Most older homes have something in common: plaster walls. Plasterers are known for guarding their recipes and techniques and teaching them to select apprentices. There’s a science and art to mixing and applying it the right way. Remodeling a kitchen with old plaster walls leaves homeowners with a few questions about whether the walls are worth preserving and if it’s even possible. Plaster has value, but keeping it isn’t always the right choice.
Benefits of Keeping Plaster
Plaster has a look that’s indicative of older construction. Even in the finest homes, plaster is perfectly imperfect when compared to modern drywall. Because kitchens are one of the most frequently remodeled rooms in any house, sound plaster walls are a real find. Keeping the original finished walls through a remodel helps your home retain an authentic look.
Plaster has a sound-buffering quality. It’s dense and hard, which means it resists dents, scratches and repeated cleanings better than drywall. You can wallpaper over it and peel it off again without damaging the underlying material.
Preserving Plaster Kitchen Walls
Remodeling a kitchen usually includes adding new wiring, plumbing and ductwork or upgrading the old, which might require cutting into the walls. Unlike drywall, plaster isn’t easily cut with a utility knife, and the damage is more difficult to repair. You’ll need a fine-blade circular saw or rotary tool, which slices through plaster and wood lath strips underneath.
Although a professional plasterer can repair the damage seamlessly, reasonably authentic looking repairs are possible using a patch cut from a sheet of drywall, then coating it with plaster resurfacing compound. Plaster of Paris dries too fast and isn’t the same as resurfacer. Mounting new fixtures on old plaster requires a bit more care than on drywall. Predrilling nail and screw holes helps prevent cracks and crumbling. If plaster pops loose from the lath during renovation, it's repaired by drilling holes, injecting adhesive inside and inserting screws.
Benefits of Replacing Plaster
Comprehensive kitchen remodeling jobs where walls are moved or structure is repaired make preservation attempts rather pointless. Another problem some homeowners encounter is plaster that’s not worth saving. Although longevity is one of its hallmarks, a poor plaster mix or subpar techniques by the plasterer can lead to large cracks, crumbling areas and soft spots that feel like coarse sand. Settling of the house can make large sections of plaster pop loose from the underlying lath.
Removing the plaster lets you remodel the room from the studs out and makes wiring, plumbing and ductwork easier to manage. If you still love the old look, new techniques involving wallboard materials skim coated with plaster add an authentic appearance to the room.
Demolishing Plaster Kitchen Walls
Removing old plaster might be a do-it-yourself job, but not until a professional has determined whether it was made with asbestos. Removing asbestos requires an abatement team to contain the plaster and dispose of it properly. If there is no asbestos, removing plaster is a DIY demolition job. It won’t come off in sheets like drywall.
Cover the room with drop cloths, and shut off the circuit breakers before you begin. Scoring sections with a saw and hitting the wall with a small sledgehammer breaks plaster into manageable pieces. The lath strips underneath should be pried off the studs. They contain small nails, so use care. Once the studs are exposed, you can add or replace insulation and work on wiring and plumbing. New wallboard fastens to the studs, or you can go old-school and hire a craftsman to recreate authentic plaster walls.
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