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Repair or Replace Damaged Ceiling Plaster?

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Mike in Michigan is on the line and is dealing with a ceiling leak. What’s going on?

    MIKE: We were sitting at the table in the kitchen and all of a sudden, we see water dripping in my dog’s dog dish – water dish. And trying to figure out – look up in the ceiling and it’s coming from the ceiling.

    TOM: Oh, no.

    MIKE: Well, we traced it to the – yeah, we traced it to the roof and there were some nail pops and the stack vents were leaking around the flashing.

    TOM: OK.

    MIKE: So we got that taken care of but now – this house was built in ’41 – we got all this wet plaster with the lath and wire mesh. And we got all – some of this wet plaster is starting to break loose. A lot of it is onion peeling but some of it is the plaster itself. How do I save that without ripping all that off and replastering the ceiling?

    TOM: So, is the ceiling deformed or is it still flat?

    MIKE: It’s flat but with the cracks, the way that the water has seeped through – because it must have been going on for a while before it finally broke through.

    TOM: Well, your dog was happy.

    MIKE: Oh, yeah, he was getting extra water with a little bit of plaster.

    TOM: Alright. Well, what happens with wood lath – and to the same extent with wire mesh but perhaps it’s not as much of an issue – is when the plaster is applied, it squeezes through the wood lath and forms a bit of a handle on the back that sticks to the back of the stick.

    Now, when that gets wet, those little pieces that are securing that plaster in place loosen up. And the plaster can separate from the lath and that’s how you get chunks of plaster that fall. So, it’s going to really depend on how loose this plaster is. If we’re just talking about cracks, I’m not as concerned. You can spackle cracks in plaster using standard spackle on top of a mesh spackling tape – a mesh drywall tape. You don’t want to use the paper because it’s hard ¬- too hard to work with. But if you use the mesh, you ought to put the mesh on first and then spackle right over the top of that.

    If the plaster is loose and falling down as if it’s going to become dangerous, then you’ve got a bigger problem. Your options at that stage are to tear out that loose plaster and try to replaster it. Or the easier way to do this, when you have deteriorated plaster walls, is to simply put a second layer of drywall on top of that. Use drywall screws and screw it right through the old plaster, into the ceiling joist above.

    So, it really comes down to how deteriorated that ceiling is. If the plaster is loose and in danger of falling, then you have to tear it out or you have to cover it over with drywall. If it’s still relatively secure – I mean if you can push up on it and it doesn’t seem to have a lot of give, then I might just spackle it and call it a day

    MIKE: Some of it is a little spongy but I was wondering about actually using the good old plaster that you mix up from the old days, where I think Gold Bond makes one or something where you can actually replaster it with wet plaster. And that’s what I was thinking about doing if I had to.

    TOM: You can do that but here’s the thing: if you – even if you plaster over that crack, that crack is going to reform. Because now that it’s showed itself, and as the ceiling expands and contracts, it’ll open and close unless you use drywall tape across it, OK? You have to reinforce it.

    MIKE: Because I’m wondering if I’m going to have to take a hammer and tap on it. And if it starts falling down, I’m probably going to have to rip it out like you’re talking about. And I’d rather do it with wet plaster and keep it original than adding drywall to it.

    TOM: Yeah, I hear you. It’s just a lot of work.

    MIKE: Yeah. Well, I thought maybe you had some magic tricks there, listening to your show.

    TOM: It’s a miracle cure?

    MIKE: Yeah. You know, a little success in a can there.

    TOM: Yeah, exactly. Well, listen, all I can say is that there’s probably better ways to keep that dog bowl filled with water than a roof leak.

    MIKE: Alright. Thank you, dude. You have a blessed week. I’m really glad that you called back.

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