Why Do You Need Plaster Repair in Old Houses?

August 6, 2019

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When you need plaster repair, it’s vital that you call an experienced plaster repair contractor near you right away. Plaster is a very durable material that lasts for decades but once it begins to crack, sag, blister, or otherwise show signs of damage, you don’t want to put off needed fixes or new plaster installation! Those cracks and other troublesome spots only get worse over time and might allow dust, humidity, and water to seep into the layers of plaster itself, leading to even more damage.

While hairline cracks are normal and might not signal the need for plaster repair, plaster that has separated from the home’s framework, typically due to age, excess moisture, or structural damage to the home, needs immediate repair or new plaster installation.

Only a plaster repair company near you can determine the exact cause of plaster damage in your home. However, if you know a bit more about what causes damage to plaster ceiling molding, plaster walls, and other such surfaces in your home, you can then care for your plaster surfaces properly. If you also understand the difference between minor and more severe damage to plaster, you then also know when it’s time to call for plaster repair or new plaster installation!

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Why Do You Need Plaster Repair in Old Houses?

Consider some common reasons for needing plaster ceiling crack repair, plaster crown molding repair, and repair to all other plaster surfaces in your home.

  • As a house settles and shifts over time, its framework also settles and moves out of place slightly. Plaster then comes away from its backing or lath, while window frames and doorframes also shift and pull away from plaster walls. You might notice sagging and also cracks in plaster ceilings and along wall fronts near doorframes and window frames or hear a hollow sound when you knock on those areas of plaster.
  • While plaster itself is resistant to high humidity levels and water damage, excess moisture in the air and water leaks in a home might damage the lath behind plaster. When the lath is compromised it won’t hold plaster in place so that cracks and other damage occur.
  • Heat in a chimney often causes it to expand and then contract slightly, enough to cause cracks in plaster around a fireplace.
  • Installing new windows and doors might put pressure on surrounding plaster, or lightweight windows comprised of high amounts of plastic as well as lightweight fiberglass or vinyl doors might not offer as much support for surrounding plaster. That plaster then shifts or expands and cracks then form.
  • Soil expansion and contraction also puts pressure on interior plaster walls and ceilings, leading to needed ceiling crack repair and damage to plaster molding.
  • Improper or poor-quality plaster installation might allow plaster to then shift and pull away from its lath or backing. A poor-quality backing also allows plaster to pull away from walls and ceiling, a process called blowing. Blown plaster can often be repaired but in severe cases you might need new plaster installation instead.
  • Exposure to excess water and humidity might cause what is called efflorescence, a leeching of salt and other materials to the surface of plaster. Plaster then weakens and cracks, sags, splits, or even outright collapses.

Is Plaster Restoration a DIY Job?

It’s vital that you call a plaster restoration contractor near you if there are wide cracks or outright holes in your home’s plaster, but hairline cracks might be patched up with some store-bought materials and household tools. Note a few tips for plaster crack repair in your home.

  • Begin by widening the hole or crack a slight bit, using a utility knife, screwdriver, or other sturdy tool, so that you can see the lower layers of plaster. A wider gap ensures that your patching compound will adhere to the plaster and set firmly.
  • Blow out all plaster dust and debris from the crack.
  • Use a medium bristle brush and a non-phosphate detergent and scrub the plaster crack, to remove even more debris and ensure a clean, smooth surface.
  • Use self-adhesive fiberglass mesh tape and cover the crack, working in short sections so the tape remains strong and isn’t likely to sag or lose adhesion.
  • Dampen the area before applying patching compound. Use a clean sponge dipped in water and ensure you soak the tape and areas of the crack completely.
  • Apply joint compound with a putty knife, pushing it into the crack and smoothing its surface.
  • If needed, wait until that first layer is dry and then apply another layer of joint compound.
  • Ensure the joint compound is dry completely before applying paint.

While patching small cracks and holes might be somewhat easy, note that sagging plaster, broken plaster, and larger chunks of missing plaster require the services of a plaster restoration contractor near you. Sagging plaster typically requires fastening to the lath behind it, while larger chunks and breaks in plaster might require fresh plaster layers rather than simple patching with joint compound.

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Is Plaster Better Than Drywall?

If your home needs extensive plaster repair, you might be tempted to have the remaining plaster torn out and replaced with drywall. While drywall has its advantages including a much easier installation process, plaster is more soundproof, creating a quieter interior environment for your home. Plaster also doesn’t contain biological materials that feed mold; while mold might grow behind plaster, this material can stop those bothersome spores from spreading.

Plaster also offers a high-end finish that you can’t achieve with drywall. A plaster installation contractor can create swirls and other patterns right on plaster walls, while creating those designs on drywall typically requires the application of wallpaper or specialty paints. Since plaster was a favorite material for construction during the pre-war era, a new plaster installation also preserves the value and historic authenticity of your home as well.

The malleability of plaster also allows a plaster installation contractor to create designs in the material including decorative plaster crown moulding or plaster ceiling medallions. Plaster can also be shaped and formed around curves and awkward spaces in your home without the risk of exposed seams and gaps between drywall sheets.

How to Prevent Plaster Crack Damage

Plaster is a very durable material but it’s not indestructible! Knowing how to maintain plaster and prevent plaster crack damage in the first place can reduce the number of repairs needed over the years, and ensure that your home’s plaster is always strong and durable and looks its best.

  • It’s vital that you patch small holes and hairline cracks as they appear, to keep them from getting larger and more noticeable over time. Patching compound also protects layers of plaster from absorbing water and dust, weakening the material and leading to more damage.
  • Install doorstops on doors that would otherwise run into plaster walls. One quick jab of a doorknob into a plaster wall can result in a serious chip, crack, or hole!
  • Use screws or plaster fasteners rather than nails for hanging pictures on walls. Pounding nails, thumbtacks, and other hardware  into plaster can weaken it can cause cracks and chips. Hardware that screws into the wall doesn’t create the same breakage along the surface of plaster and is less likely to result in cracks and other such damage.
  • Exposure to too much water and high humidity levels will eventually weaken and damage plaster. Use a dehumidifier in your house if needed and ensure you keep the home’s plumbing in good repair, so as to avoid leaks and eventual plaster damage. After washing plaster walls, use a clean dry cloth to remove all excess water and moisture.
  • Since plaster tends to crack and break when a home shifts and settles, ensure that your home’s foundation is always in good repair and that your property’s soil is graded properly. If you notice that your grass struggles to grow or that your home’s foundation is always developing cracks and resultant water leaks, note that your interior plaster is also at risk of damage! Keep your property’s soil drained and your home in good repair outside so that you protect the plaster walls and ceilings inside as well.
  • Always use a primer before painting plaster walls and ceilings, to help protect plaster from exposure to moisture and to keep your paint looking its best over the years.
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Related Questions

How do you know if a plaster ceiling or wall crack is serious?

If a vertical crack in plaster begins to widen at the top or bottom, this often indicates that the wall or ceiling is gradually shifting and heaving. Your plaster is then at risk for more damage! Call for needed plaster repair if you notice this occurring in your home.

Can you apply a new plaster installation over old plaster?

Applying new plaster over old is a process called skimming. A new layer of plaster is often preferred when your home needs extensive plaster repairs, or for when you want to cover over textured plaster, dark paint on plaster, and other unsightly surfaces.

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