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Question DetailsAsked on 6/14/2016

When removing wallpaper from a lath and plaster wall, the plaster is coming off as well. What can I do?

Our house was built in the 1920s and was repaired in the late 1970s due to settling. A bedroom on the top floor was wallpapered to 'cover' cracks caused by the settling. I want to remove the wallpaper and paint the room, but the plaster is coming off with it. Drywalling is not an option because there would be wiring/outlets issues, and we want to keep all the original trim. It is a small room with a steep slanted ceiling, on the west side of the house so bears the brunt of the heat and cold (little or no insulation, but does have new windows).

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If the wallpaper is in decent shape and not textured, you can just use wallpaper adhesive to reglue any loose edges or corners, drywall compound (properly sanded and primed) to repair any holes or missing areas, then paint the entire surface with an oil-based sealer/primer designed for use over wallpaper, then regular wall paint (compatible with the primer and preferably from same company) over that. (Oil based primer/sealer because water based can loosen/wrikle the wallpaper). Of course, if the wallpaper starts coming loose in the future (especially likely if it gets damp due to leakage or prolonged high humidity) then the wallpaper can start coming off with the paint still on it.

Plaster could be coming off because the plaster did not properly penetrate the lath (should be well squeezed through the lath, as that is what holds it on with pure lath-and-plaster. Or could be they used a guypsum plaster with wire mesh and the sulfur in the gypsum, combined with moisture/humidity, has rusted through the wire mesh. Or could be the plaster is damp and has lost its strength - most types of plaster will dramatically soften when wetted or in continued high humidity. If any of those is the case, your plaster is not holding on very well and could pop off in good sized chunks if accidentally bumped or such, so normally one would look at removing and redoing it anyway.

You say drywalling is out - first, you could always replaster after removing any loose plaster once the wallpaper is off - this time over a modern perforated metal mesh backing substrate.

You say drywalling is out due to wiring and outlets issues - I don't see where that is a problem. First, plaster is generally quite a bit thicker than drywall (especially plaster over lath), so replacing it with drywall might mean moving the outlet/light boxes back a bit on the studs, or (ouch - I hate those) using replacement retrifit boxes that mount to the drywall itself rather than to the studs - so usually no issue even if the existing wiring in the boxes was cut short and is a tight stretch to the outlet. But moving a half dozen or so boxes back (or forward) a bit is no big task - a manhour or two of work, and if original outlets and light fixtures you will presumably want to upgrade to modern outlets anyway so the electrician would be into the boxes already anyway - not a big thing to move them at that time, in most cases - or knock out and replace with new ones if fastened on with nailing flanges.

Keeping original trim should not be a major problem - usually a careful worker can pop it off with a stiff putty knife, or if redoing or significantly patching plaster/drywall anyway cut the nails with a sawzall. You can drywall to the original wall thickness if you want to avoid having to make up a few small gaps in the trim that might appear if you put in thinner drywall - though another alternative is getting decorative "trim fillers" or "trim caps" - which are decorative pieces that go into/on corners to cover slight gaps or ugly trim cuts. Another alternative, if a linear shaped profile rather than surface embossed or carved, is to use wood filler in the corners to fill in the small gaps that using a thinner drywall could cause - let it dry, then use dremel tool and detail sander and carving tools to replicate the shape of the trim, assuming it is painted rather than clear finished or lightly stained.

Of course, if you are talking plaster trim rather than wood, whole nother story - though I have seen (though never done myself) restoration jobs where the plaster was cut through an inch or two below the plaster trim with an abrasive blade in a skil saw, and new plaster or drywall installed up to the cut, not touching the trim itself except maybe for repainting it. When doing this it is important to be sure the strip of plaster below the trim is well adhered to the wall so there is no risk of it dropping free once the lower wall "field" of drywall is removed for replacement. On one library job with plaster highly decorative trim they injected epoxy glue in behind the plaster just below the trim to assure it was well adhered, then cut the separation slot below it.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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