Do you have an old house with plaster walls that you would like to replace, but don’t know how to do prepare for it? Or maybe you do have some ideas, but want something to confirm them with?
For those kind of reasons and for those that are new to working with renovations, I’ve put up this guide that tries to keep things simple. Removing plaster is physical work so we want to make it as easy and least damaging as possible.
If you live in a home that is at least seventy years old, chances are that the interior walls are made of lath and plaster. Lathe and plaster was a popular construction technique for homes until the 1950s and basically consisted of layers of plaster troweled onto a framework of thin wood strips.
Old house aficionados actually prefer plaster walls to drywall. Plaster is thicker than contemporary drywall and has a higher insulating value which is great when it comes to muffling sound.
And because it is a historic building material, it simply looks better in older homes than drywall that has been skip troweled or textured. Of course, plaster doesn’t last forever and if some of the plaster in your home has failed, it needs to be removed.
Empty the room out
Removing plaster cannot be done daintily which is why everything needs to be cleared out of the room before starting this DIY project. This goes for furnishings, ceiling fans, light fixtures (a bare bulb is OK), rugs, draperies or blinds, electronics, wall décor, etc.
Basically everything that can be moved, large furniture that can’t be moved should be completely covered with a drop cloth.
I’m quite heavy-handed when I do jobs like this so it’s best that everything that breaks easily is away. It’s also easier to move around the room as you don’t have to be moving stuff all the time when you work.
Things like these are little things, but when you’re doing the work it just might save few curses.
Remove all the millwork first
In old houses, the millwork (or trim) around the windows and door, baseboards, and the ceiling was placed directly on semi-hardened plaster and nailed into position using very long nails. All this trim needs to come down before removing the plaster.
Removing the trim first is more efficient and makes it easier to label the pieces sequentially so you’ll know where they belong when it’s time to reinstall them.
This might be easy or hard, depending on your walls. If everything is nailed hard to the wall, it might be tricky to get them off without breaking.
The best way is to start creating a little gap between the millwork and wall from some end, search where they are nailed, and use a crowbar or something else to leverage them where the nail is located. This way there is less stress to millwork and it won’t break so easily.
Tape over vents, cold air exchanges, and thermostat
To prevent plaster dust from clogging your HVAC system during removal, turn your furnace off. Cover the thermostat with plastic (to prevent plaster dust from damaging the sensor) and tape over all vents, grilles, and cold air returns.
This is also important because even when we know that there is no asbestos in the plaster, we might not have guarantees that there isn’t some in other parts of the structures. When we tape over the air holes, we stop it from traveling those ways everywhere in our apartment.
Seal all openings
Plaster dust is ultra-fine and will migrate throughout the entire house if the openings aren’t sealed in some way. If the room has doors, close them and place a rolled towel at the base. If there is an archway between two rooms, use a clear plastic drop cloth to create a curtain.
One thing with dust like this is also that if it gets in touch with moisture, it’s really annoying to clean off. You will notice it after you work and sweat a bit. Preventing cleaning is the best kind of cleaning.
Protect the floors
If you have carpeting you want to keep, we recommend covering the floors with a thick canvas tarp. If the floors are made of hardwood or tile, thick cardboard or a thick piece of used carpeting will protect the finish and prevent deep gouges from falling plaster.
I’m a fan of cardboard and heavier boards as they are easy to clean. The falling plaster will take some shoveling to get off so it’s good to have an easy surface to shovel. Plastic on the bottom and board on top is my favorite combination.
Set up a disposal chute
The last step in prepping a room for plaster removal is by figuring out the easiest way to get the plaster out of the room and outdoors. If the room has a window, open the window, remove the screen, and set up a chute so that the plaster can be easily transported outside.
If the room is an interior room with no windows, figure out the quickest path to the outdoors and keep it clear of debris. You might need to protect the floor on the way outside as you will most likely be cleaning it after you carry the plaster and move in and out with your shoes.
These are the basic steps in prepping a room before trying to pull down the plaster. Taking care of these little details before tackling this DIY project will minimize damage to your home and make the job more efficient.
You should prepare good cleaning tools for this kind of job. A good vacuum and brush and shovels will get you far.
The best way to handle any removal project is to clean actively and in every possible pause. This way the dirt travels away little by little and you won’t have huge amounts of dirt to clean when the plaster is finally gone.
If you have wooden, painted, tile, etc. floors, you can tape the plastic into it so it will provide even better protection. Usually, hardware stores sell a special kind of tape for these kinds of jobs as it should not have too strong glue, but not too weak either. It’s most often some kind of plastic tape.