Repairing/remodeling horse hair plaster ceiling.

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Michael W. Smith, Aug 29, 2005.

  1. Michael W. Smith

    Michael W. Smith Well-Known Member

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    We live in an over 100 year old house. The walls and ceiling are lathe covered in horse hair plaster. We are currently in the process of fixing up our living room and den. The den is directly under the bathroom, and due to some leaking pipes, the plaster is falling down from there and loose.

    The living room ceiling has some cracks in it and there is one place where a previously repaired plaster piece fell out.

    I know for the den ceiling, tearing out whats left of the plaster is a necessity. As for the ceiling in the living room, I'm not sure what to do. It isn't really that bad, and I'm sure could be repaired fairly cheap. However, the living room doesn't have a ceiling light, so we have to depend upon lamps to see. I'm thinking it may be better just to put in an overhead light (maybe possibly a fan too) and put in a suspended ceiling or something that could be screwed into the plaster and lathe. As for the den, a whole new ceiling is in order, but I'm looking for what all choices I have.

    I know that we could have the ceiling replastered, but being below a bathroom (in an older house) I'm not so sure! I know a suspended ceiling using the blocks could be used, but I'm not a big fan of the block suspended ceiling. (Besides, it probably wouldn't even "look right" in our old country house.)

    Does anybody out there have any other suggestions for a new ceiling so it retains the over 100 year old look?
     
  2. Shagbarkmtcatle

    Shagbarkmtcatle Hillybilly cattle slaves

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    We are currently remodeling a house with plaster walls. The living room and dinning room were so bad that we gutted them and are drywalling them over. Hated to do this but it's cheaper since there was so much damage. Upstairs we are drywalling all of the ceilings of the 4 bedrooms. We have stripped off the old wall paper and are going to skim over the walls with spackling. That's because we can't get every little piece of wallpaper off the walls. I guess I can't really tell you what to do, just tell you how we are dealing with it. We are remodeling this house to sell and what it to have as much eye appeal as possible. It's a big pain and I hope to never have to remodel a house with plaster again unless I'm going to live in it.

    Laura Lynn
     

  3. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    My suggestion is to drywall over the plaster. I tried to salvage an old home that had the hair/plaster and I never got a finish that was satisfactory. The surface would develop multiple hairline cracks after just a few days. I finally resorted to papering the wall with a thin muslim fabric then I filled using a skim coast over that with drywall filler to overcome the problem. It would have avoided a lot of anguish and given better results had I done as suggested above.
     
  4. Pony

    Pony Well-Known Member Supporter

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    When I was in my 125+ year old house a few years back, I would use regular drywall patch. If something was a little rough and I couldn't smooth it out and it was REALLY obvious, I'd use the wallpaper that covers up small cracks and irregularities.

    I was 11 years old when my parents bought a 2-flat in Chicago. For some insane reason, my father decided to tear out the plaster walls (they were in good shape). I hauled plaster in buckets until my arms screamed from the pain. I made a solemn vow to myself that I would never again in all my life tear out an old plaster wall again...

    So far, so good. :)

    Pony!
     
  5. antiquestuff

    antiquestuff Well-Known Member

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    Is it towards the center of the room in the living room? If so, a large ceiling medallion could cover it, and would be correct for the time period if you pick the right one...if it's a tad off center in the room, get a large medallion that'll cover it even when centered.

    If that isn't possible (oh yeah, there are corner medallions available if the corners look bad too) I've seen these "plaster washers" or something like that, which you put up with screws and then put a thin layer of plaster over. In any case, if it were me, I'd save the plaster wherever possible: it's much nicer than drywall in my opinion. No matter how hard some try to hide it, I can always see the seams in drywall...
     
  6. Michael W. Smith

    Michael W. Smith Well-Known Member

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    No, not in the center. Both places are along the edge. Not sure what I'm going to do yet.
     
  7. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    Hold on a minute....

    Plaster repair is much easier to complete than any one will ever tell you!!!!!

    It is tremendously sad to hear "em ole walls was just too bad to fix, I just went an tore em out and hung drywall." "Heck one room had a two foot hole under the window that was missing plaster, so I gutted the whole 15x20 room."

    I own two homes, both with plaster, and have repaired walls and ceilings in both, and no one can tell me where the repairs have been made.
    I have also learned plaster repair so well that I have done the repair for profit.
    The last job I did was a plaster hole 12 feet long and 7 feet tall at the tallest point in a stairwell.

    I have never seen a room that was too far gone to repair the plaster. Ever.

    I could write a book on plaster repair, and actually have thought about doing it, but have no idea who would publish it.

    Plaster walls are great! They are much more fire resistant than drywall, stronger than drywall, will last longer than drywall, and have a much more homey look than drywall. Heck, they have already lasted one hundred years, and will last another hundred if you will fix them.

