Another post about plaster

Big Hole

Big patch, ugly paint color.

I didn’t take a before picture, but believe me when I tell you that the white areas in the photo above used to be a giant plaster bubble. So I popped it (because that’s the tempting thing to do with all blisters) and removed all the bits of plaster that were no longer attached to anything. Because this is a brick wall (there isn’t any lath behind this plaster) I though the normal way to fix bubbling plaster would not work all that well, since it involves special screws and special glue. Besides, who am I kidding? I’m just a beginner when it comes to plaster.

I had never fixed an area this big. Little bits of missing plaster? Sure! A few cracks here and there? No problem. But this? Uncharted plaster fun.

It was surprisingly easy, and to be super cliché: easy does it: many thin layers seems to be the way to go. While the first few layers are quite bumpy, each subsequent coating gets a little smoother. At least from a beginner’s standpoint, the biggest issue applying thicker layers: improper drying and shrinkage, which means the patch will crack. Again.

The dining room will tell whether we’re properly tending to the cracks. The big hole, pictured above, now looks like this:

Patched Wall

One more pass and the skim-coating will be done, then prime and paint. Huzzah!

It seems that for the past 20 years (at least), the plaster at our house wasn’t properly maintained. Areas were haphazardly patched, but the underlying issues weren’t dealt with, like filling a cavity without removing the rotted bits of tooth. No stinking good.

For instance, bubbling plaster looks like this:

Plaster Bubble

Top layer of plaster no longer attached. Bubble forms, and eventually a crack will follow.

And this is what a sloppy repair job looks like. Bubble is still there and the patch wasn’t sanded, just painted over with glossy paint (which, of course, is the least forgiving type of paint when it comes to bumpy surfaces).

Improper repari

Muppet Flesh paint foh-ev-ah!

And just for funnzies, this is what a super huge monster-evil-super-villan crack looks like (this was courtesy of a leaky roof):

Big Evil Crack

Repairing this crack will require removal of the plaster on either side and some mesh tape.

From our experience, simply patching over cracks is futile. It just feeds them and makes them stronger – like giving a donut to a Gremlin after midnight: they become EVIL! Old House Journal has a fabulous article about all things plaster.

It would probably be faster to remove all the plaster and replace with dry-wall. But since faster/easier doesn’t mean better, we’ll stick to the plaster, and its good sound dampening and fire resistant qualities. We’ll just remind ourselves of our love of plaster as we fix the many many many many cracks along the way.

5 months, 23 days (and counting)

It’s been 147 days since we last occupied our bedroom. It all started back in August, when we treated ourselves to some professional help and had all the woodwork in our bedroom stripped. Our paint-caked walls were a casualty of the ferocious paint removal activity, and the room looked like an alien murder site. What started as 2-week project, has morphed into a monster of a redo – actually, I think it’s more aptly an undo, since we’re trying to undo what has been done to the space over the years and restore it to what it once was.

Alien Wall

This is what happens when ZipStrip drips down your walls.

After a full on chemical assault, details like this appeared.

But it’s totally worth it: after a full on chemical assault, details like this appeared.

Since the room was already an empty hot mess, we decided to tackle the ceiling next, and a bigger mess was made. (Never underestimate the filth that hides in a 120 year old house. Nothing can prepare you for that). Because the plaster was beyond saving, everything came down to the bare joists.  The ceiling was leveled and dry wall went up. (I intensely dislike dry wall, but that’s fodder for another post). Once the ceilings were closed up and the first layer of joint compound was applied,  we hit a bit of a morose patch and not much happened. Didly squat. Zilch. Nada. We camped out in the rear parlor and our lovely victorian home now resembles a very messy dorm room.

Things finally got back on track this weekend, when we tackled the walls and started removing all the evidence that an extra terrestrial being was slayed here. The advice we were given was to skim coat the walls, which basically means applying a thin layer of joint compound over the entire wall. I didn’t much like that idea, because just knowing all of this grossness would forever live beneath our pretty walls really bothered me.

Damaged plaster, filth from the ceiling demo, and splotches of paint stripper.

Damaged plaster, filth from the ceiling demo, and splotches of paint stripper.

The hot mess in all of its glory.

The hot mess in all of its glory.

Since my experience with removing paint from the brownstone façade was pretty straight forward, we figured it would be a total cake walk to strip the walls back to the plaster. Our old friend PeelAlway1 was called back into service. Ignoring all advice to work in manageable chunks, and still under the delusion that this would be easy, we decided to tackle one whole side of the room.

This is what more or less 4 gallons of paint stripper look like.

This is what more or less 4 gallons of paint stripper look like.

In a sign of uncharacteristic restraint, I decided that perhaps we should save that little sliver of wall above the fireplace for another time. About 18 hours later, it was time for this:

A glimmer of plaster somewhere back there

A glimmer of plaster somewhere back there

A previous resident of our home must have been a pink enthusiast: the house is pink on the outside, and at one point, it was pink on the inside too. Removing the paint from the interior walls proved to be much more difficult than I originally thought. Given the smooth surface of the wall, the paint will not let go without a fight. And fight we did. After about a half day worth of scraping, brushing and picking, most of the paint is gone. We’ll need another spot treatment for the stubborn patches and the wall trim. 3 guesses as to what we’ll be doing next weekend…

Stubborn paint and cracks galore

Stubborn paint and cracks galore

I (heart) plaster – or just say no to crack

I have never been a fan of drywall. Having grown up in a house with “real” walls made out of brick and cement, it seemed odd to me that anyone could, with little to no effort, punch a hole in a wall with their fist. Where I come from, such action would require a trip to the emergency room, not to the hardware store.

Plaster, unlike drywall, is a much harder surface. It is fire resistant and it blocks sound quite nicely. It breaks my heart when people talk about ripping out the plaster in their homes simply because there are a few cracks. While we have a  few walls we think are not salvageable (top floor bathroom is cracked to oblivion due to years of unchecked moisture), we plan on repairing the many many many many cracks and missing bits of plaster throughout the Pink Lady.

Here is a great case for saving plaster, as well as more info than you ever cared to know about plaster technique and historical relevance.

Since time is a-wastin’, I decided to try my hand at crack removal. In some places, the first layer of plaster is separating from the walls. I really can’t stand poorly patched walls, and I really didn’t want my patch job to fall into that category. I stared at this wall for a couple of weeks to work up the courage…  (I forgot to take a true ‘before’ shot, so here it is a few steps into the plaster removal process):

Squishy bubbly walls be gone!

We removed the bubbling top layer of plaster to reveal the layer beneath it, which was in OK shape. The size of the required patch was quite intimidating.

No more plaster bubbles

And then filled it in with joint compound.

First layer

Since I hate sanding, I’m taking my time with the layers to see if I can avoid it all together. I figure it will take 2 or 3 more passes and I should be good to go.