Home Plaster Repair And Renovation For The Motivated Homeowner

Can I Really Fix My Own Plaster?

From my own experience with clients over many years in the field, I can say YES, you can repair your own old, ugly or damaged plaster.

With your motivation and my instruction, you can turn ugly plaster walls and ceilings into beautiful surfaces you can be proud to live with.

How am I so sure of this?

Let me tell you a little story.

Sometimes people hear of me and they come with a request.

"Ed, I hear you are good at fixing plaster. I am in the middle of some home improvement projects, and my plaster really needs some upgrading. Trouble is, I'm trying to do most of everything myself - our funds are limited.

I probably can't afford to hire you outright to do it all, but how about if I pay for two or three hours of your time, for you to come over and give my some tips? I'm pretty handy, and I think I could learn."

So that's what I can do. And to be frank, I am often amazed how quickly some folks can pick up the basic ideas and go on to do a really nice looking job.

That's why I am so confident in presenting my information and instruction by way of my website and my free plaster repair ecourse. I just know from experience that this stuff is do-able by someone willing to learn and go after it.

It would be great if every homeowner could stand back and look with pride at his or her home and say, "Yep. I did that. What do you think?'

So the first thing you need to do, if you find yourself with ugly or damaged plaster, is ask yourself - Do I want to repair my plaster myself, or would I prefer to get a professional in to do the job?

Both are valid options. Not everyone has the time or motivation to tackle every home improvement repair or upgrade himself (or herself). I am not a plumber, and I gladly pay a professional to do that task for me. Same goes with electrical work.

You, like me, pick the places where you want to put in the effort yourself.

But if plaster repair is something you would just rather not tackle at all, I can understand. At the same time, however, if you do choose to hire a professional, there are some tips I will give you regarding how to get ready for him and save yourself money in the process.

But more about that a little later on in this Hub.

Free Plaster Repair Ecourse

Common Plaster Problems

Ever notice these things, in your house or other houses?

Cracks Holes Dings Sagging Plaster Wavy Ceilings Ugly Texture

Of course you have!

Not a pretty sight, are they? Like zits on the nose of a pretty girl, or buck teeth in the face of a good looking guy. Your first thought might be - "why doesn't she (he) take care of that?"

We can grow used to many things, even unattractive things, but the time comes when we say ENOUGH!

And the nice thing about plaster repair is that it does not have to be hard or expensive when you decide to tackle it yourself.

The materials I recommend using are easily available, and the tools don't cost that much.

However, my plaster repair methods do sometimes cause controversy in some quarters.

You see, I learned a long time ago that using real plaster to patch plaster is NOT very easy to do. I know. When as a young man, I tried to fix plaster using actual plaster, I had a tough time getting the repair to blend in with the surrounding plaster surface.

Having been trained in drywall finishing, I knew how to use drywall finishing compounds and the tools that worked best. So I got the bright idea to apply these same materials and tools to those plaster eyesores - and it worked!

The drywall joint compounds were a lot easier to handle than real plaster, and they were more forgiving. I could correct mistakes and I could get my repairs to blend a lot nicer.

So why the controversy? Well, real plasterers do what they do and they get real good at it. It takes years to develop the skill and speed of a real professional. They are proud of their profession. And, in many cases, they look down on drywall and drywall finishing materials as decidedly second-rate.

Now, it is true that drywall is softer, and it is cheaper, than installing plaster walls and ceilings. Plaster takes more hand labor, and it takes a LOT of plaster to do a house. Hence, plaster work is more expensive than drywall. It's a great system, but many builders go with drywall to keep the overall cost of the project down.

On the other hand, in some parts of the US, high end homes are plastered, since cost is not an issue.

But none of this need deter us, the home plaster repair folks. We go with what is easiest to work with, and which yields perfectly acceptable results. And that is drywall finishing compounds and tools.

Drywall Compounds For Plaster Repair

There are a variety of drywall finishing compounds.

1. regular full strength, full weight, pre-mixed all purpose joint mud
2 lightweight premixed joint mud, all purpose and topping
3 chemically hardening sack mud, various setting times
4 texture compounds, in sacks and in pre-mixed containers

Numbers 1 and 3 are the hardest and toughest muds for use, but number 3 is better than #1 for filling gaps, divots and wide cracks. It quits shrinking once it sets up hard.

Number 3, also know as "hot mud", comes in sacks of powder and with various setting times, like 5, 20, 40 and 90 minute. Depends somewhat on the brand of mud you use.

Hot mud is an all purpose compound, and can be used for taping, topping and even applying texture if your area is not too large. The advantage is that you can do more than one operation the same day, because once your application has set up, you can go right back over it again with the next step. The disadvantage is that you are racing the clock, so start out with small batches until you get used to handling it. Go for the longer setting times.

Some people prefer to use the hot mud to fill the deeper defects, then carry on from there with the regular full strenth all purpose mud.. This may be the easier approach for the beginner.

The lightweight all purpose muds can be used for taping, topping and texturing, but I prefer to use them for the final topping coat over my repairs, because of ease of sanding.

For applying textures, I like the sack muds. You add the powder to the water and mix until you get the consistency you want.

Some folks like to use plaster of paris for filling holes. But it sets up fast!. If you have a lot of repairs, you will find the hot mud a little easier to use, in my opinion.

Tools For Plaster Repair

Your tools for plaster repair are basically the same hand tools used for finishing drywall.

- - wide knives, like 4, 5, 6 inches and wider, up to 10 or 12 inches or more

- - mud pans to hold your compound

- - plasterer's hawk and trowel

- - mixing tool An electric drill with paddle, or a mud stick

- - miscellaneous buckets, texturizing tools, cleaning pads or brushes.

