Drywall and Plaster Repairs

    When we started The Passionate Painter back in 2009, the goal was to keep it simple and specialize. The thinking was that if we stuck to what we knew best, we could make a name for ourselves as a company and become the authority in residential painting.

    Things didn’t exactly turn out the way we’d planned. Our customers had other ideas. Many projects offered to us needed a bit more prep than some sanding and filling nail holes. We were asked to patch cracks in walls and repair old water damage. Initially we took the small projects but actually turned down some work, suggesting that they call in an expert in plastering and drywall!

    As time went on and we gained experience with smaller repairs we were confident that we could take on larger projects. So now, six years in, we’re sure that we can tackle many of the bigger repair jobs. We can fill large areas of drywall,  complete wire screen repairs to fill large holes in commercial properties like apartment buildings and plaster work over lath as well.

    The interesting discovery for us  was realizing that plaster work is actually a lot of fun. It’s like icing cakes, but thankfully without the temptation to eat the ingredients. We now have the entire tool kit and an inventory of drywall and plaster for every occasion. We’ll still recommend a specialist in drywall or plastering for those bigger projects and renovations but if you want to repair that back room that you’ve been trying to ignore for years, give us a call. We may be able to get the repairs done for you and the paint job too.

    Stucco Removal

    This is a specialized area and we only take on one part of this type of work.  We can remove stucco from ceilings (and walls) that has not been painted before.  A new stucco surface is applied using a spray-on application and it’s relatively easy to remove as long as it has never been painted over before or, was installed without the addition of paint to the mix when applied.  Once it’s been painted over it’s very hard and difficult to remove and you’ll need to call a contractor who can grind it off and re-apply a new smooth plaster ceiling called a ‘skim coat’.

    These pictures illustrate that stucco that hasn’t been painted comes off easily with a scraper once we wet it down first.  The next step in a conversion to a flat ceiling is allowing for plaster repairs. Stucco usually covers a multitude of problems such as sub-standard drywall/taping installation or worse, ceiling damage.  The time to repair the ceiling is usually two to three times longer than to remove the stucco but the results are a smooth surface and a more modern look to a home.

    Plaster and Drywall Repair Q & A

    We get plenty of inquiries about the best ways to fix plaster and drywall. Obviously every situation is different but here’s where I’m going to try and make sense of some repair basics.

    The water leak upstairs was so small; why is the damage to the ceiling on this floor so extensive?

    The sad truth is that water doesn’t necessarily flow downhill, or in this case, straight down from where it leaked above. Water follows the path of least resistance and while it does that it soaks into, seeps into and generally wrecks everything in its’ path. So that small leak can cause damage across a wide area especially when it comes to ceilings. The only way to fix it is to remove loose plaster and old paint build-up, seal the area with a stain-blocking primer/sealer and then re-plaster.

    What does it mean if a plaster wall actually feels hollow or moves in when I put pressure on it?

    If you bump into a plaster wall with enough force, you actually break it away from the wooden strapping, (lath) behind it. Once that happens, the wall actually moves when you touch it. We see this in hallways and stairwells especially where people are apt to bump into walls. (Kids playing hockey in hallways; yes my nephews love hockey. Or, stumbling upstairs after a wild night on the town; I don’t know anyone who  does this.) Hitting a wall with a large piece of furniture like a sofa when moving in or out would also cause this type of damage to walls. The fix is straightforward but might involve taking out more of the wall than you might imagine. We have to remove all the loose plaster until we get back to the places where the plaster is still attached to the lath and then start over.

    Can you simply patch that damaged area of plaster with a piece of drywall? Wouldn’t that be faster and cheaper?

    We can do that, and you’re right, it is probably faster and cheaper simply because and piece of drywall is easier to apply over a hole than re-plastering. The challenge is getting it to fill in to the same level as the surrounding wall. The other problem is that drywall is very flat and plaster walls generally speaking, aren’t. So the repair will be quite noticeable. We can do anything you’d like, it’s your home, but drywall used to patch plaster is not usually the ideal option.

    It looks as though the paint has peeled away from the plaster. Why does that happen?

    This is usually caused by excess moisture in the wall. Dampness can cause old paint to lift off plaster, especially if the underlying surface is plaster-of-Paris. In older homes with many layers of accumulated paint the effect is quite striking. You can tell if it’s this type of substrate if it has a slightly yellowish tinge, is hard and very smooth. This plaster technique is not used much anymore because of the skill needed to apply it. Usually the plaster itself is undamaged.

    The only fix is to strip off the paint with a flexible putty knife until we get back to an area where the paint is still attached. We then prime the whole surface and plaster around the edges where the old paint leaves an edge. The thin coating of plaster, a ‘skim-coat’ is used to ‘feather’ the surface between the paint edge and the plaster underneath.

    Why can’t you just patch up those spots on the ceiling that are cracking and uneven?

    Here’s a case where repairing something is not the most economical option. I’ve seen older homes where plaster ceilings may actually come off the lath in places and cause the ceiling to sag in spots and crack in others. The time and effort it would take to fix it is simply not worth it. Sometimes the best solution is to fix a new drywall ceiling over top off the old and secure it in place. The result is a more even and secure finish without the dust and expense of demolition. The room needs to be empty when we do the work so plan on a major internal move at your place before we can start.

    We use a thin drywall for the repair in this example so there’s no noticeable loss of ceiling height.

    It looks like there are two distinct layers of plaster on my walls. Why is that?

    With older plaster homes, this is common. The first layer is a coarse-grain harder product that bonds to the wooden slats behind. The second layer or top layer is a finer grain giving the wall that smooth texture.

    When we repair plaster walls we replicate that with modern versions. For the initial layer we use a very hard product called Durabond.  It dries so hard and it’s almost impossible to sand, so we don’t! The only difference between the new product and the original is that we don’t use horsehair as a bonding agent.   The top layer is done with Sheetrock, and like the original, it gives us a very smooth finish.

    Is that crack running down the wall serious?

    Depends. If your wall is drywall, there shouldn’t be any cracks at all except maybe a poor tape line between the boards. These flaws are straightforward repairs and they usually run parallel to the boards either vertically or horizontally. Sometimes we actually remove the old tape and re-apply with flexible fiberglass mesh tape and then we re-plaster.

    Cracks in plaster are common. On walls they tend to run diagonally across walls and above doors and windows. Again, not a problem unless the crack has been getting wider over time. Older homes are constantly ‘on the move’ as temperature and humidity levels change. Many are still settling too. To repair these simple cracks, we literally cut out the crack by running a knife into it to widen it. Then we patch with flexible fiberglass mesh tape. When we re-plaster, we force the material through the open mesh and into the wider crack to bond the two sides of the crack together. Second and possibly third coats of plaster are done to blend the repair into the wall and spread plaster over a larger area on either side of the location so you can’t see where the repair was done.