    The easiest way to fix plaster is this:
    Remove the bad plaster back until you find the places that it is strong and attached to the lathe. Do not use a hammer for this step...loose plaster will come off with your hand. Its a learned 'feel', but you will understand quickly.

    Renail, using new small nails, any lose lathe back to the ceiling joist or stud. Leave alone the lathe that is already firmly attached.

    Buy a sheet of wire diamond mesh, available from building supply houses that specialize in plaster-brick-masonry supplies. This will take looking for a supply house in the phone book, but not at lowes or Home Ripoff.

    Cut your wire mesh with tin snips. Wear gloves. You want to cut this mesh to fit your hole in the wall.

    Use drywall screws or a plated screw to attach the mesh to the lathe. A cordless drill works best in this application. Screw the mesh using liberal amounts of screws.

    Just before you apply the joint compound, use an old windex bottle filled with water, and dampen all the wood and lathe in the problem area. This will help keep the wood and lathe from soaking up too much of the water in the joint compound.

    Now, using a purchased or homemade plaster hawk, available at Menards or supply house. Load the hawk up with a pile of drywall JOINT COMPOUND with the green lid, and start applying (smearing heavily) onto your lathe and mesh. When you apply this, you will need a trowel. THE GOAL IS TO PUT A HEAVY LAYER ONTO THE MESH AND LATHE, 'KEYING' THE PLASTER INTO THE LATHE AND MESH. Apply the joint compound to the whole area. This is called the scratch coat. You will use alot more joint compound than you thought, so buy the 5 gallon size.

    IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THE ABOVE: YOU REALLY NEED TO GET THE JOINT COMPOUND ABOUT AN EIGHTH OF AN INCH BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE EXISTING PLASTER. JOINT COMPOUND WILL NOT SAND VERY EASILY, SO THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!!! WIPE OFF ANY J.C. IF YOU GET IT ON ANY OF THE WALLS WHILE IT IS STILL WET.

    Using a very straight one by four that will span the width of the hole is very handy to have. Have your wife hold the other end and 'slake off' any high spots while it is still wet. Remember that joint compound doesn't sand at all!

    While the joint compound is still wet, you need to 'score' it. Use a painters comb, a big fancy meat fork from your wife's silver, or improvise a tool with nails in it. You want to drag lines, about an eighth of an inch deep, all in one direction, into the joint compound. This will give the top coat something to hold onto.

    Now set up your fan or AC to help dry the patch out. It is dry when all the dark spots are gone. If you have filled your patch properly, it should take a day or two for it to dry.

    Don't forget that JC does indeed shrink when it dries, so be prepared. Might have to refill an area just a little if it shrinks too much, but no biggie.

    Once this is dry, reslake with your board for any high spots.

    Now apply TOPPING COMPOUND WITH THE ROYAL BLUE LID. The idea is to get the patch as smooth and flat as possible to blend in with the old plaster.

    Sand to satifaction, reapply Topping compound as needed, resand, reapply, etc.

    Don't paint anything you're not happy with, PAINT DOES NOT SAND EITHER.

    Let me know if you have questions!
    Clove
     
  8. Cindy in NY

    Cindy in NY Well-Known Member Supporter

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    We also live in a 100 year old house with horse hair plaster. Evidently it started to fall apart in the 1970's (long before we were here) and the owners went through and gutted some rooms and put up wallboard. In the other rooms, they covered it with paneling. We had the thought that we would take down the paneling and repair the plaster but when we looked behind it there was nothing left to work with. We'll be putting up wallpaper liner over the paneling and then papering over that.

    Clovis is a bit more ambitious than we are! We are going through and stripping, repairing, and refinishing all the woodwork though. I guess you have to pick your battles!

    If anyone has any pictures to share of your work, we'd love to see them! I'm not clear as to how to post them here but if you PM me I'll send my email addy to trade pics.
     
  9. Pony

    Pony Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Clovis, that is WONDEFUL!

    Thank you! If I can talk the in-laws into keeping their 100+ year old house, I'll be able to show them how to fix the walls! (Sadly, I'm now living in tract housing. Adequate, but so mundane...)

    That's similar to how I did the patching in my old place, but I did not know about using the wire mesh and all. How absolutely cool!

    You can write that book and self-publish it, you know. Or, you could look at some of the smaller, independent publishers.

    Thank you and good luck!

    Pony!
     
  10. Michael W. Smith

    Michael W. Smith Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Clovis! You now have me thinking that this is possibly something I can fix myself. I do have some questions though.

    In the living room ceiling there is a small place about 5" X 13" that fell out. There was no lathe behind it, it just looks to be luann board. This area was patched before as it is not horse hair plaster. Can I fill in this spot with mesh and proceed as you described?