The hawk and trowel are for applying wide topping coats of mud over taped areas, and for skim coating large surface areas to bury old texture and prepare for new texture or for wallpaper.

The wide knives and mud pans are used for the same functions,  and are recommended for those who have not yet mastered the hawk and trowel.

If you are new to the use of drywall tools, you may find the wide knives and pan easier to use than the hawk and trowel.  However, once you get used to the hawk and trowel, you can accomplish a lot more and with greater speed.

If you have the time, and don't mind a learning curve, give the plasterer's tools a try.

Fixing Plaster Cracks

Plaster is notorious for developing cracks, especially old plaster over wood lath.

But I enjoy working on old plaster, because with a relatively modest amount of time and material, it is possible to make that old plaster look bright and new.

It is usually not enough simply to dig out a crack and fill it, if you want a permanent fix.  For that you have to apply reinforcement firmly over the crack.

So, if needed, fill the crack.  Then when that is dry (or hard, as with hot mud), apply a swatch of taping mud and embed the paper drywall tape in that, centered over the crack.  Wipe out the excess from under the tape with your six inch knife by pressing down as you move along over the top of the tape.   

You want the taped crack to be pretty flat.  That way, you won't be trying to hide a hump with your next coats of mud.

Usually, you will need a minimum of two topping coats over the tape, going a little wider each time.  Use your 10 or 12 inch knives for that.

Once you have all the cracks taped and covered with topping, you have the challenge of getting your repairs to blend.  This means trying to match the texture on the wall, if there is any. 

You may first need to use a sponge sanding block and gently erase tool marks and smooth out the edges of your patches.  Now, if you don't think you can match the texture, you will need to skim coat the whole wall so you have a uniform surface.

At this point, you can sand and leave the wall smooth, or come up with a texture of your own to overlay the wall.  This can be a fun and creative project.  You may even decide to seal the new surface and put on new wallpaper.  These choices are yours to make.

Regarding the reinforcing tape, I heartily recommend you stick with drywall paper tape, not the fiberglass mesh,  Yes, the mesh is popular and often recommended for DIY persons, but I have to confess I have made a lot of money over the years repairing the "repairs" made with mesh tape.  It often will buckle and form a line after some time, and your repair becomes unsightly.

Fixing Dings And Holes In Plaster

Moving furniture, horseplaying children, plumbers and electricians - each can contribute its share to the creation of these unsightly plaster problems.

Dings are small holes that can be filled easily.  Hot mud is good for this, and even plaster of paris can be used.  Dampen first. If there is shrinkage after the first fill coat, another coat should be applied.  This might be a softer materials that can be sanded easily when everything is dry.

Some holes might go clear through the plaster.  If you can see wood lath behind, then you have backing for your hot mud or other material.  If you are using hot mud or plaster of paris, it would be a good idea to wet the lath before you put in the mud.  This helps to get a better bond.  You will probably have to do several fills to get the patch level with the plaster surface.

If the hole is larger, you can fill the space with thin drywall cut to fit and held in place with glue or screws into the lath.  But if the hole was cut, plaster and lath and all, then you will need to fasten some kind of backing into the hole for your filler material to attach to.

You can use a couple of boards, or pieces of plywood, held in place by screws through the plaster and lath.  It helps to pre-drill holes first so your drywall screws don't split the lath.  Then carefully put your drywall in place with glue or some screws.  If you screw it into place, be careful you don't push too hard against the backing.

You may have to glue some shim material into place before you anchor the fill piece, else your patch will be recessed and so more difficult to get level during the finishing process.  What you want to shoot for is to have the patching material level with the surrounding plaster.

Now fill the gaps around the perimeter of the patch.  You may have to do this in a couple of steps before you are ready to apply your paper tape.  After the tape is dry, then two or more topping coats to get things flat and the patched leveled.


Saving Money With Your Plaster Man

For those who want to hire a professional plasterer and save all the fuss and bother of doing the plaster repair or renovation themselves.

As I said already, a perfectly valid choice.

But ... would you like to save some money in the process? It's easy if you find a plasterer who appreciates your willingness to make his job easier.

It first comes down to preparation for his arrival, so when he comes he can move ahead with his plastering, and not spend valuable time getting ready.

1. Cover the floor, the whole floor if it is a ceiling that is being redone. This may include laying down cushioning material under the tarps, to protect the floor underneath. Layers of cardboard work well for that. Plaster is heavy, and if it falls to the floor, it can really ding your wood or vinyl.

2. Mask the windows and doorways, so dust doesn't travel all over the house.

3. If he is open to it, offer to do the daily cleanup.

4. Do any demolition required ahead of time, as indicated by your plaster man.

The key to all this, of course, is to find the right guy, and to have clear communication so you know what he wants done, and he knows what you are willing to do. He will take this into consideration as he prepares his cost estimate. The more time you can save him, the more you will save on cost - if he is a good and honest craftsman.

You may have to interview two or three guys, but it may well be worth it to you.

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Comments 3 comments

ignugent17 profile image

ignugent17 4 years ago

This is very useful. This might come in handy in time. Thanks for sharing. :-)

bodylevive profile image

bodylevive 4 years ago from Loachapoka, Alabama

Thank you for the course, I enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing this wealth of information. My home is 26 years old. We started last year up grading inside walls and the such. We painted and repaired every room in the house including ceilings and re-carpeted every room. Now for the windows, we're gonna need some help with that task. But if we can't find anyone, there's always You tube. Thanks and be blessed.

Edwin Brown 4 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Bodylevive, glad you enjoyed my hub. Best of everything in all your home repair projects.

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