're located might be the hardest part of the project. Good luck!

Last edited by awesomedell; 03-22-05 at 01:51 PM.
Old 03-22-05, 02:31 PM
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My 2 cents worth. Rip out the plaster and lath on the exterior walls only. Replace with dry wall. That allows you to insulate and wire.

Then to save some effort, drywall on top of existing interior walls (after you fish new wire in place), but plan to replace all door jams as they will then be too shallow.

In other words, rip out only the walls that need to be ripped out for insulation and plumbing (usually the bathroom). Then figure out what you want to do with the interior walls, i.e. patch or cover.

This way you will only have 5 tons of plaster to haul off instead of 10 tons.
Old 03-22-05, 11:00 PM
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thanks for your responses

Psyche11, Awesomedell, and Lugnut,

Thank you for the quick responses and your input. It's greatly appreciated. I never even imagined thinking about asbestos. A little late though. We punched a hole in the wall today to see how hard it would be to remove the plaster and the lathe. The plaster just crumbled off and the lathe is pretty thin. We were able to cut through it in no time at all. So, hopefully this is a good sign.

There is no paint on the walls. All of the wall coverings are wall paper. It's so old, it has actually melded with the walls. We are unable to remove some of it.

Do you have any ideas where I can possibly get an asbestos test? And what would the cost be?

Thanks again for the responses.
Old 03-24-05, 10:08 AM
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...Just to add my $.02 worth. Altho our house isnt 100+yrs old.. (1948), I removed the plaster and lathing. Gutted all exterior walls, did my electrical upgrades, tho we didnt have knob and tube and re-insulated with batt.
When I opened up the walls, the old blown insulation had settled as well as some areas didnt have any insulation at well as no vabour barrier.
You will probably have a larger gap than originally, where the walls meet the ceiling, as I discovered, but that can be filled in.
Once your new walls are in, you can finish them to whatever 'look' you'd like... l
I felt it was worth the mess to update .. Messy - YES. but now its soo much better..and warmer.
Old 03-24-05, 01:59 PM
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Asbestos testing

You could look in the yellow pages under asbestos. If there is no ads specifying testing, call someone who does abatement. They will either do their own testing or have someone who does it for them. Keep in mind that these people make their living removing the stuff. If they unscrupulous, they may be prone to finding problems (asbestos) where there are none. There might be more incentive for honesty if you tell them beforehand that you don't intend to hire them to remove it. There are also sites on the internet which do mail order testing.

Just a caution, I don't know where you live, but I think some states are very strict about who is allowed to remove asbestos containing material and how you dispose of it, so you may end up having to hire someone to do it. In addition, if asbestos is found, and you do not remove all of it, in some jurisdictions, you might have to disclose it when you sell. Although the danger from intact asbestos appears to be minimal, the word is enough to scare some buyers away. I know people do the removal themselves with varying levels of caution, and I have done some, but that is your call. At the very least, if you do any more yourself, use a good respirator and seal off the area you are working on, including furnace vents. I would also have your kids out of the house.

If, like our house, the cold air ducts are simply the stud spaces within the walls (i.e. there is no actual duct, just the air space behind the plaster), you will find that no matter how well you seal, the stuff gets into your ductwork and thereby into other rooms. There is very good information on the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Website about asbestos and safe removal, you might want to look at. Just search "CMHC asbestos". They also have good sensible information about lead paint and removing it.

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