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How to Drywall Over Plaster

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Now we’re going to take a call from Kathy in Virginia who has a question about updating the walls in her home.

    Kathy, how can we help?

    KATHY: Hi. Why we have a home that was built in 1900 and has plaster issues in the foyer. It’s an open stairwell, so we have railings from the stairwell and trim around the opening. But the plaster is deteriorated and at some point in the past, rather than repair the plaster, the owners skimmed over it with drywall compound, creating a stucco look.

    TOM: Yuck.

    KATHY: And now, of course – we’ve been here 15 years – the cracks have now broken through and are continuing to grow and expand. Taking down the plaster and the lath will create – and putting up drywall will create issues where the railing and the newel posts and so on meet the wall. So we’re trying to figure out how to solve the problem.

    TOM: So they’ve really built up the thickness on this.

    KATHY: Yes, they have.

    TOM: Hmm. Well your options are limited, Kathy, because anything you add to that is going to make the problem worse and anything you take away is going to be a big, stinking mess. When you have plaster walls, probably the best thing to do is either to tear them out completely down to the studs or to put thin drywall on top of it because thin drywall does a great job and I’ve actually – I have a very old house, built in 1886, and I’ve done both. In certain rooms of the house I took it all the way down to the studs and that’s a boatload of work. And in other rooms I’ve just put drywall on top of the old plaster and just extended the door jambs and extended the window jambs and the outlets and so on. So both those options work.

    In your case though, you’ve got to take material away to get that far and that’s what becomes a lot messier. Now the only other thing that you can do, if you don’t want to take the material away, is to put some sort of a stop molding there and basically have those parts of the wood staircase – the stringer, the newel post, and so on – be recessed from the wall surface but that’s not going to look as good.

    Now is it possible that you could open this wall up and basically re-drywall it?

    KATHY: We’ve already replaced one wall in the foyer with drywall. We have three walls in the foyer, then it goes upstairs and encompasses four walls up there with all the bedroom doors and bathroom doors leading off of it.

    TOM: Right.

    KATHY: So it’s sort of extensive to start ripping.

    TOM: Yeah, because you have to decide how far you want to go.

    KATHY: Yeah. And would it be possible to take down one wall – you know, it’s lath and plaster – and then drywall the rest?

    TOM: (overlapping voices) Certainly. Yeah, you do what has to be done to get where you want to be and, in your case, you really want the wall to be lower profile than the staircase. And so you’re going to need to take the material off to get there but you don’t have to do the same thing on the other walls. You certainly could cover those and you could use very thin drywall to do that – 3/8-inch-thick drywall – and simply extend any outlets or other areas of trim beyond that.

    LESLIE: And that’s easy to do. You just pull the junction box forward.

    TOM: OK?

    KATHY: OK. Great.

    TOM: Alright, well thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. We hope that that helps you out.

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