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Plaster Repair

Blog

Plaster Repair

Timothy Bausack

I want to take a look back at some of the more major projects that have gone on since I bought the house. In the fall of 2013, I had to find somebody who could repair my plaster crown molding, ceiling, and walls with a unique knockdown texture. Plasterers are few and far between because everyone uses drywall now. It is a good skill to learn but takes about a year until you really get it I hear. I will be making some plaster repairs in the future but the "main act" of my house (we'll talk about staging in the future) is not a good place to learn. Especially with a crown that has about 7 different levels to it.

At any rate, I was striking out with my few contacts and Angie's list. Then a thought occurred to me that local historical societies might know of other people with old houses that needed plaster work done. I started calling around one afternoon.

The problem with contacting historical societies is that people are never there! The last one on my list that I came to was The Whaley House museum--only about 1 mile from here. Somebody answered! The nice lady told me they just had a guy named Terry fix plaster in a room with structural issues and he did so good that you couldn't even tell there were problems with the walls. I gave him a call and he came out pretty quickly. We hit it off. Word to the wise, even if you're anti-social it is beneficial to hit it off with any person who knows how to do plaster!

It turns out Terry lives in the neighborhood just a few blocks over and he and his wife have always loved driving by the house so he was pretty excited to work on it. The plan was for him to do his demolition and repair work before the flooring guys came and while the plumbers were there. Then he would wrap it up by painting the living room and sun room. That meant I had to do some research into paint colors of the 1920s.

Luckily, Sherwin-Williams has a set of colors for colonial revivals that jive with other 1920s color palettes and examples. I settled on a couple choices for wall color and trim color.

Terry put these color boards together for me so I could see what the colors might look like at different times of day and in different places around the room. Colors from L to R are Light French Gray (SW 0055),  Colonial Revival Sea Green (SW 2825), Classic Ivory (SW 0051 Trim Piece), Classical Gold (SW 2831), Classical Yellow (SW 2865), Classical White (SW 2829), Classic Ivory (SW 0051). For reference, I think the walls on the first floor are basically the ivory color.

Terry put these color boards together for me so I could see what the colors might look like at different times of day and in different places around the room. Colors from L to R are Light French Gray (SW 0055),  Colonial Revival Sea Green (SW 2825), Classic Ivory (SW 0051 Trim Piece), Classical Gold (SW 2831), Classical Yellow (SW 2865), Classical White (SW 2829), Classic Ivory (SW 0051). For reference, I think the walls on the first floor are basically the ivory color.

While I researched and thought about colors, Terry set up a negative pressure enclosure around the work area so that the fine plaster dust would be exhausted outdoors and not into the house.

This is what a negative pressure enclosure looks like. It is made from 7 mil plastic sheeting. It is called negative pressure because the pressure inside the unit is kept lower than its surroundings by an exhaust fan. This causes particles suspended in the air inside of the enclosure to be sucked safely out instead of drifting about and settling around the house.

This is what a negative pressure enclosure looks like. It is made from 7 mil plastic sheeting. It is called negative pressure because the pressure inside the unit is kept lower than its surroundings by an exhaust fan. This causes particles suspended in the air inside of the enclosure to be sucked safely out instead of drifting about and settling around the house.

Air from inside the enclosure is vented out a window via the collapsible orange duct. When Terry is working inside, the unit it is kept completely sealed off from the rest of the house.

Air from inside the enclosure is vented out a window via the collapsible orange duct. When Terry is working inside, the unit it is kept completely sealed off from the rest of the house.

This is important to do unless you like wet wiping your entire house on your hands and knees. I should also note that plaster could possibly contain asbestos fibers. I had the plaster tested for asbestos and it came back negative. Had the test been positive, then the job would have gotten a lot more expensive and time-consuming.

The leak has caused the crown molding to sag and pieces of the ceiling to fall off.

The leak has caused the crown molding to sag and pieces of the ceiling to fall off.

After setting up the work area, Terry pulled down all the water damaged plaster.  He found that the ceiling and molding were in pretty bad shape but that the wall and baseboard were just stained and could be painted over once the mold was taken care of.

Here you can see how bad the water damage was behind the finish layer of plaster. The metal lath is rusted through in places. You can see some drain piping in the hole along with some other detritus. The bright white areas on the left and right are the interior of the crown moldings. You can see some of the knockdown texture on the wall at the bottom of the picture.

Here you can see how bad the water damage was behind the finish layer of plaster. The metal lath is rusted through in places. You can see some drain piping in the hole along with some other detritus. The bright white areas on the left and right are the interior of the crown moldings. You can see some of the knockdown texture on the wall at the bottom of the picture.

The gray area is a backing plaster called the scratch coat that is rough and helps the finish plaster adhere better. The living areas seem to be entirely metal lathed so I am essentially living in a Faraday Cage!

Once Terry had the demolition complete he started doing some smaller plaster repairs to the crown and ceiling of the sun room (or sun parlor as the 1920s era electrician wrote on a floor joist in the basement) and painting some colors I was leaning towards on the walls.

Terry was kind enough to repair a previous repair during his paint prep.

Colonial Revival Sea Green in flat finish. We determined that flat didn't do much for the texture.

Light French Gray in flat. Looked like a light blue on the samples but on the wall it looked a little too much like Eeyore.

Classical Yellow in flat. We ended up choosing satin finish for the walls.

2 other blue/green colors: Copen Blue (SW 0068) and Gray Wisp (BM 1570 - basically the same as Restoration Hardware's Silver Sage).

Once the plumbing was taken care of, Terry started working on the main repair. He rebuilt the ceiling and crown molding layer by layer.

1. Terry started by patching in some new lath and applying a brown coat which seeps behind the lath to provide a foundation for the subsequent layers to stick to. The gap cut into the right side of the crown molding was used to create a template. Terry traced the crown's profile on a piece of plywood inserted into it.

2. Next up is the scratch coat

3. Terry then attached wood 'fences' on the ceiling and wall for his jig to ride between.

4. Here is the crown molding jig. Terry used a jigsaw to cut away part of the board he had traced on. It was attached to a horizontal board for the excess plaster that would be scraped off to fall onto as it moved down the rails from right to left and to keep the vertical board plumb as it cut through the gobs of plaster.

5. The crown molding was roughed in with the jig. The finish texture was applied to the ceiling at this time. Matching the ceiling texture was very difficult.

After sanding the crown to perfection, Terry had to wait for the floors to be finished before he could continue with the paint (sawdust issues).