    There is also a place by the register in the ceiling that goes up to our bedroom where right around the register the plaster has cracked and dropped down a little. To fix this would it be best to tear out this dropped area and repair as you described or should I just try to "screw" it back up to the ceiling? I've heard there are plaster screws that you can buy that will do this.

    Last question - in both rooms there are several hairline cracks. What should I use to fill in the crack, or can I just paint over it?

    If this is something I can actually do myself, my wife will be soooooo pleased as the one guy we called said he was too busy to tackle our problem. Or better yet, Clovis, do you have some extra time to come to Pennsylvania and you can teach me the art of plaster repair!! ;)
     
  11. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    On the 5x13" area, I would remove all of the old patch around the luan board. Sounds like the reason it failed is because it has nothing to hold onto.
    You could use the wire mesh, or even cut new lathe and nail it up. Can you remove the luan board?

    As for the register area, I think you have the same problem. The house has moved and settled over time, and areas like this are weak. It is also an area that vibrates and moves any time you go up the stairs, or walk through the house. These vibrations do affect it over time, especially a weak area like that. I would remove what is loose, and then repair it. Sometimes you can score a line in the good plaster and remove the bad plaster back to that point.

    I haven't had much success with plaster screws. Most of the time, plaster has had the "keys" broken away from the scratch coat. The keys is the plaster that is pushed into and behind the lathe. When doing any repair, IT IS SUPER IMPORTANT TO 'KEY IN' THE PLASTER. This is what gives plaster its strength. Look how deep the old keys are...this will give you an idea how yours needs to be. The wire mesh will help hold it tremendously strong, however.

    For what it is worth, horsehair, (often mistaken for goat, mule, cow hair) was used as a 'bindary' product to help strengthen plaster. Horsehair is still available on the market, and is used in sensitive historic restorations.

    You can also buy some stuff called 45 minute plaster that doesn't shrink like joint compound. This is what I use almost exclusively. The great thing about 45 minute plaster is that it dries so quickly and doesnt shrink very bad. It comes in a bag that you mix with water. I do not recommend 45 minute plaster for newbies because it really does dry in 45 minutes, and can leave you standing with a bucket of rock hard plaster.

    Does this help?
    clove
     
  12. Michael W. Smith

    Michael W. Smith Well-Known Member

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    Yes, you have been a great help. I think I'm going to try it on my own even though I am in no way a "handy" man. I mean, how much worse can I make it?!? I do have several more questions though.

    This mesh you talk about. How big of diamonds are they? I think I will have trouble finding this as we don't have any supply houses that deal in brick/mortar/plaster. Is there something else I can use? And when screwing this to the lathe, do you screw it right up against the lathe or leave a gap?

    What exactly is a plaster hawk? Will I need a 5 gallon bucket for a 5" X 13" area and a 3' X 3' area?

    I'm not sure if I can remove the luan board or not as I don't know how long ago this new piece was repaired or even what is behind the luan board. I'll also have to check the surrounding area to see if it is still tight or if it's loose.

    And is there anything to fix the cracks in the other areas, or just paint over them?

    Thanks for all your help!
     
  13. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    This should be a simple fix, even if you aren't a handy man.

    Think of the wet plaster as play-do that dries, and all it needs is something to hang on (wire mesh) and for you to spread it out as flat as possible.

    I would buy the 5 gallon bucket. Should be about $10. Remember that you will need a 5 gallon bucket of Joint compound with the green lid and another bucket of topping compound with the royal blue lid. You can also buy a bag of joint compound that you can mix-might be a cheaper way to go, and won't shrink as bad. Up to you.

    A hawk is a mortar board with a handle on the bottom side. Made out of aluminum, about 15 bucks. You could make one at home however, using plywood. I would spray paint the top with oil base paint if you make one with just anything you have lying around. This will keep the wood from sucking the moisture out of the joint compound.

    Screw the mesh in tight. You just want it secure to the wall. Don't be stingy with screws.

    When you cut the mesh, try to get it as close to fitting as possible. Will make for a better job.

    As for finding the mesh, can you find a brick supplier in the closest city? The mesh is used also on exterior buildings where adobe finishes are used. About $5 a sheet in the Indy area. Sheet measures about 2 1/2 by 8, I think.

    The diamonds in the mesh are no bigger than 1/4 inch.

    I don't know of any other products you can use instead of the mesh-but you will need something like this for the luan patch.

    As for the other cracks in the house, are they hairline or big cracks?

