An Enlightening Guide To Repairing, Applying, And Renovating Plaster Walls

Drywall has become so popular that it’s hard to imagine anything else in a new home. But plaster walls aren’t extinct yet. Most older homes have plaster walls, and though plaster is more expensive than drywall, it’s cheaper to repair than scrap the whole thing and start over.

Plaster walls shouldn’t overwhelm you. They should be a welcome change! This guide will let you know where plaster walls came from, what they are, and how to do home repairs on your own.

History Of Plaster Walls

Plaster walls
Photo By Ancient Surfaces in New York – image from Ancientsurfaces.

Plaster has been used for thousands of years, and can even be found in pyramids. Through the centuries and decades, the ingredients have changed, depending on what has been available. Even today, the ingredients readily available change depending on where you live.

However, in the late 1800s, gypsum was added to most plasters for plaster walls and it changed the way we use it forever.

Today, drywall has all but replaced plaster, but those who can afford to install plaster will because it’s longer-lasting and more beautiful in the end. So, let’s dive deeper into what makes plaster walls so special.

What Are Plaster Walls?

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Photo By Stonelace Designs

Plaster walls are made up of dry materials like sand or lime, mixed with water. It hardens like concrete and mortar does when it dries. As previously stated, today, drywall has replaced plaster for the most part due to its cost efficiency and easy installation.

Drywall can be put up in minutes. But putting up plaster walls is another story. Let’s take a look at the process.

Coats

Most plaster walls begin with wooden slats over studs. These slats are known as laths. In recent years, the lath has been replaced with a metal mesh to prevent cracking, but wood is still used in some cases. On top of that lath, you will see three coats of plaster.

The Scratch Coat

The first coat to go on plaster walls is the scratch coat. This coat is easy to apply and works as a base for the other coats. The scratch coat is applied thickly and fills the cracks of the slats. After it is applied, grooves are placed on the surface to give the second coat something to stick to.

The Brown Coat

The brown coat goes on plaster walls second and gives an even surface and square corners.

The Finish Coat

After the brown coat dries, you are ready for the finish coat. There are many different types of finish coats that offer different textures and thicknesses. This is the only coat you will see, so it relies on personal preference.

Reason To Use Plaster Walls

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Photo By 450 Architects, Inc.

While drywall is slowly overtaking plaster walls, there are still great reasons to use plaster walls in your home. One of the main reasons that people use plaster walls is because they look much higher-end than drywall, which can be found in trailer houses.

Many people think that the only reason to use plaster walls is when that’s what has already been installed in an old house. But that’s not the case.

Plaster walls can have many textures, and can even look like concrete, which is increasingly popular. But more than anything, people love plaster walls because if done right, they can last a lifetime. Not to mention, they are much more environmentally friendly than many other walls.

Repairs

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Photo By CG Interior Groups

If your plaster walls are cracked, you’ve come to the right place. Even a novice can start repairing plaster with just a few simple tips. Cracks can be caused by foundation shifts, old structures, or bad weather.

Types Of Cracks

There are many different types of cracks in plaster walls. The steps to repairing them different depending on how big and deep they appear to be.

Hairline Cracks

If what you are dealing with is a hairline crack, your best bet is to remove the loose pieces and apply spackling to the affected area. You can apply a thin coat and let it dry before applying another if there is a need. After each coat, sand the area with sandpaper to see where you stand.

Wide Cracks

The first thing you need to do with a wide crack is press hard on each side to see if the crack is moving. If it is, the technique will be different. If it isn’t, then you need to apply plastering tape to the crack. Apply a thin coat of plaster underneath, then stick the tape to it.

Afterward, you apply to the top surface to even out the wall. Make sure that you apply more plaster to any side that’s deeper. Don’t forget to sand! Many people think they can get by without sanding, but not only does this make for a rough surface but it’s nearly impossible to paint an unsanded wall.

Moving Cracks

This is when things get complicated. Moving cracks aren’t as easy to repair because the problem isn’t on the surface. What you do here is dig out the moving side until you find solid plaster that does not move. It may be more work, but if you don’t fix it now, it will be even more work later.

Secure the loose side with plaster washers, drywall screws, and perforated discs. This will allow you to attach the loose plaster to the original lath. In a way, you’re starting over with the affected area. If you’re not a professional, you may want to watch a tutorial on how to fix moving cracks.

Painting

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Photo By WA Design Architects

If you do repair your plaster walls, you’re also going to need to paint them. Painting plaster walls isn’t the same as painting drywall. There are a few things you need to know before trying to paint your plaster walls.

Make A Checklist

As with any project, making a checklist will save you valuable time and money. Here’s everything you need to put on your shopping list before painting your plaster walls:

  • Roller Frame – this is the metal frame used for paint rollers
  • Roller Brushes – It’s important to get more than one roller brush, as it’s easy to lose or allow the paint to dry on them, making the brush unusable
  • Paint Tray – If you’re using a roller, a tray is a necessity
  • Tray Liner – If you use a disposable tray, then a liner isn’t necessary
  • Angled Paintbrush – perfect for corners and hard to reach areas
  • Primer – a money-saving pre-paint coating
  • Paint – obviously
  • Painter’s Tape – not necessary, but makes it much easier
  • Drop Cloth – unless you’re a super tidy painter, you’ll want a drop cloth

While you may find other things to add to your list, this is everything that you’ll need if you don’t have any more repairs to do.

Priming

Priming is nearly as important as painting for plaster walls. You will want an oil-based primer because plaster walls can soak up moisture. If you want to skip priming, go for it, but know that you will need extra layers of paint if you do so.

Brand doesn’t matter too much, so get whatever is available to you. You may even ask an employee for suggested options.

Matching Paint

Since plaster walls are so common in older homes, you may be repairing old walls and trying to match the paint that’s already there. If this is the case, there are a few different ways to do it. Taking a picture isn’t your best bet because each camera lets in a different amount of light as well as different hues.

Most paint companies will let you send in scraps or pieces of plaster that has fallen and match the paint for you. Or, you can take the piece to the hardware store with you and match it yourself. If you’re painting a spot you just repaired, then you will be able to keep one of the broken pieces to match paint to.

Types Of Paint

While preference does matter, plaster walls work best with a higher gloss paint. Many people prefer satin because of this. While matte colors won’t let imperfections show, satin colors will be easier to clean.

Fun Facts About Plaster Walls

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Photo By Ancient Surfaces

Now that we’ve gone over all of the details you need to know, let’s get to the fun stuff. Plaster walls are more exciting than you’d think, after all.

  • Marble Dust And Olives – those are just two of the more common, yet strange, ingredients used in plaster
  • Stucco Is Plaster Too – the buildings often found in Mexico are also just a fancy form of plaster
  • The Egyptians Used Plaster – as previously discussed, the pyramids used plaster too, some 4000-year-old plaster is still standing today
  • You Have Seen Plaster Elsewhere – not only is plaster great for building, it is used for sculpting and other crafty projects as well
  • It Can Be Waterproof – while many plaster walls aren’t waterproof, there’s a special Moroccan plaster that resists mold and mildew
  • Natural Plasters Help The Environment – yep, many plasters are 100% natural, making them an awesome option for those trying to do their part

Takeaway

While you may opt for drywall, or redoing your old walls completely, don’t be afraid to try something new. Or in this case, old! Plaster walls have never gone out of style and we shouldn’t let them. They’re long-lasting, environmentally friendly, and gorgeous!