    Also, buy good tools. They are worth the money. Most lean towards the 2.99 trowel, but I strongly recommend the much better one. There really is a difference. I love my Marshalltown trowel, about $20, and it is worth the cost. I will be disappointed if my trowel doesn't last the rest of my life. Might also buy a 9" taping knife for application of the plaster. A cheaper knife will suffice in this situation.

    If you do this job on a Saturday, I could give you my cell phone # and help coach you while you do the job if you want. I have free weekend minutes.
    clove
     
  14. Michael W. Smith

    Michael W. Smith Well-Known Member

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    THANKS!!!!! As for the cracks, they are just hairline. Go ahead and PM me with your cell phone number. I have free minutes on weekends too as well as after 9:00 P.M.

    But once I get everything, I'm hoping I won't have to call you. Time will tell!! ;)
     
  15. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    One more thing I forgot to mention:

    Before you apply the new plaster, run a shop vac over the old lathe to pick up the small bits of old plaster and dust. The edges of the old plaster need to be 'crumble-free' in order to get a good bond between the old plaster and the new.
    clove
     
  16. Michael W. Smith

    Michael W. Smith Well-Known Member

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    OK, Clovis, I did it! I bought the rapid joint compound and used it Sunday to fill in the holes after putting up the mesh. The larger hole in the ceiling went alot easier than the smaller one. There was a hole in the wall that I patched as well. First coat has been applied, and I need to put on the 2nd coat. Certainly not a professional job, but good enough for our 100 year + house! Thankyou Clovis for all the information and for giving me the courage to try it myself!! You saved me some money.

    THANKYOU Clovis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1 :bow:
     
  17. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    Wow!
    You work fast!
    You will get much better as time goes on, and the difficulty of the work gets more challenging.
    Where did you find the mesh?
    Have you been able to sand the top coat to a smooth finish?
    Please let me know!
    clove
     
  18. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    When sanding the top coat, you can also use a wet sponge as a sanding tool.
    Are you familiar with that?
    I don't like using a wet sponge, but it is tremendously cleaner than a sanding block or a sanding screen.
    Remember not to paint anything if you are not happy with the finish....PAINT DOES NOT SAND, and you will be stuck with that job!
    clove
     
  19. Michael W. Smith

    Michael W. Smith Well-Known Member

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    Well, the mesh I used ended up being window screen. Lowe's had the "mesh" in little 12" x 12" blocks at a high price. When I asked about hardware cloth and the person asked what I was doing, they told me the screen would work. (I know, I know, I'm going against your good advice!) :nono:

    Luckily, there wasn't a whole lot of loose stuff to tear out. And the bigger hole went easier, but I put a bit too much water onto the luan (yes, I just left it up and attached the mesh), and I could tell I put too much mist on it as the compound didn't want to stick. :rolleyes: I only worked on the living room as that is the room we are sprucing up and needing to get done before the new furniture and carpet get installed. (The big hole in the den that actually has the lathe will be done when I have more time.)

    But it was easier than what I originally thought and I do thank you again for giving me the courage to try it on my own. :clap:

    As for the sanding, that is on tonight's or tomorrow's "things to do" list. I was going to try sanding with a sponge first to try and limit the dust. Even if my work doesn't last, at least I have a little hand's on experience and will tackle future needs. And even though it may not be perfect (at least it stayed up in the ceiling!), I consider that it gives my house "charm" & "character". Other people may think it's shoddy work, but I don't care what other's may think, it's MY house, and an old house with "charm" & "character". :nana:

    Once I decide to tackle the "big project" in the den, I'll let you know how it turns out. :)
     
  20. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    Great.

    I would be curious to know how the screen works. I am a little afraid the holes are too small for a good fix.

    As much as I hate to post this, a second choice could have been the galvanized mesh screen that has 1/4 inch square holes in it. This is what I would use for screening a rabbit cage. I would only use this in a real pinch.

    I don't think anything will stick to the luan for a long term patch. That is what the mesh is for....something for the plaster to hang on.

    FWIW, I would much rather repair a 5'x10' area than a small hole that is 1"x2". It goes back to the fact that the plaster needs something to hold onto in the wall. I often cut a small hole to 5"x5" just for that reason.

    In the den, feel free to use the existing lathe. You will find it will take alot of plaster, because IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO "KEY" THE PLASTER INTO THE LATHE.

    If you look at the old plaster, you will see how the old timers mashed the plaster onto the lathe, and that it droops down over the lathe on the back side of the wall. The drooping part over the lathe behind the wall is what is called KEYS. This is WHAT YOU WANT TO IMITATE WHEN YOU REPAIR THE PATCH WITH NEW PLASTER.

    I am glad to have been of assistance, and certainly hope I haven't sounded like a know it all. I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge, and want to make sure your project is successful and lasts for years.

    Please keep me updated on your plaster repairs! You will be an old pro before you know it!!!!
    clove